Wishing for the Wrong Things
Have you ever had a conversation with another educator who was passionate about their work? Okay...that was an obvious question, but this next part might be more challenging.
Have you ever thought about the assumptions that underly your passions as an educator?
My wife and I have three pretty spectacular kids. Every once in a while they come to us with problems they want help with. (If I'm being honest, they're in our faces all the time with a dizzying amount of sibling complaints, but that's beside the point.) The thing I've noticed about our kids is they often wish for solutions to their problems that might rob them of learning or skip important steps in the growth process.
For example, our son sometimes complains he doesn't have enough time to play before bedtime. He seldom comes to us asking, "Mom and Dad, how could I use the five hours I have after school more effectively?" (Instead, he pleads for a later bedtime or faults us for making him brush his teeth.)
This may be an oversimplification, but sometimes I think I might be wishing for the wrong things in education. How about you?
Over the past couple months, I've had several conversations with school leaders who were hoping for really noble things. In one conversation, a group was talking about the importance of parent engagement. The premise was if more parents showed up to school, then our students would be better supported. (Seems reasonable enough, right?)
In a conversation I had just the other day, a high school administrator shared how some students in his school simply don't show up. They stay home. I could sense how troubling this was to him, and listened intently as he spoke about wanting to teach students perseverance and grit. (And who could argue; good character and positive attendance are no-brainers, right?!)
Before I continue, I want to be really honest and confirm that I consider myself part of these conversations and often wish for the same things I hear others hoping for. In other words, I am pointing the finger at myself because these are things I'm still wrestling with.
With that said, let's play this out a little bit.
What if every school leader got their wish? What if all schools had such a strong showing of parent support and engagement that we literally had to turn people away? What if all students attended school everyday? And, what if all kids demonstrated character traits like perseverance, grit, and more? I'll throw in one more wish for the sake of deeper reflection; what if all students were proficient on high-stakes reading and math tests?
Would that be enough or is there a higher bar? Here's where I'm at on this.
I'm thinking that if we're not pursuing the unique strengths and needs of every learner, we might be wishing for the wrong things. If we're not reflecting on the degree to which our leadership and teaching are relevant to those we serve, we're wishing for the wrong things. If our classrooms and schools serve a portion of our students well, we had better be working together to close that gap with collective urgency.
Instead of wishing students were more motivated, we should be wondering why we haven't made their passions and motivations a bigger part of our work. I'd encourage you to watch the short video clip of one of our students below. One of our teachers recently started a cup-stacking club, and every so often one of these videos lands on my desk. When I asked the student's mom if I could share his passion on my blog she was all in. (I didn't realize how much my invitation would mean to her son too, because he hasn't let me forget either!)
There are so many things I want to share about this video and the incredible student who made it. You can probably imagine how many hours of practice he invested into that skill. (And if he's anything like my kids, he probably begged for a later bedtime on numerous occasions.) But if we're being honest with ourselves, we might be able to think of at least one leader who might dismiss that video as irrelevant or non-academic. And maybe you are that leader?
I'm going to challenge that thinking because there's nothing superficial about a person's passions. Think about that for a second. Superficial. Couldn't some of our students level that same charge against some of what they're expected to do in school? I invite you to join me in reflecting on the questions below in a manner that's meaningful to you.
What are you wishing (a.k.a. planning, working, aspiring) for?
How well do you know the learners you serve?
In what ways do the learners you serve feel seen, understood, and empowered?
To what degree do your leadership and pedagogy align with the passions/needs of the learners you serve?