The past several weeks have given me opportunities to re-focus the lens through which I observe, think about and interact with children. It’s been a simple reminder that while we might possess expertise in our field, we’re never done learning. In any work with children, there are always teachable moments for both young and old(er). Digesting Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery by Kathleen Cushman were the impetus for my search for kids who are really achieving new levels of mastery. I wrote about this last week in You Live to Learn Putting those thoughts down on paper (screen) made me feel like I’m in the midst of a new syllabus based on lyrics by the Who.
How do you think he does it?
(I don‘t know)
What makes him so good?
If you think about the daily life of any of our kids – gathering themselves for school where the routine may be consistent but the “boss” or “director” may change from class to class or activity to activity, so that they are juggling math, reading, writing, science, art, P.E., music, foreign language, sports, chess, karate, gymnastics, etc. etc. Kids experiment and dabble with more tasks, skills and demands on a daily basis than most adults do in the course of a week. And as a species, kids are remarkably resilient, flexible and willing to take risks, as long as a few basic needs are met. They are open to learning from nearly anyone who shows a passion for what they do and an interest in helping kids do their best. It’s when kids do not feel connected or a sense of significance or that they are valued for their strengths and gifts, that the push back begins to surface. The talking back, negative language or behavior, anxiety, misdirected humor, avoidance – you know the show. But it’s not always easy to figure out who or what the contributor are to that script, especially if you don’t pay attention and ask questions. But we’ve got to find a way.
I looked closer at the kids who do “well” by conventional standards – good grades, accolades from teachers or adults because they are well-behaved or innately talented or smart. Yup, those kids are happy, but are they passionate? When you start to ask they what they love and way, they light up like a pinball machine being played by the wizard himself. “I’m good at my instrument because I have good teachers and I play every day. And I love the sound my instrument makes when I play alone and with the band.” Or how about, “My goal was to have neater handwriting by conferences and with help from others and practice, I have!”
Ditto for the kids who didn’t always get the metaphorical gold starts from adults. These are kids who have interest outside the norm, who vigorously pursue their interests after their high school day ends at 9 pm, the kids who physically retreat because school just isn’t’ their thing the kid who does Ju Jitzu, not soccer. Guess what – those kids light up, too, when asked what makes them pursue their passions. They can explain the mechanics behind how a bike works or how they string beads to make tiny pieces of jewelry. Or how they taught themselves to edit video clips and make a 4 minute movie on a Mac all by themselves. What they are saying is time on task, deliberate practice, and good mentors all contribute to the acquisition of skill and self-confidence.
As adults, it can be hard to focus on who the child really is and what she is truly interested in, especially is she isn’t’ quite sure what the answer is to those questions. Klea Scharberg’s recent blog on the Whole Child features Geoff Fletcher reflecting on “Becoming and Effective Teacher.” Fletcher’s tremendously insightful and honest video reminds us that it’s easy to think we know a child, but that when we’re committed to being authentic, we can do better. We can always watch more carefully, listen more closely and ask different questions to better understand the perspective a learner bring to life and learning. It’s then that we can begin to understand each child’s strengths, passions, and ways in which they really need our support to grow and reach their goals and how we can learn from them.