So I was speaking with a young, prospective teacher the other day about his future in education, and at the end of our conversation he asked me a really good question…a question that I had to stop and think about for a minute or two…he asked, ”what do I REALLY, TRULY need to know about kids if I’m going to be an accomplished educator one day? I want to begin to develop myself in these areas, and I want to make sure that I know what it takes to inspire young people”. Well, that question has stuck with me for several days now, and I’ve gone back and forth with what would make my top ten list. Here is what I’ve settled on for today at least, although I’m sure we could all add many more “truths” if we really wanted to bring this answer to life…feel free to send me some this week if I’ve left something off that is totally egregious in your mind…here we go!
1. They’re Curious…I marvel at the curiosity of our kids every single day. The way that they look at the world, the questions that they ask in class, the perspectives that they have on something that completely opens up my mind to another way of thinking, and the attention to detail that they give to things that I usually take for granted. Curiosity is something that many adults tend to lose as they grow older, but kids never, ever lose sight of the wonder of our world…and the learning that is tied to every single experience. Let student questions guide your next lesson or unit and watch their curiosity explode and inspire you…the curiosity of a child is one of life’s greatest forms of entertainment in my opinion. How curious are you about life and learning and the world around you? Let your students be your guide!
2. They Want to Achieve…every student wants to learn, and every student wants to feel some measure of success each and every day. Kids are thirsty for new knowledge, and simply clamoring to showcase their passions and talents and awesomeness to you and to their peers…how are you structuring your class, your daily student experiences, your units, and your assessments to allow for student success? Think about that…does every one of your kids have the opportunity to find success in your class every single day? If not, then it might be time to re-think your approach…all kids want to achieve, so how are you consistently allowing for that to happen?
3. The Make Mistakes…this is where authentic learning comes from! It’s the process of learning from these mistakes which is so powerful, and it’s how we as educators choose to react to these mistakes which will frame the experience in the mind of a child. How conducive to risk–taking and failing forward is your class, and how do your students view their mistakes when they happen? Are the seeing them as opportunities to grow and to learn and to develop, or are they ashamed or afraid or hesitant to take a risk and to stray outside of their comfort zones? This week conduct a mistake audit with your students to ensure that the right message is being sent. Mistakes should be true celebrations for our students because this is what learning is all about! If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not growing as a person…are you sure that they’ve all internalized this?
4. They’re Malleable…as we all know, kids are constantly learning and growing and questioning and making mistakes…therein lies so much of their beauty. We have the opportunity…actually, the responsibility to help shape them into the amazing adults that they are destined to become. We need to be heroes, role models, change agents, and searchlight souls for each and every one of our kids as they meander through their adolescent years. Encourage them to stretch their thinking, challenge them to break out of their comfort zones, hold them accountable to becoming their best selves for others and their community, and guide them through this difficult journey…that’s our job as educators! We need to leave a lasting and positive impact on their lives simply by being who we need to be for them. Every experience that you have with a child is a chance to have them walk away a better human being…how open and aware are you to that responsibility?
5. They Want/Need Feedback…they are desperate for it actually, even if they say otherwise. Kids are constantly watching us as adults, and trying to figure out who they are as people, and where and how they fit in the world. They need honest and authentic feedback about their learning, about how to become better human beings, about how to problem solve, about how to make friends, about how to approach difficult situations, and about all the rest. Feedback is key to your relationship with your kids but feedback does not mean telling kids what to do…that’s a very important distinction. Good feedback sets the stage for students to learn on their own, even if it’s a difficult lesson. Be real with your kids, and give them strategies to deal with the situations in their lives. Everyone wants feedback, it’s just how you deliver it which will make all the difference.
6. They’re Beautiful…I know, that’s an easy one. If you don’t have your breath taken away by the beauty of a child at least once a day then you’re in the wrong profession. Any time that you feel yourself running out of patience, or feel your mood starting to sour, or if you simply need a pick me up in the middle of the day, then pop out to the playground and open up your eyes and ears. Beauty personified is the laughter, the learning, the interactions, and the unadulterated joy of kids playing outside on a sunny day…truly. Children are gifts that all educators have been given, and sometimes we get so busy with our planning, our grading, our own professional development, and our relationships with each other that we forget to stand back and marvel! Nothing in our world compares to the beauty of a child, and it doesn’t cost a thing…it’s effortless and just waiting for you to be inspired by it! Stand back and take it all in…
7. They Need You…being a quality educator is like being a chameleon of sorts. You need to be different things to different kids at different times of the day. You need to be their teacher, their surrogate parent, their mentor, their role model, and their friend all in the span of six hours. We need to be giving them the best six hours of their day, and we have to develop strong enough relationships with each of them so that they trust us to wear all of those hats effectively. Even the kids that are the most difficult to connect with! The kids that are the hardest to reach are the ones that need us the most…you can tell a lot about yourself as an educator by the relationship that you have with your toughest kid…think about that for a second…what would your toughest student say about you as a teacher?
8. No Two Kids Are the Same…I cannot believe how each one of our students can be so unique, and how they all seem to learn in such different ways. We’ve been talking a lot about personalized learning of late in our leadership team meetings, and we’ve been looking at different and effective ways to address the individual and diverse learning needs of our kids. As you all know, good teaching is all about really knowing your kids, and understanding how they learn best. In my opinion, this is one of the hardest things to do as an educator because it takes so much time, effort, patience, and expertise to find the right balance and approach to inspire student learning in ALL of the faces in front of you. It’s a mistake to paint even two of your students with the same brush so to speak, and it’s a great idea in my opinion to reflect on the following question early and often…”how well do I really know my students, and do I really know how to best inspire their learning?”
9. They Need Boundaries…kids love to push boundaries and they love to test their/our limits. It happens every day with all of us, and it’s fun to watch at times…it’s what growing up is all about. For me though, it all comes down to how safe they feel when they are at the edge, and how confident they are that they’ll be rescued if they stray too far. Setting up clear expectations with your students is paramount for success, and developing that level of trust with them so that they know there are boundaries in place to save them if they fall. Kids are going to take risks and make questionable decisions, and they are watching to see how you respond. How able are you to pull them back in if they cross the line, and what is your reaction when they do?
10. They Will Rise to Your Challenge…I think we all know by now the research that shows how students will live up to the way that we think about them as people and learners. If we treat them as scholars and as the incredible human beings that they are then that’s what they will become. It’s important to challenge our students so that they are surprised by all that they can accomplish. We need to inspire them to find their sparks and passions, and inspire them to believe in themselves and their abilities. Our children are wonders, and gifts, and they will go above and beyond anything that we can imagine if we allow them the opportunity. Let’s set them up for success and in many ways, let’s get out of their way! Take a minute or two this week to take a step back and watch your students…watch them as they struggle and learn and fight to understand and persevere…it’s a beautiful thing and it’s a joy. Set high expectations and watch them exceed them all!
Quote of the Week…
A child is a gift whose worth cannot be measured except by the heart. – Theresa Ann Hunt