This post was something I had thought about at the beginning of this year, but left at the title because of other pursuits. It caught my eye again and combined with some current circumstances seemed to be an appropriate time to revisit. A few things had come to mind as the summer was winding down. I started thinking about the school year and all the new things the students and I would be experiencing, but the one that thing that had inspired this post had to do with discovery and its importance.
Most of you who read my blog know that I mostly post about character, perseverance, and learning. This is in that vein, but from the perspective of not only our impact as educators, but also its importance. We have all heard it and even repeated Plutarch’s familiar phrase; “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited.” I personally explain it with the following phrase. Teaching isn’t about acting on someone, but rather having them act for themselves. I find this to be common sense if the true definition of understanding (according to Howard Gardner) is being able to take new knowledge and successfully apply it to an entirely different context. However, I want to take it a little farther.
Everyone one of us has a key to our life. Our “True North” if you will. It consists of our core values, experiences, and lessons learned. While it is not always clear to us, it exists and dictates your passion and happiness with life. It has many names; purpose, meaning of life, destiny. No matter what label, it is important to align your whole life with it to achieve your maximum ability to learn, potential, and satisfaction. Personally, I spent most of my younger years trying to figure out what I wanted to do before realizing I want to help other people by passing on the understanding I had come to concerning the opportunities available through education and character. My “True North” lay in the dissemination of mental toughness and the idea of learning through failure by taking what you have and making it something better. I have truly believed in the concept of over, under, around, or through my whole life, but like most, never recognized my current existence, experiences, or strengths as something to share. I wasn't always ready for education. I was the first person in my family to go to college (because of what I accomplished on the football field). I was almost even better at twisting arms on the wrestling mat during those years. In fact, I’ve made a habit out of doing things people told me could not be done because I believe that there are no impossibilities with passion, hard work, determination, and the ability and willingness to grow from my mistakes; get up from failures or in short…keep moving north.
To be great, effective educators we must help students with this aspect of their life. There must be a blurring of the lines between the content we are teaching and their lives if we expect students to be engaged to a level at which they retain and understand the lessons throughout the day. Fact is, everyone has a key to their life. Every student has a key to their learning and understanding. As educators we must find their key by looking at what they have done in the past and meshing it with where they are at currently. If we truly want to unlock the potential growth in students we must discover what they aspire to and integrate it with how we approach them. This is essential because life is education. Trying to separate students’ outside life from the material (and location in which) they are learning creates a disjointed experience that benefits no one.
I believe that very rarely does anyone really know where their true north lies from the outset. This is because we all get temporarily blinded from time to time as we exist in those spaces of happiness and satisfaction that populate our days. Unfortunately, these fleeting moments are not what help us fill our potential. Our true potential will not be measured in these small increments, but rather from the lasting impact of our influence we have upon those others whose lives we pass through on our journey in the world. Those of us in education must remember the words of Robert Frost when he said; “I am not a teacher but an awakener.” We must work with the students to help them begin the journey of discovery.
Education isn't about what happens to people, but what happens within people. How are you sparking that flame exciting that fire? We need to stop doing to students in the classroom and begin letting them act. Do not act upon them. As E.M. Forester said; “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon”
And really…in the long run, who truly cares about the shape of the spoon as long as it serves the purpose we need it for; to feed us.