The learning monster…

This past week I had a teacher altering experience.  My kids did a project that changed the way I look at how kids learn and my role in the learning process…and no, this post is not about it 🙂 While I was reflecting on what happened and more importantly why, I noticed a post from Chris Baker.  It sat in one of my browser tabs for days.  I just felt somewhere in his post was an answer for what happened in my unit.

“Learning is a wild beast. It defies structure, and it prowls around without the ability to be predicted. It’s quicksilver, eely and slippery, unable to be tethered or corralled.”

My kids were working on a short project and at some point I just gave up on trying to get them to follow the path that I had left bread crumbs on for them to follow.  I just simply gave up and followed them.  I did not care what everyone turned in or how long it took.   Everyone was into what they were doing and following their own path.  At first I thought I had lost control–that is what it felt like.  Then I realized that the control was not lost it just shifted.

“…the more pure of heart and intention I can be in the classroom, the more my students will appreciate this, and start to reach out and learn. “Winging it”, “tap-dancing and farting”, whatever you want to call it — is a best practice in arriving at purity of heart and intention. It strips away at the objectives, standards, curriculum, and allows the true nature of an educator to come out; one where the educator says (usually in a panic), “I hope something, anything, is learned today.” Unfettered by a Design, the teacher focuses on the important things. virginal, unsullied by the trappings of what is meant to capture learning rather than educe it.”

I think somewhere in the last few years I slipped into trying to control their learning.  I wanted to capture their excitement and curiosity by making  them do incredible things…and we did.  But at what cost?  In my attempt to do things first, do things that used cool gadgets and gizmos, do things that captured the kids learning and empower them, was I actually doing it to just empower myself?  As my control in the classroom was slipping due to standardized policies being implemented was my all out attempt to make them do amazing things simply fulfilling something I was missing?

Does it matter?

Quote from Chris Baker http://goo.gl/x0N4fi








  1. Hey Paul,

    I remember us sitting in a MIT meeting (remember those) and you mentioned about Steve Jobs putting parameters on his engineer’s ideas – “the phone’s gotta be ____ inches by ___ inches, etc.” By doing so, you argued, he described “the box” – that ideas can be outside the box or inside, but the fact is that you need a box. Is what you described as “slipping into controlling their learning” simply providing that box for your students? Or is it something else? Are you clearing a pathway for the unicorn to get to the maiden, or are you altering the maiden?

  2. It’s a pretty basic question that I’ve returned to again and again: what is the purpose of the teacher?

    Somewhere along the way, I told myself that I don’t want to be the “superstar” teacher that entertains (or relates or anything else) his way to quality student work. I simply don’t want students to learn for me. It’s surely flattering when they do, but also deflating. Students who work for the teacher are not working for themselves, and I wonder if that implicit message is more damaging than helpful.

    But students, by nature of the name, expect to rely upon the teacher. They expect to grow because of the teacher. The great teacher isn’t one who educes, but the one who coerces, controls, externally inspires. We recognize the Teacher of the Year, not the Teachings of the Year. There’s a part of me that feels like if the teacher can take credit, something went wrong, and a student lost something grand in the process. So I tell my students I won’t take any credit. I tell them they have to make and sleep in their own beds. I tell them they have the opportunity to do incredible things, but nobody’s going to ask them to.

    I go back and fourth on the topic. I just know that I want students to leave with the joy of learning for themselves, and they don’t get there by learning for me.

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