“What a day for a mow, eh?” –Vinnie Antonelli (Steve Martin’s character in the cult classic My Blue Heaven)
I mowed the lawn Saturday and it turned out to be the type of experience that needs to be happening more often in schools. Let me explain…
It wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill mowing experience. My mower has been giving me fits lately. Starting up fine, but then stalling after just a few seconds. I knew taking it in to the shop would cost me at least 80 bucks. I also understand that I have little to no skill when it comes to small engine repair.
So what did this have to do with teaching and learning? Well, here are three things that happened to me that I think teachers should be doing more often…
Questions with Unknown Answers
When’s the last time you asked students a question that you had NO clue as to the answer? I certainly had no idea what the solution to my problem was. This led to a challenging situation, one where I had to try multiple solutions (changing the air filter, replacing the spark plug) before finally figuring out the right answer (cleaning the carburetor). I think if students were presented with more situations like this, situations where the answer isn’t clear (even to the teacher!) or where there’s more than one way to find an answer, it would lead to more engaging learning, better critical thinking, and more creativity and innovation in our classrooms.
Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone
As I mentioned, I have no idea how to fix an engine, or anything else for that matter. I come from a long line of non-handy people. So to tackle something like this was a bit of a risk. Taking apart things can lead to being unable to put them back together. And that can be frustrating (and in this case can be pricey). However, risk taking can have many benefits, as well. Chief amongst these is the fact that when you take risks, the success you achieve is all the sweeter. And it can inspire you to try new things and take on new challenges in the future. I went from having no idea what I was doing to mowing the lawn. And along the way, I expanded my comfort zone to include carburetor cleaning.
Set Them Up For Success!
Much is written about the importance of allowing students to fail and encouraging them to learn from their mistakes. And while I do believe this is valuable, I also think it’s critical, especially in the elementary years, to do all we can to provide students with successful experiences. Give them everything they need to succeed (and believe that they CAN succeed) and you’ll find that even when presented with the most challenging of tasks, students can amaze you. In my case, I had everything I needed: an auto parts shop right down the street, plenty of time, and a healthy supply of youtube videos. Sure, I was wary, but I was set up to succeed. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage risk taking and mistakes and failure, it just means we need to make sure there are support systems so kids aren’t left to figure things out completely on their own. We’ve got to help them learn what success feels like, so they’ll want more and more of it as they move forward in life. I’ll be honest, there was a definite strut in my step having conquered this task. It was a great feeling. Let’s work to give students that feeling as often as possible.