Sent to the Principal: Students Talk about Making High Schools Better

Sent to the Principal: Students Talk about Making High Schools Better by Kathleen Cushman and the youth of What Kids Can Do, Inc. (Next Generation Press, 224 pages, $19.91) BUY NOW!

reviewed by Jill Davidson

A school that creates a safe and challenging setting for learning and teaching should be “a dynamic entity that we have a vested interest in making better, and more enjoyable, and more profitable for us,” says student Adit in Sent to the Principal. A collaboration with students created and framed by Kathleen Cushman, former editor of Horace and current CES National board member, Sent to the Principal’s student contributors suggest how personalization, co-creation of polices, trust, and simple acknowledgement of their complex lives can go far in creating the mutual respect that supports students’ learning, persistence, and success.

Cushman synthesizes the students’ reflections with reactions from seasoned high school leaders and with her own long experience listening to the many voices within schools. The students see everything, and every decision really does matter. Cushman uses students’ words to demonstrate the interplay between emotion and success in school and the need to find opportunities for self-expression, demonstrating how seemingly trivial and tedious issues, such as dress codes, can be crucial opportunities for student engagement.

Much of Sent to the Principal is devoted to what ought to happen in classrooms, demonstrating that while principals can’t always be everywhere, students know that they really are the one at whom the buck truly stops. The final chapter’s discussion about the bargains students make in classrooms – what students are willing to give, and what they expect from teachers in return – vividly depicts how school leaders can see teachers through students’ eyes. With the right approach and conditions, and especially with students as allies, it is possible for principals to negotiate their sometimes Sisyphean responsibilities and challenges.