Learning By Firehose

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This week has been filled with BIG starts.

First, it was the official start to preparing this year’s Kansas FFA officers in facilitating learning during next week’s Student Conference for Chapter Leaders (SCCL) for over 300 FFA members.

Then, it was also the start of my next master’s course studying the role of the university in society.

Its been one of those “firehose” learning weeks.

Drinking from a firehose would probably not be any of ours first choice in obtaining our daily need of water. Actually, drinking from a firehose would (dependent on the pounds per square inch of pressure released) hurt pretty bad…

So, that begs the question: why would anyone want to or choose to learn “firehose” method? 

Many times in life it’s not our choice whether or not we will learn firehose method; therefore, would we not be better off occasionally choosing the path more difficult to prepare for the times when we do not have the luxury of choice?

Think to a time you had to learn firehose method. 

How did you respond? How did you process and filter through to the essentials?

More than anytime in history we have access to an almost unlimited amount of information, this brings great opportunity for those prepared and equipped to process it! Yet, anytime we venture unto the great wide web, we are treated to the firehose treatment of bombardment.

Occasionally, we as educators must choose the firehose method to keep ourselves attuned to the world our rising generation was born into.

Arming our students with the ability to process information through classifying, drawing comparisons and connections, and critical analysis will be one of the greatest gifts we give this generation.

Challenge yourself this summer…find the firehose and take a drink.

Tyranny of Time

It is sad, we spend our lives chasing deadlines and limited time opportunities.

We fill every waking moment from start to finish with endless “productivity”.

Our culture measures data that is all about efficiency and time saved. Yet, any time “saved” is just spent up again in the crazy rush.

When we view our world through quantifiable terms, we invariably commoditize it. We are told over and over again, “Spend your time wisely and don’t waste it!”…as if it were something we really owned.

The deeper issue though with commoditizing our time is that it gives us permission to put up the blinders to the world around us. We too easily fall into the excuse that we don’t have time to look out for the interests of anyone else besides ourselves.

When we fall for the false narrative pushing the scarcity of time, it incentivizes us to take shortcuts. Shortcuts in building authentic relationships, shortcuts in learning a craft deeply, shortcuts in our morals…the list could go on and on.

These shortcuts may increase the quantity of our time, but will in due course reduce to rubble the quality and impact our time may ever have had on others. Before too long I hope we may realize that our quality of life is independent of time, but wholly dependent on each other.

Deep, genuine relationships are the colorful strokes by which we cover our life’s tapestry. Without them dust will be the only coating our lives will accumulate.

I’ll finish with a quote by Albert Schweitzer:

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know the only one’s among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”       

Let us not submit to the tyranny of time, but find freedom in the service of others! 

Teaching a Plant to Learn

There are tons of remarkable characteristics of plants.

Grass has the ability to warn other grass it is about to be mowed (that sweet smell after mowing the grass, is actually the grass sending a warning signal). Plants can be trained to take a smaller shape and will reduce the size proportionally of its leaves and even bark (this is an art form in of itself called Bosnia).

Yet, even with all these remarkable abilities…can you teach a plant to really learn?

Everyone would say not possible, its obvious a plant cannot learn…heck they don’t even have a brain! As an agriculture teacher I take special pleasure in rocking my students’ world when I share with them to the contrary there is mounting evidence that they can and do learn! Follow the link below to learn more:

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/15/can-a-plant-remember-this-one-seems-to-heres-the-evidence/

In education we face an analogous challenge. We struggle with trying to help our students learn. We have done an excellent job at siloing the information from the process. Students are ‘learning’, that’s not the issue, but are they recognizing how they are doing so and building upon it for when we are not around to guide them?

Why would learning how to learn be important? Classrooms are ‘safe’ places for learning. We have cookbook labs that help students understand the basic principles. Most students accomplish those tasks excellently. Yet, when tasked with leaving the map and tackling a problem that does not have a clear answer or process…students and many times ourselves freeze up. 

The raw process of learning is challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, and sometimes just plain boring. It’s hard to express, but I have found that the learning process can elicit all these emotions and sometimes more than one at the same time!

Yet, do we allow students to feel that process, reflect during the process, and allow the process to play out? Unfortunately, we don’t have time to do that…with all this other content we must teach, we just pour on the content, find an interactive way for them to learn the concept and hope it will stay retained long enough till the upcoming state exam.

