During the holiday season, we all have traditions that we follow. One for our family is a large advent calendar that walks through each day of December leading up to Christmas. There is a companion book by Ann Voskamp that shares encouraging messages of hope around the Christmas season for each day of the month.
Yesterday, I read a quote from the book that, for me, sums up the end of 2020 and is a call to action for 2021.
“When your heart is beautiful, it makes your footsteps brave.”- Ann Voskamp
Who has been brave this year? Those who chose to jump on social media and complain about how 2020 is a dumpster fire? Those who sat in team meetings complaining about how hard their days have become because they were forced to use technology in their classroom? The people who wrote everything off by simply sharing “hashtag 2020”? Unfortunately, no.
The people who found success this year were those who took all the challenges that came and harnessed the chaos into a creative potential to develop something new and better. To innovate, to learn, and to grow.
Books were read, puzzles were solved, sidewalks were explored, projects were completed, discoveries were made, passions were discovered, and lives were changed for the better.
I’m not denying that 2020 didn’t hurt our world. Families lost loved ones who didn’t need to be lost. There is a significant amount of bad reactions, press, and opinions out there.
However, looking forward, with a beautiful heart, we can be brave. Bravery isn’t born of knowledge or power but from the heart. This bravery inspires passion, creativity, innovation, and excitement.
I can see a beautiful heart’s excitement in my children as they wait for Christmas morning. I used to see it in my students’ eyes when they asked to personalize their project in a unique direction and I said, “yes”. I can feel that excitement as tomorrow comes because nothing is guaranteed, but so much can be experienced in a new day.
If beautiful hearts make “footsteps brave”, then let's start building our hearts. My hope is that there is that the beautiful hearts spread in every community, school, and neighborhood, so more footsteps can choose to make positive impacts on the days to come.
Be brave, beautiful hearts.
The holiday break has arrived and between the shopping, wrapping, house fixes, and some rest in between, Disney+ releases a bundle of movies from my childhood. I have enjoyed introducing my own children to different movies of the past. I get excited about their giggles and enjoyment of movies that i connected with as a child.
There was one movie however that I remember being fun and entertaining, but when I saw a clip of it my teacher brain shouted "alert, alert, do not replicate".
Here's the Scene from the 2005 classic Sky High (forgive the typo in the video title):
Are you a hero or a sidekick? The line was drawn very clear. At the end of the clip, the character, Layla, challenges her teacher's perspective on applying a label onto the students but is written off.
Think about this. Where are we putting labels on our students? Jo Boaler dives into this and shares incredible examples of the dangers of labeling our students in her book The Limitless Mind
In her book, Boaler shares her research and personal expereince that the impacts of labeling students has. Boaler writes, "We are no longer in the fixed-brain era; we are in the brain growth era. Brain-growth journeys should be celebrated, and we need to replace the outdated ideas and programs that falsely deem certain people more capable than others, especially when those outdated labels become the source of gender and racial inequalities. Everybody is on a growth journey. There is no need to burden children or adults with damaging dichotomous thinking that divides people into those who can and those who cannot." (Boaler pg. 53).
Considering we are all guilty of putting labels on ourselves and our students, perhaps we have an opportunity to rethink the processes in our classrooms and create a new path of learning where we focus more on growth than labels?
Boaler, J. (2019). Limitless mind: Learn, lead, and live without barriers. pg. 53
I still listen to my hometown sports radio station, even though I haven't lived there in over 10 years.
A recurring phrase that comes up on one of the shows is "is this a get off my lawn moment?" Sometimes the hosts will start to complain about a player, reaction, or comment made.
The idea behind a "get off my lawn" comment is that someone is reverting to their internal old man who is yelling at the kids because they are doing something wrong or different.
As a Digital and Innovative Learning Coach I have come into contact with many "get off my lawn" moments. Somewhere teachers are so set in their ways, they are not willing to discuss possible solutions or alternative ideas. Others see me or my teammates coming and they walk the other direction down the hallway.
In all honesty, education is not a cookie-cutter profession. There is not one classroom from year to year that is a carbon copy of itself. There are trends that do happen, but for the most part, each new classroom that a teacher takes on is a completely unique organism that will never be repeated.
So if innovation means making something better, creating change for the greater good, why do so many teachers yell, "get off my lawn".
The system is flawed, and COVID put a huge microscope on this. The school district that I currently work for went from having on average 5-6 Chromebooks per classroom to becoming completely 1:1. Add on top that the teachers now have to teach concurrently and it is a full recipe for Innovation and growth. The forced innovation that happened in 2020 was a blessing on the status quo of education. My hope is that enough educators found inspiration and excitement in the change. Their creativity was allowed (and continues) to thrive as we push into 2021.
Teachers should let go of the control of the content and empower their students to build up a complete understanding of learning. Challenge students to become producers and avoid situations where students are mindless consumers. Gamify the classroom to engage students more. Retire the PPT from 2004 and try something new. Adopt a new philosophy on grading. and give more feedback.
And then more feedback.
Standing in a schoolhouse now, we can't get off the proverbial lawn, because the lawn has burnt up. The ground is charred and it is time to grow something better. Will you be brave enough to take on the challenge, and push beyond what has always been into the challenge of innovation? Or will you be left behind, dreaming about what was?
Studies show that over a person's life, there is more regret for NOT doing something vs trying something and failing at it.
We have been given a gift. It's time to stop yelling about the lawn, and to start getting dirty ourselves.
Do you remember what it is like to sit in complete wonder? Like a child, the world around you is redefined in split second of mind bending fascination.
Wonder like that seems to have been replaced with a wonder of how bad things are. Questioning if the events and experiences around us will ever get better, back to the way they were.
If we were to define wonder in 2020, it wouldn't be that of a child's excitement and awe, but an overwhelming sadness and anxiety filled feeling of loss. It is a feeling so overwhelming, that the default is to become indifferent about what is happening around us.
As a teacher, there are even more challenges that are happening in the classroom. Online teachers are limited with resources, experience, training. Concurrent teachers are doing an almost impossible task of balancing students in the live classroom and in a zoom. A school day is becoming less and less like a place of learning and more like a large checklist that has to be completed each day.
The quote says "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results."-Rita Mae Brown
This insanity has grown and created a callus of indifference that is getting tough and tougher to break through.
Indifference tempts the wonder to fade away, but it is wonder that is the only thing that can unlock the indifference in our teachers and students.
The definition of learning is roughly "knowledge acquired through experience".
Creating wonder is not experience built on powerpoints. Nor is it related to how many worksheet pages your 3rd grade student can complete in a day.
Creating the wonder worthy of unlocking the indifference is curious. It is inquisitive. The freedom to wonder like this can only be fostered in an environment of freedom, excitement, and curiosity.
How do we unlock wonder? We must create.
In creating, we will make mistakes.
In making mistakes, we will learn.
In learning we will start to wonder.
In wondering, we will unlock the indifference, shedding the callus skin like butterfly drops it's cocoon.
We are experiencing a challenge, and each one of us has the choice to embrace wonder or lay down to indifference.
Taylor currently serves as a Coordinator of Innovative Learning for a mid-sized school district in Texas. He is a speaker, writer, and coach for all who are in conflict with the status quo.