Recently I was lucky enough to share my thoughts about teaching with Sam Rangel on the Amazing Teacher Podcast. Sam is doing A-MAZING work himself, celebrating the education, and I was completely honored when he asked me to be on the podcast. It was fun to reflect on how I got started teaching and think about what I’ve learned over the years. While I’m definitely a different kind of teacher now than I was my first year of teaching, that’s what teaching is all about. Growth and learning. And, I’m certainly not finished growing or learning just yet. Truthfully, I hope I never am. Thanks, Sam, for reminding me of that. You can check out the podcast here, and also be sure to visit Sam’s blog “Success in the Classroom.“
I learned a lot in school. But there is so much I didn’t learn. Resiliency. Grit. Determination. I had to learn those on my own. Outside the classroom. My struggles were in trying to collect stars for reading books, to get a 100% instead of a 99%, to do a paper over just once more because it wasn’t quite good enough. Struggles I placed on myself that weren’t about learning. At all. When I got out of school, into “the real world,” I found out what struggle was. I had to learn for myself. I found a new definition of what “hard” really was and I had to overcome my struggles with perfectionism to embrace hard.
When I think of classrooms today, I want more for kids than what I had. I want struggle to be theirs. I want determination to be a skill they develop, in that carefully supported environment where they learn to crawl before they walk and where a scrape on the knee gets a band-aid and we move on. Struggle isn’t always pleasant. But, it’s necessary. With practice? Kids can understand that there’s a part of struggle that is enjoyable. That part where you overcome and know that it was yours. You have to own the struggle. As educators, we have to be careful, because we love our students, we sometimes want to steal their struggle. We want to be the relief in their journey.
But when we steal their struggles? We steal their learning.
It was inspiring to hear Temple Grandin speak at the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented Conference today. Their theme this year? “Gifted and Beyond.” Beyond indeed. Beyond the label. Beyond your perceptions. Beyond what you think you understand. Temple Grandin inspired me because I see success. I see someone who found her place in the world, inspiring others to think differently about autism, and about kids who are different. Her passion for agricultural science led to her earning a doctorate in the field. Today? She gave hundreds of educators insight into how learning is different for her. A difference too many refuse to acknowledge because they do not try to understand it. She inspired us.
We need to think about the expectations we place on kids. If we are not careful, our expectations will become their limits. What if we see beyond what we think they can do? What if we realize that seeing kids as individuals is more important than knowing everything about a label. Kids. Beyond the labels. The possibilities there? They are limitless.
School is not just about connecting kids with curriculum. It’s about connecting kids to the world. Showing them they matter. Encouraging them to embrace their own uniqueness while they embrace the uniqueness of others. It’s about working together to make the world a better place. Connecting can be chatting over lunch, a field trip to another city, or even a Skype call with a class in another country. Connecting to learn. Connecting to understand.
Below are links and resources from my session at Texas Association for Gifted and Talented where I had the fun of sharing “Global Connections for Gifted Learners.” Check it out and get your class connected today.
The most important thing that you can be as an educator? Yourself. Kids can feel authenticity from a mile away. Your joy is their joy. Your curiosity is their wonder. Your ability to be who you are? It’s their courage to be themselves. It sounds easy. It sounds like something that’s a given. The best compliment a kid ever gave me was, “Thanks for showing me it’s okay to be weird.” I remember smiling, thinking, did she just call me weird? Yep. She did. And I realized, that might just be the best thing I can be… because it’s genuine.
Maybe learning is about seeing something ordinary from a new perspective. Whether it’s a sunrise at 40,000 feet, or a problem you’ve been trying to solve. A new view brings new ideas. Sometimes the view is brought to you through the power of collaboration. The pilot that takes you up to a new height, or the people who push your thinking into seeing an old situation in a new way. Maybe it’s all just ordinary. Until it’s not.
There are five conversations I feel like I’m having, over and over again. In my learning space, through Twitter, at conferences. I even read about them on blogs, in educational magazines… the five questions that haunt me because I feel like they are roadblocks. Things to discuss instead of taking action.
1.) Shouldn’t there be an “A” in STEM?
There’s a national trend right now to add the “A” in STEM, so that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math will also include Art. But, the way I see it, STEM is already so much about creativity, innovation, and ingenuity that Art is already in that. Look at a rocket when it effortlessly glides into the atmosphere. If that’s not a work of art, I don’t know what is. Talking about the acronym takes too much focus off the actions we need to happen to get STEM at the forefront in our learning environments.
2.) Isn’t gifted education elitist?
If I had a nickel for everytime I had to explain this, I’d be able to pay back the National Debt. Being gifted is about being wired differently. Saying it’s “elitist” to meet a child’s needs is the same as saying helping a student with dyslexia in their reading is giving them too many privileges. The argument just gets the focus off of doing something. And doing something is what is best for kids.
3.) Won’t changing teacher evaluation systems make teachers work harder?
Oh gosh. Really. Do you know any teachers? Teachers are already working beyond what most can imagine to be hard work. Every single day. Trying to meet kids needs in the face of increasing demands. Believing that you can “force” teachers to work even harder by changing the way they are evaluated is like thinking you can get a Pro Football Player to score more touchdowns by giving him more things to carry when he’s running down the field.
4.) How can I become a connected educator if I don’t have time?
It’s not about having time. It’s about making time. None of us have endless amounts of time, but we all have to determine what our priorities are. The time you take to connect will enrich your teaching in ways you can’t even begin to understand, until you connect.
5.) How will ________[insert name of a device] change the learning environment?
Turns out, devices aren’t magic wands. No device, no matter how big or how small, is going to change the learning environment without a strong, collaborative educator at the helm of the class, leading the way, and guiding learning. If you give a class a brand new box of pencils, will that be a game changer? Nope. Unless what the teacher encourages and embraces students to use those pencils for. It works just the same for devices.
What conversations are YOU hoping to never have again?