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.
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.