Teaching and Learning

It’s Our Job to Make Them Drink

It happened again this week.  Someone who was watching an amazing teacher doing incredible things in a classroom used my least favorite expression.  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

I understand the intent.  For generations people have thrown this around to explain all manner of things…food not eaten, advice not taken, lessons not learned.  The idea is simple. We can provide even the best of something, but we cannot force anyone to consume it.  We cannot force a toddler to eat her food.  We cannot force a newlywed to heed the advice of his grandfather who has been married fifty years.  And we cannot force a student sitting in a classroom to learn.

I disagree.

No, we cannot make a horse drink water.  But we can certainly make the walk intriguing, and we can certainly make the water enticing.  The best teachers do it everyday.

They make the walk long.  They spend enough time to build background and provide the necessary scaffolding to help every student succeed.  They know that every child is in a different place with every lesson.  They assess what students know and fill in the gaps before they ever get to the activity.

They make the horse thirsty.  They understand that motivation and self efficacy are keys to the success of every lesson.  They supply the why for each activity.  They help students want to learn.  And they use the long walk to build a strong relationship, the most important thing our best teachers do.

And then they make the water irresistible.  They design engaging lessons that are impossible for students to resist.  They find stories and music and movie clips and speakers and field trips and projects that address multiple learning styles and allow each child to learn.

Our job as educators is not simply to design aligned curriculum and research-based instructional models.  Our job as educators is not simply to provide materials and experiences.  Our job as educators is not simply to provide a quality lesson and hope our students learn.  Our job as educators is to ensure, to guarantee as our mission so boldly states, that students learn.

It’s our job to make them drink.

I have been in many classrooms in the last month, and I have seen teacher after teacher doing this hard work.  It is happening everyday in our schools.  It is not easy, but it is our life’s work.  And I cannot imagine a more important job.

I’m Ready to Break Some Rules

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I am a rule follower.  I always have been.  I was the kid in class with her hand up.  I was the one on Safety Patrol in elementary school.  I like knowing the rules, and I find comfort in following them.  I was never the “ask forgiveness not permission” person.

As a new principal, I shared my non-negotiables with our staff.  Rule following was on the list. People need to know the core values of their leader.  In education there is safety in having well-defined policies and procedures to follow.  A strong instructional model, a guaranteed viable curriculum, and a quality assessment system guide our work.  A consistent Code of Conduct and procedures for everything from field trips to facility use provide consistency.  Following them ensures equity in opportunities for children.  I know that.  I believe that.

But more and more lately, I’ve been wanting to break the rules.

We take our greatest leaps when we challenge the status quo.  There is power in examining what we are doing…and then changing it when appropriate.

I think I might be ready to rebel.  I think I might be ready to take some risks.

As a profession, we’ve been asking questions about what our most successful teachers, administrators and schools are doing.  How are they meeting the unique needs of their students? In some cases, they are breaking the rules.  In some cases, they are deviating from the standard, prescribed process.  And it’s working.

So if that’s the case, where is the line?  How do we ensure fair and equal opportunities for all students and still create an environment where people can take the risks necessary to meet the needs of each child?

Discuss openly and honestly

I want our leaders to feel safe in talking about what they are doing.  I want to ensure a culture where we can disagree and challenge each other in positive ways.

Listen

I want to get better at listening.  I want to go into these conversations without an agenda and be willing to learn.

Share what’s working

I want educators to be collaborative and not competitive.  I want our profession to be about finding what works for all kids.  I want an educational climate that focuses on sharing, so we all get better.

Trust

I want people to focus less on accountability and more on trust.  I will never stop holding myself and others accountable because our work is too important not too, but I want my default to be trust in others’ good intentions.

Risk

And finally, I want to start taking more risks.  I want to challenge more.  I want to push the boundaries more.  I think it will make me better.

Following the rules has worked out pretty well for me.  I’m not sure I’m ready to cast them all to the wind and run amok.  But with age (and maturity?) comes the recognition that challenging the status quo is a good thing.

I think I might finally be ready to break some rules!