More than ever our students desperately need to learn how to learn. Now, how do we accomplish that?

I won’t claim to have an answer, but maybe the place to start is taking a deep dive into an unclear concept ourselves. Feel what it is like to learn again…recognize the struggle for ourselves. Rediscovering the learning process will be our only hope in helping our students do the same.

Everything Has A Cost

Everything has a cost.
Maybe it is a belief we stand for or something we value.
No matter what…everything has a cost.

This past week, I traveled all over Washington, D.C. during the Washington Leadership Conference. Countless markers and monuments stand as testaments that our principles, freedoms, and opportunities did not come freely or are maintained freely.

Whether it was standing in the center of the World War 2 Memorial where the lives of each soldier lost in the war are marked by a star with the words emblazoned beneath saying, ‘The Price of Freedom’. Or standing in the midst of the white-washed marble tombstones of Arlington Cemetery stretching across acres, marking the grave sites of our fallen heroes over the centuries.

Honoring these men and women who gave the last full measure of their lives ensuring our protected future was a humbling experience. It made me pause to consider how I was ensuring my time in the classroom was honoring to the sacrifices they have made.

During my time in college I struggled with my decision to pursue education. My parents felt I was wasting my future by pursuing a career that paid less than most other professions. (Since then my parents have been extremely supportive of my time in the classroom.) I flirted with geography, ag economics, and even potential military service. Yet, I still felt a burning desire to be in the classroom. It was in the agricultural classroom that I knew I could connect with students and help raise up future leaders for our community. I took the attitude that I must somehow instill qualities of character through my curriculum.

Offering opportunities to strengthen character through my curriculum has been a tremendous blessing to both my students and I. Providing students the chance to care and work with various livestock in my Animal Science class has taught the value of hard work and labor. Installing landscapes across our community has built in my students respect for their sense of place and an understanding that we each carry a stake in bettering our communities.

These may be intangibles that cannot be measured through a multiple-choice assessment, but I can see the impact from that glint in their eyes to their changing in topics of conversation.

Our time in the classroom is a valuable commodity. We have an overwhelming amount of standards and concepts to teach. Yet, the most valuable aspect of our classrooms are each of the students who are there. Some of these students will choose to wear a uniform of the armed services, some may choose to become educators, some may pursue a career in business or medicine.

Though there may be countless paths for our students to choose from, all of them require a strength of character. Let the time students spend in our classrooms be an opportunity to build that character and refine themselves for the life task before them. Too great a price has already been paid for us to squander the chance to prepare a new generation of leaders for our country.

Everything has a cost…so let us ask each day: ‘What can I give?’         

Thank you to all those who have served and are currently serving our country in the armed services. Words and monuments will never be enough to express your sacrifices.

What are we building?

Each day is another layer of our lives. So, what are we building?

If the answer is our own legacy, our own small kingdom, then we must take stock. How is that landscape looking? Too often, the answer is not what we want. Lives built for self are weak replicas of the life we are called to.

What if our focuses, energies were devoted to encouraging and building each other up? How would that change the dynamics of our families, schools, communities, and country?

It is an intentional choice to build another person up, let us pursue such paths with endless abandon! Start by asking yourself, who can you build up today?

One of the most important steps I took this year was opening my heart to a deep, enriching mentoring relationship with an aspiring teacher. I admired his clear passion and drive to grow. Initially, I was hesitant. What do I, a young teacher myself, have truly to share?

How little did I know, that real growth comes from two or more embarking on a journey together that neither has gone on before. It has required building each other up, feeding off each others ideas, and trusting each other deeply. If the opportunity affords itself to establish a formal mentorship, my advice, take it!         

Today is a new day…so I ask again, what are we building?

A Timeless Debate…

“You regard William as of subtler vein and acuter genius because omitting grammar and literature he has hastened to the cunning of logic, where he learns dialectic not in books as is customary but in schedules and notebooks…For what good does it do them to spend their days on these things which are of no advantage to anyone at home or in the camp or in the forum or in the cloister or at court or in the church, but only in the schools?”
-p. 16 University Records and Life in the Middle Ages compiled by Lynn Thorndike

I was shocked as I read this letter from Peter of Blois, written in the 1150s! As background, he was tutoring two young boys; both of whom were quite different in their approaches to learning. The older boy pursued knowledge from the world of work, leaving behind the study of formal grammar and literature. The younger boy gravitated more towards the traditional learning of that day. Their tutor after working with them for two days (How often do we make outreach to parents as quickly as that?) wrote a letter walking the delicate balance between preparing them both for the real world and ensuring both young men had the foundational skills for success.

