Finding the Heart
Usually, when you hear that someone has a lot of heart it is about an athlete who goes the extra mile and is dedicated to their sport.
My oldest son will be starting tackle football this year and after 4 years of playing flag, he can’t wait. He loves everything about football and can tell you anything about any team or player from the last 20 years. He will also tell you that there are only 2 kids smaller than him in the entire grade. He is aware of his size and the size of his buddies. Recently, I had a conversation with our high school principal who is also our head football coach. He told me you can have all of the skill in the world but what matters most is who has the heart. My son’s face lit up when I shared this conversation with him. It was almost like giving him permission to go after what he wanted. Our students need this same “permission” to explore their passions.
While reading Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer and AJ Juliani, a book that I would recommend to anyone in education, I began thinking more about this idea of student passions. Having heart stems from doing something you are passionate about, something that you want to devote time and energy to. It is obvious when someone loves what they are doing. You can see it on their face. It shows when they talk. Their energy is contagious. This type of love and excitement pushes us to become better and to go further than we thought possible. Here are some ways we can tap into the “heart” of our learners.
Never Throw An Idea Away
It only takes a minute to dismiss an idea that someone shares but this reaction can have a huge impact. Ideas come from somewhere and usually there is a lot of initial excitement when it is shared. When we quickly say no it is like popping a balloon. All of the excitement is gone in seconds and it leaves the learner less likely to share future ideas. Ask questions about the idea if you don’t fully understand it. Have a place where you or the student can post or save the idea for later if it isn’t the right time to explore it.
The Culture Should Support and Challenge
Support is necessary as our learners explore their ideas and engage in learning. We need to offer guidance, encourage their learning, and ensure they know the learning environment is a safe place. However, we also need to challenge and push their thinking. This is the job of everyone in the room, not just the teacher. Peers need to be comfortable offering feedback and posing questions. This can take time to develop. Post student questions on the board and have peers weigh in instead of always answering. When students are working, make sure there is time for them to seek out feedback. Allow for digital feedback so students can get feedback when they need it.
Let the Learner Lead
Learners can move at a pace that is unique to them. There may be times when they are full speed ahead and other days where they need to take a break from what they were working on. When we try to dictate their every move we can end up creating a situation that causes them to shut down. It is important that there are check-in points and conferences as they work, but when this happens at authentic times we will see better results. Give students the option to schedule their own checkpoints and create a project calendar they can share with you.
Allow for Immersion
It is easy to think about a student who has become consumed with one topic. This could be dinosaurs, video games, or an environmental issue. It is all they want to read about, write about, and even talk about. It t seems they can connect anything to their topic of interest. Sometimes, this immersion makes us uncomfortable or, let’s be honest, even slightly annoyed. Of course, we need to expose our students to a variety of things but that doesn’t mean they need to abandon the topic they are passionate about. We need to tap into this energy and connect other learning topics to it.
Encourage Learners to “Teach” While on the Journey
In the classroom, my students and I often reached out to “experts” to help us. This was a valuable way to show that no one person has all of the answers and that connecting with others can be a great way to continue learning. However, there is something to be said about reaching out to someone who is still on the journey. They have valuable information to share and this sharing can help them move forward. We often share our learning with other teachers even though we don’t have all of the answers. Our students need the same opportunities. Often they will walk away re-energized after sharing and with questions that can help guide their research.