School IS the ‘real world’ for our students

We have all heard a teacher say to a student or a parent say to a child, “When you get out in the real world… blah blah blah”.  Every time I hear this, I ask my self: what is the real world?  If the real world is this event that happens later in life… then are our students living in the… fake world?

Consider the following:

  1. For our students, this IS the real world.  It does not get any more real than this.  By this I mean school, childhood, and anything that is happening to them right here, right now.  This is the most important time: the present.
  2. What do we expect students to think when we say to them, “When you get out in the real world, you will…”?  Are we saying to them that their current world is not real?  Do we really think that by giving them the real world speech, we can change their behaviour in a way that we get our desired result?  Are we saying that school is not the real world?  Maybe we need to change the school system to become more real for our students.
  3. If we keep talking about the real world in this way, we will lose kids by stating that they need to be responsible or better behaved by a certain time period in the distant future.  Why not discuss the desired changes that need to take place right now, in their real world.

I know why adults tend to make the real world comments to kids but we have to wonder if this has the desired impact on students.  We also need to wonder if this is minimizing their real world; this real world that we discuss seems far more important than the world in which they currently live.

I know some of my students have lives that I believe will actually improve once they move into adulthood; they will have far more freedom and choice in their lives once they break the familial or societal shackles that are holding them back.  These students’ daily struggles are far greater than I have ever faced in my life.  Their future real world may, in fact,  be easier than their present real world.

If there are certain characteristics that we believe are teachable and important for our students to understand, we need to focus on the present and not this so-called real world that exists in the future.  We need to make school the real world for our students by offering more student voice, opportunities to make choices and take responsibility, the chance to take risks and make mistakes, time for collaboration, and opportunities to work on their strengths.

We want our kids to be (among others) caring, respectful students who have the ability to problem solve and question the way things are done.  By saying that these qualities need to exist in the future real world, what are we saying about their current world?  As teachers and parents, we need to encourage learning opportunities for our students to develop the characteristics and qualities that will help them in THEIR real world and not this world we speak of that they may or may not get to at some point in their lives.

NOTE: After I wrote the first draft of this blog, I read 2 other blogs regarding this topic;  please check out Joe Bower and Aaron Eyler‘s blogs for more information on “the real world”.

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Thanks for adding to the conversation Paula! Let’s continue to work to make the classroom the real world.

  2. Well, Chris, that is interesting. I’m not sure about elementary school, but I do know that after I graduated from High School I was so relieved to get out into the ‘real world’, because the world of High School was was not a world imposed by the teachers and the way we were educated but, rather, by the social heirarchy created by the kids themselves. Once out on our own at college or in the work world, that social construct no longer existed. If schools had the ability to create more of a ‘real world’ socially, that would be something! But human nature being what it is…

  3. Yes, Rebecca, the social hierarchy in schools makes it very challenging. It would be great if more students can find other students with like interests (as what occurs after high school)… maybe we need what Godin calls “Tribes” for our kids where kids with similar interests can share learning together. Thanks for the comment!

  4. When I hear that phrase, like you, I often think “This is their real world, today, right now”. If we want to “prepare” them for the “real world”, then we need to bring that so called world to them. For example, when my kids post on their blogs, I try to find people living in the “real world” to post comments to them. In class, we talk about how the students are developing their digital footprint right now, a footprint that will follow them throughout their lives. Using various web 2.0 tools, my students connect with other kids throughout the world. Encouraging our kids to participate and interact in authentic ways with other people outside their immediate circle will help ensure they develop critical thinking skills in the world that is relevant to them.

  5. What a perfect post.

    I have always found the “real world” comment to be a denigrating one. Your assessment that it lessens the importance of a person’s own context is bang on. I think about teenage relationships. When we were kids, breaking up with that first girlfriend or boyfriend was “end of the world stuff”, and when an adult came up to you and said, “Don’t worry, it’s not a real relationship”, you felt completely devalued as a young person.

    We need to value the context in which kids live, and recognize the real world that they live in instead of trying to get them to recognize the real world that we live in.

    Thanks for a good read.

  6. To quote Bell Hooks, “Home was a place where I was forced to conform to someone else’s image of who and what I should be. School was the place where I could forget that self and through ideas, reinvent myself”.

  7. I agree that a child’s most important time is the present, and we need to focus our energies on helping children learn to love to learn. The abilities to learn and unlearn, adapt to new situations, work collaboratively with others, and explore their passions will carry them through life, no matter what the future brings. How could we possibly pretend to know what their “real world” will look like upon leaving our schools? Great post, got me thinking as usual!

  8. @Heather I think the key word you used is “authentic”. Congrats on making school as authentic as you do. Thanks for posting!

  9. I agree that the classroom and school setting are the child’s real world in the present moment. We need to ask ourselves if we really are adequately preparing our students for the world they will enter beyond elementary high school. How can we be confident that we are meeting each child’s needs? Those are the questions that I continue to struggle with. I would appreciate any thoughts on the matter and how to move forward.

    • Great question Karen… I believe that if we can help students to become confident learners (as in our school goal) this will help them not only be successful now but also in the future. How do we do this? In my opinion, assessment for learning is a powerful tool in developing confident learners with a growth mindset (Dweck) so they are willing to take risks and believe that they CAN learn if they put in the time.

  10. Great perspective in this post! We at Lightspeed Systems strongly believe that digital citizenship is a must “real-world” concept that students need to learn now–not later.
    We’ll be sharing this post with others! Thanks!

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