It is hard for me to fathom that this question, what is the purpose of school, has been nagging educators for almost a millennium! We should be humbled that our pursuit for that answer is not one solely for our age, but has been a timeless source of debate.

Yet, we should be cautioned that the abrupt changing of the winds we see today does little benefit for our students, parents, teachers, and administrators. In education policy they refer to this as the swing of the pendulum. In some years the pendulum heavily emphasizes foundational content skills to only shift rapidly to more abstract career-based skills.

The impatience of not seeing results quickly is the force driving much of the rapid pendulum swinging shifts. Peter describes eloquently in his letter that we would be better with content seeped in an understanding of its benefits and translation to the real-world. How do we ensure the content we teach draws relevance to the world beyond the confines of our four-walled classroom?

What can be agreed is that there exists no one answer to the question, what is the purpose of school? Yet, by answering that question of relevance for our students we will hopefully better serve their needs irregardless of what policymakers label the purpose of schools. Keep those connections rolling for students, opening their minds to the vastness of our world and we will have served greatly our part in this mission of education!   

Finding Inspiration

We cannot hope to inspire others if we ourselves are not inspired or seeking inspiration…

How do we seek inspiration? It is an intentional investment in ourselves. Drawing connections between various facets of our world and knowledge. This does not happen in a sudden flash, but through a slow burning process that can take years.

There are four unique, yet similar definitions of the word inspire:

1. fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
2. create (a feeling, especially a positive one) in a person.
3. animate someone with (such a feeling).
4. give rise to.

We tend to focus on the first three, where we seek to inspire. Yet, how can we “fill” someone, “create” a feeling in someone, or “animate” someone; if we ourselves are not filled with the capacity of giving rise in eliciting such emotions. Simply, if inspiration does not exist in us how can we hope to pass on something we ourselves do not have.

We must make intentional efforts in filling our hearts and minds with those things that will serve as the kindling to ignite the inspiration we seek. Perhaps it is reading a book that now the summertime affords us. Maybe it is the hike into the wilderness with our family. Whatever it is, we must recharge the batteries of our minds and hearts.

To seek is to find; do not rush the process and above all — let us keep our fires of inspiration alive!   

The Ability to Recognize Ability

As teachers the greatest contribution we can make into the lives of our students in many cases, is recognizing their own unique ability. In a world dominated by societal pressures about what worthy ‘ability’ looks like we need to help students decipher their own abilities.

This came to startling view when we asked a group of 8th Graders to identify their perceived strengths and weaknesses. The answers consistently came back to their own athletic ability. They would list strengths such as: great ball handler, fast on the field, or stronger from lifting.

As a lover of sports and a former basketball coach I appreciate the value of sports, this allowed us to meet our students where they were at. What they had listed were surface layer ability and strengths. We wanted to push them deeper…

What allowed you to be a great ball handler? Did you suddenly wake up at five years old and decide you were going to be miraculously able in basketball? They got to this level of performance not due solely to natural ability. There are these hidden abilities and strengths; discipline, growth mindset, and passion. These are abilities and strengths that will, when instilled, not only show up on the court, but in the classroom and hopefully in their personal lives.

Yet, are we equipping students with that understanding? Are we providing them with the language to help them draw those connections? If we silo these areas of life we will not see transferability of the good qualities learned through sports.

The first task in helping students recognize their own ability and help them navigate those waters for themselves is to see the greatness of ability in each of our students. By recognizing the deep and foundational ability of students we can help open their own hearts to their special gifting.

Now the questions we must ponder are:

1. Can we help pre-service teachers learn to recognize the deeper ability of their students?
2. How do we equip young teachers with the capacity to have deeper ability and strength-based conversations?
3. How do we strengthen our own ability to have those levels of conversation with students?
4. Finally, how do schools help facilitate the time and space for such conversations?