Learning. It’s real. It’s the world. It’s that magical space between wondering, figuring things out, and understanding. It can’t be prescribed in a book filled with fake problems. But, it can be ignited by a teacher. Another student’s question. A current event. Real problems. Real thinking. Real collaboration. You can’t reduce the learning process to a a set of bubbles to fill in or to a linear set of steps. It’s messy. It’s all over the place. It’s a journey, with multiple side trips, bumps, and hills to climb. And it never ends.
Creativity. I get angry when I think about how it’s been squeezed from classrooms. Pushed out of schools. Reduced to art class or one small project here or there. Creativity is in math, science, reading, writing, and social studies. Creativity is about building new knowledge from past connections. It’s about thinking beyond what you know. Beyond the rocket the took us to the moon. Farther than the treaty that ended a war. Past the non-fiction writing, into the unknown. Creativity is about feeling, and connecting, and dreaming up new ideas. It’s more about learning than a grammar workbook, but it’s less common in schools.
Thinking. It’s hard to let students think. In our quiet, lies their learning. We ask a question, we wait, we listen, we facilitate. They struggle, they think, they dig deeper. We allow their questions to each other to provide ladders to climb higher and higher levels of thinking. We stop stealing their struggle and their thinking becomes their tool. A tool that when used with practice will take them anywhere. As long as we just know when to get out of the way. It takes time. Precious moments provided for real learning to take root. Roots that will grow and stick well into the future.
Connections. The world is small. Connecting kids with each other helps build empathy, understanding, global thinking. There might not be huge budgets for field trips, but with Skype? Kids can travel the world. The connections? They are real. Not just people and places on a page in a chapter. But real people, with real thoughts, and real experiences. People with different weather, different languages, different types of houses. But people? Just the same. With hearts and minds and a willingness to connect. Interacting with the world. Learning from each other.
More Questions. I am convinced that classrooms should be filled with far more questions than learning targets. When you tell me what I am going to learn, then tell me I learned it, that’s boring. When you ask me a question? I start wondering, thinking, craving to explore. I’ll dig deep to figure things out. Because the learning? It’s a huge surprise gift that I can open. A gift that is far more fun to unwrap if you haven’t already told me what’s inside. Guide me in the direction, but don’t be the GPS screaming in my ear the whole trip.
Fun. Fun has somehow become the new ‘F’ word in education. We make the mistake of thinking there is no time for fun. We replace relaxed thinking with stressful test prep. We reduce recesses to cram facts. But fun? It’s motivating, exciting, enticing, and having fun is not wrong. School? It SHOULD be fun. It should also be filled with struggle, hard work, and deep thinking, but fun? It makes it all even better. We’re trying to grow great people in our schools. And great people? They have senses of humor, unique perspectives, optimism, a healthy outlook on the world. Learning often is fun, and if it’s not ever fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Technology. No, I don’t think it will change the learning environment unless the teaching changes, but I believe in the power a teacher holds by integrating technology. Unleashing the chance for creativity, research, interacting with the world, connecting with each other. It’s not about the device, it’s about what you do with it. Kids can’t wait for us all to catch up. We need to open up our schools, stop fearing the devices, and embrace the way our kids access information, connect with each other, and live. Because embracing the way they live? It’s essential to learning.
School. School is a place where kids should come running in the door, feel welcome, have a sense of belonging, be understood, and fall in love with learning. Passions should be explored and discovered. Problems should be solved while new problems are uncovered. Science should be more than an experiment on a cardboard display once per year. Dreams should be born. Schools should grow the kind of people that our world needs for a future that’s going to be challenging, different, and unexpected.
The things I believe in? They keep me awake because I know what school is. I know what’s missing. I know that too many classrooms, in too many places just aren’t what kids need. So I lie awake thinking, what if it were all fixed. Tomorrow. And that? It’s my idea of a sweet dream.