I entered a G/T class in fourth grade and quickly understood what it meant to be a nerd. Unfortunately, I was one. I bucked that image as soon as I started junior high and didn’t look back.
Today, however, my teenage daughter would definitely call me a nerd and I embrace that label. I get excited about perfect-looking avocados when I cut them open, fun new Chrome extensions, and writing blog posts on airplanes.
I can sit and talk with someone about teaching, leadership, educational technology, writing or books for as long as we have time (if they are interesting, that is). I get excited when that person has a similar passion for life and wants to share it with me. I was practically bouncing up and down when a friend asked me to explain the Chromebooks that her children will be getting through school next year. I may get a bit emblazoned when discussing some local leadership practices that go directly against what is best for students and teachers. Do those things make me a nerd?
How about these?
- I make up silly songs to make my son laugh.
- I use words like “rad” to make my daughter roll her eyes.
- I take pictures of perfectly-ripened avocados.
- I read picture books to kids using silly voices because it’s more fun for me.
- I read. A lot. And not always thought-provoking nonfiction. (or hardly ever actually)
- I love to play board games. And card games (especially Euchre and Cribbage).
- I like math (well only Algebra-type math. Trig is not fun math, and no one can convince me otherwise)
- I wear a helmet when I ride my bike.
- I have living room dance parties to hip hop from the 90s.
- I say things like, “Look at the sky. Isn’t it beautiful today?” to my kids who are so wonderful that they always look and agree.
I could go on, and probably get even nerdier if that is even the correct term. I’m not so sure. It seemed right when I started the post, but now other words are resonating more with me, like
Disparaging labels are flung too freely these days – often we are the ones using them about ourselves. And while I’ll still jokingly call myself a nerd when the occasion calls for it (because I own that, people), I need to also embrace my awesomeness. If not for myself, then to be a good model for my children who are always watching and listening. But really, for myself, too.
I have two children, and I think they are both pretty amazing. The hardest part about the job I do as an educational consultant is being away from them. So, sitting on the airplane on my way to Arizona, my mind wandered to a scene from home this morning before I left. My son, Evan, has always had an active imagination. We could give him the recycling bin, some tape, and a pair of scissors and the kid would be entertained for an hour creating. His creations tended toward typical boy stuff: a shield, numerous swords and daggers, guns, and even a military-style helmet for our cat (not the most willing model, you can imagine). Once when he was three he came outside wearing a creation that he called his “toy underwear”. He would kill me for writing about it, but we laugh about it to this day, almost seven years later (so if you are reading this and you know him, please don’t rat me out). It more resembled a cardboard pencil skirt – but that’s not really the point. Our kitchen was his Maker Space. His “creating” has many platforms still. He loves to build Legos, set up military operations with his plastic army men, and construct forts from couch cushions. Today, I was doing some work before leaving for the week. My husband was working from home, and our daughter had just left for a church conference. Evan was left to entertain himself. I knew he was building one of his famous couch forts, but then he ran upstairs and asked me to help him find “war clothes”. He found a black shirt from an old ninja costume, paired it with some dark gray basketball shorts, and then found his camo face paint. (Really wishing I had photographic evidence right now.) Keep in mind that he is doing all of this just for himself. No one gave him the idea, no one gave him any direction at all, and no one was evaluating it in the end. It was purely something from his own creative mind, for his own enjoyment.
This is what school learning should be like. Learners (of all ages and in any setting) should get to choose what they study, how they study it, and what they do with it. It should be for their own benefit. Do I think that someone else will benefit from Evan’s creative thinking skills someday? Absolutely. But that’s not his motivation today. It’s okay if kids and adult learners alike pursue something out of pure curiosity or enjoyment (learning other skills along the way).
I know what you are thinking. How can we evaluate that type of student-driven learning? Their learning will be evident in the process. Evan wanted to show me something later on in the morning. He turned one fort (oh yes, there were multiple forts in multiple rooms) into a stage for a magic trick. I was his audience. Part of the fort repeatedly fell down during his trick. He had to reconstruct multiple times. He got frustrated. He rethought the design. He tried a few more ideas before finally getting one that worked for the duration of the magic show. Did I tell him how to fix it? Did I tell him that it even needed fixed? No. He saw that for himself because he was the one who created it to begin with. His learning was evident through his trials, his words, and his finished product. I caught bits and pieces of the process while working in the other room. The best part of all was seeing him laughing and having fun despite the failed attempts that he worked through. We want learning to be fun. I’ve heard it a thousand times, but do we really do what it takes for the learner to think that it’s fun? I would have never come up with that idea for Evan. I would have told him to write a comic book, or play with Legos if he’d asked me for ideas of what to do. While he might enjoy those things, what he chose was perfect for where his mind was at that moment. He got there because he had the freedom to do so. It’s definitely possible on a larger scale like in a classroom, if only the teachers get out of the way of the learning.
All good leaders are full of great ideas. The key is knowing which ideas to develop and when. Some may never go beyond the idea phase. Others may be able to be brought to fruition fairly easily. Others take study, strategizing, collaboration, and mindset shifts. Regardless of the idea and how it develops, all success revolves around the culture of the organization. It might be something that you pursue just for yourself. So, the organization is essentially you. You still have to have that “culture” established that allows you to step out in courage to make the change, or go for the new idea that’s forming.
Most of the time I work with organizations who have established the need for a change but need help carrying it out. Sometimes I’m involved in the strategizing, but I’m always part of the culture. How do we encourage all stakeholders to see the vision? How can we alleviate fears that almost always surround change? How can we ensure long-term sustainability? These are all aspects that I get to have a hand in, and are all major aspects of a growth mindset culture.
What ideas are percolating in your mind? In your workplace? I’d love to hear about them.
One of the most popular questions in a teacher interview is, “Why did you become a teacher?” I remember a professor prepping us for this question by telling us not to answer with, “Because I love kids.” While it may be cliche, it better be a major part as to why you became a teacher. Seriously…
If you are a secondary teacher, your answer might be more content-related, and so I hope you care more about the students in your classroom than the material you are teaching.
I know teachers who chose this profession because they loved children, and became hardened over time. They are the ones I wanted to avoid in the teacher’s lounge, in the workroom, and even in the hallways. That’s not to say that I didn’t have down days, too. It’s just that my love for kids always remained intact. I was genuinely happy to see my former students at the ball diamonds, in the grocery store, at church.
I can honestly say that out of fourteen years as a classroom teacher, there is only one past student that I would go the other way if I saw him on the streets. He was scary as a second grader, and he’s scarier now as a young adult. While I want to avoid him because I’m somewhat sure he’s a sociopath, my heart still hurts for him (from a safe distance, of course).
I wish this level of fulfillment from every educator, in every system, across the country, throughout the world. You may say I’m a dreamer, and I hope I’m not the only one.
I get that teachers get burned out and leave the classroom. There’s a story about it in the news every year. I agree that if someone no longer believes in the students in her class, and no longer values them as humans and learners, then yes- maybe it’s time to leave. But don’t just get out of the classroom- get out of education altogether. I see too many of those teachers decide to leave the classroom for administration, and frankly, those are not the people I would want to see leading our schools.
I want to see administrators who believe in the power of education. I need to see leaders who empower their teachers. I crave to see educators who love on the kids from every level.
Some might argue that someone could be in the business or information technology areas of a school system and not have to love kids. I totally disagree. I want CFOs and CTOs of school systems who put students’ needs first when making decisions for the organization. If they are solely focused on the tools they provide, the services they offer, or their department’s bottom line, then the entire organization suffers.
And when children are the key focus of that organization, I don’t want them to pay the price of adults who have lost sight of their value.