If you put a group of high school juniors and seniors in a room of elementary students, who learns more?
This is at the heart of a field I took today with my psychology students. My students are asking questions, observing behaviors, gauging interactions, and reviewing the work of the elementary students for the purpose of collecting data on developmental psychology. They are supposed to learn about what developmental changes are occurring from grade to grade. They are also discovering the differences between elementary today and what they experienced a decade ago.
The elementary students are learning about lots of content, but when my students walk in, they get a picture of what their future looks like. They get to see that learning is more than just what happens during their class, they learn that you can gain knowledge in many ways.
The teachers with me are learning things, too. We are noticing that students at elementary are learning a lot of things that are still impactful a decade later. So much foundation is laid at the elementary level that directly relates to student successes at the secondary level.
Here is what I have learned: more collaboration across grades is needed. One of the fourth grade teachers, Amanda Mann, has been asking for the last few years for us to come spend a full day. I think there is power in the connections we make- the elementary students are excited and engaged by the high schoolers, and there is a joy I do not normally see on the faces of my teenagers.
So, fellow educators, how can we increase these sorts of inter-grade interactions?
I love the stage of life that my daughters are in right now. They are 11 and 13, and my wife Kristin and I are blessed to have two amazing girls that are bright, well mannered, funny, creative, and actually want to hang out with us. (They are also beautiful, but that might not be a blessing for me as we enter these teenage years.)
The truth is, I really selfishly do not want this age to end. I want my kids to be around my wife and I because I love their company and the joy they bring to our lives. But I also recognize that I want to see the people they become as adults. The careers they choose, the family they build and the future they create. I am content and happy with them now, but I am not satisfied with keeping them this age. I want them to reach a point where they do not need me anymore.
This is my heart as a parent and as a teacher. I love the discussions I have with my students and the learning going on in our classroom. I love the interactions and the insights they have. But if that is all they ever have, all they ever learn, then I am not satisfied for them.
I want my students to grow to the point where they do not need me guiding them anymore.
True growth, I believe, lies in gaining independence. That is the goal of parenting. That is the goal I have for my own professional and personal growth.
That is the goal we should have for education.
Content, but never satisfied.
My wife is telling me I need to take a break.
For the last few weeks, I have been spending my time outside of school responsibilities painting and updating our house to be ready for sale. And as it is debate season, most weekends are full of early morning leave times, long days of judging and coaching, and late nights. At the same time, I am developing district programs and brainstorming ideas for administrative initiatives to propose if I get a chance to be an administrator in the next year or so.
I did not use to be a workaholic, so what changed?
For me, it was a desire to prove myself. I want to conquer challenges, and I thrive on challenges. I do not do well just sitting. But lately, even I must admit that I am burning the candle at both ends. And why?
To prove I can be successful.
When I type that, it sounds selfish. But I swear it is not. I strive to work on the house to provide a better one for my family. I strive to coach my students in debate so they will have strong communication skills to serve them well in adulthood. I strive to develop LEADS because I believe our students can make a difference NOW. I strive get an administrative position because I want to IMPACT education by empowering teachers to be the best they can be- in a way I cannot do as a classroom teacher.
See, my success in these endeavors will also be success for others. I do not need to succeed for the success of others to be possible, but I want to be a part of that.
I believe in my family, in my students, in the potential for innovative education, and in my fellow educators.
That is why I strive.
Why do you?
"Don't Tell Me What I Can't Do."
My class motto.
Students, for some reason, have put limits on themselves. "I can't speak in class." "I can never do better than a C." "I have to conform to a rubric to get this grade." "I need to play it safe to get into the right school."
I do not believe that any of those limitations are natural. I believe that students have accepted lies about themselves and imposed limits on themselves.
And I believe educators have done the same.
Somewhere between our childhood dreams of being an astronaut or superhero, we begin to let our lives be dominated by the phrase "I can't." We are told by well-meaning friends and parents and yes, teachers, that we have limits.
We are told by systems that only some can achieve greatness.
Implied in that is that the "some" is not me.
There are definitely examples of humans who go above and beyond- who become leaders and kings and astronauts and our world's version of superheroes. But too few reach that peak. Not because there are only a few who can, but there are only a few who believe they can.
In spite of what the world tells them.
David was told he couldn't kill Goliath. He did.
Theodore Roosevelt was told he might not live to adulthood because of poor health. The least dangerous thing he did was become president.
Rosa Parks was told she couldn't sit there. She showed us she could.
And today, a student will sit in your class, a teacher will stand down the hall from you believing that the thing they wanted most in this world is beyond their grasp.
They will believe that they "can't."
DO NOT LET THEM GO ON BELIEVING THAT.
Samsung has captured our mission as educators.
We must not let a generation believe the lie of "can't." We must not let educators believe it either.
I love the line that says "We're born to do what can't be done." It is true, but we have grown to believe something else. We are born to do more than we think we can.
It is not arrogance that makes us think we can accomplish the impossible.
It is raw human nature.
Don't tell us what we can't do.
I stood in the hallway today, watching my students drink from the water fountain. I spent a good deal of time laughing at them as they tried and failed to connect water stream to mouth. As I stood in the hall, a cafeteria full of students at my back, and an administrator looking curiously at what was going on, I created a moment for my students.
See, they were not simply drinking water, they were wearing perception goggles for a psychology lesson on sensation and perception. This was a sequel to a lesson earlier in the week where they wore the same goggles to navigate obstacle courses, stack cups, and shoot Nerf Guns at targets. That lesson ended with a video simulation of what sensory overload feels like for their peers on the Autism Spectrum followed by a discussion of how we could help our friends when everything gets to be too much- or when we have a difference in perspective.
I love the opportunity to create moments like these. Things that break the norm of typical classroom discussion. Moments where students get to take the lead, run with the lesson, and make it what they want it to be. Even if the lesson plan might go in a different direction. To some, breaking from the established plan is an unreasonable expectation.
I am currently reading the Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, and I came across this quote:
The book points out that creating moments is what makes experiences stand out. They argue that while taking care of small concerns is important, sometimes you need to do something that is not necessary, not even really functional, to make a memory. For us as educators, this unreasonable act means doing something that makes the learning stick.
The goggles and simulation teach students about perspective- how to adjust when one of your senses is compromised and how to see the world in a different way. I could teach that with slides and discussion in five minutes- that is reasonable. It is just a speed bump in a day. But the goggles, or tag team debates (one student starts a topic and the rest of the class jumps up to argue, support or change the subject entirely) or having the students "go to war" with rival groups in class in a trivia game to test knowledge of content are all unreasonable, they lack efficiency.
But they are Everests.
Students will remember these moments. And they will remember the things they learned in them.
So, educators, are you being unreasonable? How can you create moments that impact student learning for the long term- for more than just getting a good grade?
I think we still need to create those rational, reasonable speed bumps. If every day was an Everest, we would crash. But if all we do is make the reasonable decision, will our students remember the things that really do matter?
I am all for being a bit unreasonable. Are you?