You can’t force children to learn.

“[Y]ou can’t force kids to learn. You can only inspire them to do so.” – David Perrell, Monday Musings, 8/17/20

Why do we continue to try to force children to learn?

We can blame state testing, but that is a cop out. It’s been going on since I was in HS. I grew up in an era where the only high stakes testing was the SAT.

I grew up hating English class. I disliked reading and writing. I came to realize that I hated reading and writing what the teacher wanted me to read and write.

I remember only one project in HS English. We had to do a poetry study. We could choose anyone we wanted. I chose Jim Morrison, partly out of being a smart ass. “I’m going to show her. No stuffy poets for me.” But also because I love music. There is not a day in my life that I don’t listen to music for at least 1 to 2 hours.

The book I used was Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison. What I realized during the project was that I really didn’t hate poetry. I hated the poets that we were required to read.

It was English for me, but it is another subject for someone else. The point is that unless we try to get students personally involved in the content they will shut us out in subjects that they don’t like.

Personalizing your course content is not easy. It requires much more planning, and is much more difficult to execute. But isn’t the payoff worth it?

We all feel our content is important, and it is. We all get upset when students blow off our work. If we want students to work within our content areas we have to help them see the usefulness of what we teach.

It is important that students learn how to think differently. Tackling a problem scientifically is different that tackling it mathematically or historically. The problems aren’t getting easier so being able to approach them from many different angles will be important to solving them.

So if students blow off your class because they are not interested then how are you helping them develop their problem solving skills?

Powerful Learning First, Technology Second

This is the title of chapter 9 in George Couros’s book The Innovator’s Mindset. Many people feel that technology is the answer. The answer to inequity. The answer to reopening schools. I disagree. Technology is a tool. How we use technology is part of the answer.

“Giving kids iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for the high-technology economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics. “ – Cal Newport, Deep Work

We have to get away from using iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, etc. as expensive replacements for the worksheets many teachers rely on. This is where the powerful learning comes in. We, as educators, have to design experiences that allow students to think critically, collaborate, and create. Even more powerful than that, let the students design the learning experiences.

“And yet educators at schools where personalized learning is viewed as an overarching philosophy, rather than a digital panacea, say that adapting to the pandemic has been relatively painless, and that students are continuing to progress in their studies. The key difference between their approach and the popular narrative around personalized learning is that these educators have built their schools around the idea of student agency.” – Ainsley Harris, “Learning Gets Personal,” Fast Company, September 2020.

We have no choice but to give students more freedom in their learning. Students will be home either every day, three times per week, or every other day for at least the near future. We cannot assume that how we engaged students before will work now. In many cases what we were doing before wasn’t working any way.

We need to leverage the technology to make education better. We have to teach students to be creators. For that to happen our teachers need to be creators. It’s not enough that they move their PowerPoints to Google and provide a Form at the end of the lesson as an assessment. We need to fundamentally rethink what and how we educate our students.

We have an opportunity to remake education, so that our students now and in the future come out of this stronger, not weaker than before. Powerful Learning before technology.

Empowerment

All three of the ideas I have spoken about in my last three blog posts, passion, inquiry, and understanding, have brought me to this final idea of empowerment. Wouldn’t now be the right time to empower teachers and students to remake education into what it could and should be?

You might say: Now? The right time? With all the uncertainty? Well there never is a right time. We always wait until the right time, but it never comes. We push things off because it’s not the right time, and then guess what nothing ever happens. But isn’t now as good a time as any?

Uncertainty is the rule, not the exception. It’s how we respond to the uncertainty that matters. That is a major tenet of Stoicism. We need to make teachers and students feel safe in taking risks in adjusting their teaching and learning in response to this uncertainty.

Whether we are in schools or in remote learning, the only people who really know what is going on in any classroom are the teacher and the students. Shouldn’t we empower them to make the decisions that are best for them?

We must allow them to use their passions to make classrooms and learning relevant. Empower them to look at curriculum through their lens and make adjustments that personalize the learning to them.

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek via The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

We also must encourage our teachers and students to question everything. Powerful questions are what drives innovation in any industry. Teachers and students should be asking questions that further their own teaching and learning. They are at the ground level of what can be done to make our classrooms, either virtual or in person, better.

“You don’t have to hold a position of authority to ask a powerful question.” – Polly Le Barre via A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

If teachers and students are encouraged to us their passions and ask their own questions, they will develop a deeper understanding of whatever they are studying. They can use that understanding to push education forward toward what we envision: equity in opportunities for all children. They will also be happier in the process. What will you do this year to empower teachers and students to make education better?

“I encourage you to commit to empowering the people you serve to be part of the process of finding and solving problems.” – George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset