Saturday, June 28, 2014

Leave Room For Learning

Learning doesn't happen in a box. It comes in all shapes and size. I just returned from a trip to Greece and Italy with students this summer so I would like to use that as an example. We had an incredible time and the kids learned so many valuable things on the trip. Yes they learned about Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Warfare, Politics, Architecture and more. But it was more about the little things that the students learned that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. For the first time, they experienced a different culture than there own on a large scale in another country. They recognized differences in language, customs, food, routines, pop culture and more. Most were away from their parents for the first time for that long and definitely most were that far away from the norms they are used in the United States. It was learning to the maximum and the students will never lose what they were able to gain on this trip. So how do we capture that in our schools and classrooms?

Exploration- I did not, nor did I want to hold my students hand as they traveled abroad.
 The first way we even come close to capturing that type of learning is to understand that learning happens in an incredible variety of ways. Students all learn differently and there is not one magic way for it to happen. But one common ingredient to learning is the exploration. We should design our teaching in a way that allows students to explore and discover things on their own. Learning requires engagement and the desire to find answers. If we create projects where students can make choices and discover truths by exploring, learning will be maximized.

Asking Questions- My students had to ask questions to learn and operate in a foreign country.
If your students are not asking significant questions then you are doing it wrong. Learning is all about driving questions. We want our students to struggle with things and be forced to accept the challenge of finding the truth. We want them to research. We want them to ask questions that lead to more questions. Everything great that mankind has ever accomplished has started with a question. We need to teach our students that those questions are the beginning of greatness and that if you work for it, you will find answers to them.

Find Meaning in Everything- The students had to communicate and read a map to get by.
My students read a paper map and talked to people in broken English, not because they wanted to but because they had to. We always have to articulate the meaning and reason behind our teaching. The classic "because I said so" approach does not instill a desire to learn in our young ones. Our projects should be designed to teach skills that will lead to our next project that teaches skills that lead to our next project and so on. We cannot design lessons where we say, "one day this will come in handy." We should make it come in handy now. If we don't, then it goes in one ear and out the other. Every instance of true learning starts with relevancy, usefulness, and meaning. If you don't have that, you don't have the desire to learn.

Friendship and Camaraderie- If they were traveling with Debbie Downer, they wouldn't want to go.
We should never forget that we are the leader, we set the pace, and we demand high expectations. But along with that we should never forget that we love these kids and we should enjoy our time with them. The great ones can provide structure and expectations while also having fun and bonding with the students. You are taking them on a journey. If you are grumpy, boring, or not excited, the journey will not be pleasant and you will lose many off the wagon on the way to your destination.

Traveling with students is blessing- I was tired but I had a blast!
We have a difficult job. But we have a great job! Never forget it! Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Gift of Students

As I looked upon the graduates of 2014 two nights ago, I couldn't help but think to myself, "life as an educator is good." There are so many conflicting emotions at a graduation when you are on educator. You are shocked because you can't believe after all the work and dedication you put in, the year is suddenly over. You are sad because students who have been a huge part of your everyday life will now move on. You are excited because all of the mentoring and guidance you have given to your students will now be put to the test in the great big world outside your school. But the one thing that remains constant is the fact that there are few things more rewarding than the gift of students.

The school experience is not the same for all students. Some students struggle everyday to make it to school, turn in their work on time, and overcome the pressures of being a teenager. Some students are like machines in their ability to balance their school work with extra curricular activities and community involvement. Some students focus most of their attention in one area that they know they will pursue beyond their school years. Others are still figuring it out. But when they are on the graduation stage, the only thing that matters is that those students have finished and are successful. The fact that educators play a role in all of those students lives is a true gift.

We have poured hours into these students. We have been there for their good days and their bad days. We have seen them work through challenges. We have seen them compete at their highest level. We see them in the wake of a family member passing as often as we have seen them accepting a scholarship. Either way, we are there for them. Our job is so much more than the description reads. All of this is not to brag that educators are over worked and under paid. In fact I think our payment is one of the best forms of compensation that you could ask for. We do this because we love our students, we want to help them find success, and we feel there is a greater purpose for our efforts that far outweighs any difficulties we may face in our careers.

Students are a gift. Parents and guardians trust us with their children. In some cases, we are some of the only "family" that our students have. That is a gift. That is a gift that almost brings me to tears when I really reflect on it. Whatever our students go on to do, the influence that has been granted to us will have an impact. We are able to work with students in their formidable years and truly play a role in the person they become. We are responsible for guiding the future of not only our students but the world in which they enter. To me this is one of the greatest gifts you could ask for.

I will miss the class of 2014 deeply. But my excitement for the adventures to come in their lives trumps that easily. The chance to work with them for the past four years has been a gift to me. And that gift is truly inspiring. Leading is Teaching.