Last week I attended a professional development meeting with George Couros, author of the Innovator’s Mindset. I jotted tons of Couros’ quotes in my notebook, all important to the kind of teacher I keep striving to become:
“How do you cultivate questions of curiosity and not compliance?”
“Data driven is the stupidest term in education.”
“Your childhood is not their childhood. Nostalgia is what gets us stuck.”
“Relationships matter! Nobody in this room is as interesting as YouTube. If you are all about the content, you are already irrelevant.”
“You need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are hard to hear.”
“Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?”
“Every day is where your legacy is created.”
Once I got over my fleeting envy at her having the opportunity to hear George Couros speak, the overwhelming sense of luck and joy that someone captured these thoughts and framed them in a way that speaks to me, and encourage me to be better–forgive myself of missteps and be better. Every day.
The only one I may disagree with is the nostalgia piece. It requires more nuance. A few years ago students started a Flashback Friday, where they asked me questions about my child-teenage hood, and I answered as honestly as possible. Agreeably, getting bogged down in nostalgia isn’t healthy for anyone. I’ve often said nostalgia is a heckuva drug. It’s the Mirror of Erised. But a relevant story in the context of a teachable moment is not the same as nostalgia. Just yesterday I explained why there are the terms “cc” and “bcc” on emails.
And yes, I do try to make my classroom one I want to be in. I heard the phrase ‘dogfooding” years ago, and took it to heart: basically, eat your own product. Yesterday I was frustrated with one class because they could not stop side talking. I told them what they were learning (about Outlook email–poor little future borgs, as my cohort member from WABS/STEM, told me) wasn’t the most exciting, but they had to listen and follow along step by step. That may be the hardest thing about computer instruction, and I’ve been very honest with them. Everyone in that class is all over the map, and sometimes we just have to keep in step.
Today I’ll take with me these words, and try to do better. And laugh to myself about the data-driven line.
Someday, maybe, I’ll work on my Doctorate, and I am fairly certain what my focus will be the power of storytelling. It’s been a subject I’ve researched for years. We are all narrative learners. I struggle with putting things in tidy boxes of informational versus narrative. I could make a case that all learning is information, or all learning is narrative. But it’s both.
And what makes us human, to me, is our need for a story. Perhaps elephants, dolphins, and whales tell their babies stories, and I know experience is certainly passed down. Unless of course, you’re an octopus–incredibly intelligent, but have no means of passing it along to the next generation. “Their knowledge dies with them.”
In Newkirk’s book, Minds Made for Stories, he explores the question of how knowledge is developed. It’s a fantastic read and supports my own instincts about the power of storytelling when it comes to any content area.
But why is this–in the vernacular of our times–even a thing? I detect a bias here, and ‘us versus them’ in the content area arenas.
Recently Wells Fargo caused outrage because of this ad campaign:
Because of public outcry, artists and actors protested and the ad campaign has been pulled. (Why can’t we do that to a certain presidential nominee?) Clearly, Wells Fargo jumped on the STEM bandwagon and forgot to add the rogue branch of the acronym, “A” — for Arts. This push toward only mathematics and science is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s a cause for outrage necessarily. But it is a place for a conversation: what do we value? What do we support — financially, socially, and emotionally? And what do we want to be when we grow up? Is there a bias of brains? Why do we constantly misdirect the topic, continually focused on the myth of left versus right brains? These fallacious and hollow debates about skills versus content, lecture versus ‘guide on the side.’ Enough. This is not the conversation to focus on, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
This simple fact — that knowing stuff is inseparable from being able to read stuff — is why great teaching will always be concerned with both skills and content. Sadly, since the majority of educators who implemented the Common Core State Standards did not read and reflect upon their introductory matter, it became popular (and fallacious) to declare that content isn’t what counts — skills are. In the CCSS era, there are no distinctions between science and social studies and English teachers anymore; we’re all reading teachers, right? And thus was won a great victory by champions of literacy everywhere!
Skills are important. But they are only one side of the story.
Here is the other side:
All we do as humans is based on a story we must tell. An adventure we seek, a problem to solve, our heart is breaking and we want to fix it. Someone is lost and we want to find them. Something or someone attacks our humanity and we want to slay the monster.
As you’re planning units, I urge you to look at your content through the lens of storytelling: what motivated the person to learn? What motivates you? What are your burning questions?
Remember this is not a zero-sum game. We can be ballerina scientists and athletic botanists. If you want to talk more about ideas you have or thinking about doing something amazing with stories and science/math, I’m here.