Reimagining Alternative Education
Many times, when people hear the phrase “alternative education,” they think of students who are in danger or who have a history of extreme disobedience. On the other hand, the definition of the word “alternative” that can be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “different from the usual or conventional.”
Alternative programmes are not the same as traditional classes in many ways, which I will go over in this section. They are distinct from one another and can range in size from a single classroom located within your school to a number of classrooms located in an entirely different environment within the same district. As someone who has worked in administration and also developed alternative programmes, I have always seen them as a unique opportunity to assist students who have their own individual needs. When we use our creativity to build programmes that address the obstacles that stand in the way of the students’ success, they flourish.
When educators adopt a more optimistic point of view, they are more likely to associate alternative education with smaller class sizes, deeper connections between students and teachers, intentional social and emotional interventions, and increased resources. Students who do not exhibit negative behaviours but who struggle internally or who simply require something different from the majority of students can be easy to miss because it is not always easy to spot them. Some of the students might benefit from a change of scenery in order to facilitate a shift in their mentality and motivate them to achieve success.
During the process of putting alternative programmes into place, I utilised a variety of different combinations of the following suggestions.
1. DRILL DOWN ON YOUR STUDENTS’ NEEDS
Collect data to determine which students are having difficulty adjusting to the more traditional learning environment. In addition to your grades, behaviour, and attendance, it is recommended that you speak with a social worker or counsellor at your school. An increased demand for mental health support may serve as a barrier to academic achievement for students who are educated in a conventional environment. During the pandemic, the number of visits to emergency rooms by children and adolescents is said to have significantly increased, according to the CDC. A classroom setting that allows for more individualised attention for each student as well as increased social and emotional support can go a long way toward meeting the requirements of this category. The formation of a partnership with a local counselling agency is another fantastic idea.
In order for schools to collect feedback and specific requests, they can either conduct surveys or focus groups with students and their parents. Ten to twelve students who might be interested in participating in the alternative programme might make up the members of the focus group. Ask those students what they feel they are missing in order to be successful in school. Find out what parts of their current schedule and the traditional programme are missing and investigate those. The same kind of focus group can be held at schools in order to collect ideas and feedback from parents.
2. ASK “WHY CAN’T WE…?”
In most cases, the response to that question is hampered by conventional ways of thinking and constrained points of view. There will always be some established practises that need to be questioned. Do not allow yourself to be constrained by outmoded ways of thinking. Develop a strategy that will test the limits of what’s possible. The majority of solutions to pressing issues in education involve taking innovative and potentially dangerous approaches. Drafting your plan down on paper will assist you in visualising how it will be carried out. This may stimulate even more forward thinking as you go through the planning process.
Answers to the “magic wand question” should be written down by a group of your stakeholders, including but not limited to teachers, support staff, and parents. What would our alternative programme be like if I had a magic wand? Describe it to me in detail. These responses may be prioritised according to the degree to which other people agree with the responses that are shared in a Google Doc or another shared platform. These responses can be used as a guide for the program’s leaders as they develop a mission and a vision for the programme. Review any district policies that are incompatible with the programme, and discuss any necessary adjustments with the leadership of your school or organisation. Before being put into effect, the alternative programme almost certainly needs to be sanctioned by the school board representing the district.
3. BUILD A SAFE ENVIRONMENT
It is essential for students to have a sense of emotional security when they are in a different environment. It is common knowledge that students who feel safe in their environment have a greater chance of being successful. Students who are enrolled in an alternative programme may experience some feelings of insecurity due to the fact that they will be educated in a manner that is distinct from that of their classmates. Support can be provided to students by teachers in the form of empowerment and the celebration of the students’ unique qualities. Be prepared to spend additional time encouraging and supporting their efforts to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of them receiving an education.
It is important to demonstrate that you care about the students’ health and well-being by conducting a check-in with them at the beginning of each class. Establish a sense of community and safety by scheduling times throughout the school day when students and teachers can sit down together and talk. Students have an additional chance to have their voices heard by the teachers when they have access to a secure method of communicating their concerns (for example, a comment box with a lock or a Google Form). To ensure stronger connections with the students, it is essential for leaders to recruit or assign a teacher who is skilled in the art of empathetic expression and the development of interpersonal relationships in the classroom.
4. CREATE A VISUALLY INVITING SPACE
Make the alternative programme more appealing and encouraging to watch. Consider the use of soothing pastel colours to support the mental health of your students. It is important to consider the needs of your students when deciding whether or not to use fun and bright colours to inspire creativity. A space is more likely to be enjoyable when it contains furniture that is both comfortable and diverse in its seating options.
The ability for teachers to post pictures of students and activities in class throughout the school year on the wall creates an atmosphere that is warm and inviting and reminiscent of a family. However, clutter should be avoided at all costs, and the classroom should be kept as open as possible so that there is plenty of room for students to move around and spread out.
There are some students who thrive better in non-traditional educational environments. Additionally, a student’s needing something different does not make them a bad person. It is possible to improve a student’s academic performance by providing them with a high school education that is individualised to their specific requirements.