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.