Tag Archives: motivation

Always ready to learn

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”       – Winston Churchill

As humans, we are always ready to learn. Whether it be a new game, how to get results from a garden, ways to best get along with others, or more about a sport we love, we’re ready. Learning is everywhere in everything, but do we recognize it? Do we only associate learning when something is being taught to us?

I feel many students only think learning happens within the walls of schools and classrooms. They believe learning only happens when there is a teacher in the front of the room giving direct instruction. I wanted to check on this from a reliable source, so naturally I asked my son who just finished 5th grade – “Do you think some of your friends feel learning only happens at school? Do you think some of your friends believe learning only happens when the teacher is in front of the class?” To both of these questions he immediately answered “Yes.” At least from his lens, this is true. I fully realize this may be a biased opinion, but it’s compelling none the less. Finally, I asked him “Do you believe that to be true? Where does learning happen? His response – “Learning happens everywhere.” What a proud mama moment.

In my humble opinion, a much greater amount of learning happens when we experience it for ourselves. Natural curiosity is powerful and ignites engagement with new learning. Natural curiosity isn’t fueled by constant instruction. If the amount of learning in life that happens with a teacher leading us is weighed against the amount without one…well, lopsided could be an understatement.

The bottom line – we are always ready to learn.

To me, ‘being taught’ implies that there is a classroom with a teacher leading. It suggests the instructor is in control…hmm…I’m not sure this is the sweet spot in learning. Teaching has its role; however, it should be used intentionally when skills are to be modeled, or probing questions are to be posed. Kids should know that they own their learning no matter where it happens. Outside of school teachers can take the form of parents, other family members, neighbors, etc. But no matter who the teacher is, there is a time to step in and a time to step back.

In the school setting, I watch students in hallways and classrooms. I observe ownership in their learning and investment in the process. They are ready to learn and no one should stand in their way. Consider whether standing at the front of the room and being in control would be a better option than giving the kids the tools they need and watching them take off.

I truly believe that kids (and adults for that matter) want this ownership. We are naturally prepared to learn, but don’t always like being taught. Students come ready to make decisions and mistakes. They are primed to find success and rise to the occasion when challenged. They need their teachers to guide and support them and don’t always need someone else to be in control and take the lead.

Let’s be intentional about when we choose to teach and when we choose to put students in the driver’s seat. Honor the fact that they are always ready to learn, although don’t always like being taught.


Work out of respect, or respectful work?

We have all had these kids…the ones who are gifted, brilliant, or very far ahead of their peers with regard to their readiness levels, yet arrive to our classrooms after years of not being challenged. School is an act of compliance and conformity where learning is only for the few who fit the ‘middle of the road’ parameters. They enter our buildings prepared to jump through whatever hoops teachers place before them and fully understand how the game of school works. They sit in class quietly and complete every assignment maintaining the status quo of their environment without thinking, creating, or learning.

I was made aware of a student who fit this bill. He was a world language student studying Spanish. Assignments were rote and the same for everyone. Filling in the blanks was the norm rather than creating language. He completed assignments not because he needed the practice, but out of respect for his teacher.

Wait a minute. He commented that he completed assignments out of respect for the teacher…let that sink in.

How troubling! His love of the language was getting lost in countless meaningless assignments. Getting an ‘A’ was never a question because point acquisition was an easy endeavor. This class was becoming, as he put it, a ‘joke’ rather than an opportunity to communicate with people from around the world and learn their varied cultures. Compliance had more value than growth.

 This situation makes me feel a little ill to be quite honest. I know the scenario has played out in the same fashion for years, but to have such a clear example right in front of me gave it a new reality. Students deserve much more than a school experience that lacks learning. Aren’t there are ways to show respect without succumbing to a sub par experience?

Some of you may be wondering, why these students don’t self advocate for more. Many reasons abound, and I believe they become jaded with the process and get used to the idea of being bored. Disenchanted kids forget what risk taking, recovery from failure, and learning feel like and need a spark to remember. They are conditioned to perform to the same level as other peers even though deep down they yearn for challenge. The ceiling is placed low and they have forgotten the joy of breaking out and pushing past it. Their intrinsic motivation gets shoved back so far it is very difficult to uncover and release.

Why would we want to create this for our students at any level? They should enjoy the challenge of learning and excitement of curiosity with new levels of understanding. Completing mundane tasks runs the risk of negatively impacting learning for a lifetime. Students become robots, and they will be released into a world of work that requires the exact opposite.

As we begin this school year, let’s flip the table concerning respect. Let’s honor our students as learners. Let’s design experiences and tasks that are relevant and meaningful. Let’s be responsive and involve students in the decision-making process. Kids will stop completing assignments to show you respect and compliance. They will work because they want to learn. This is the ultimate respect a student can show you.

A thank you to Brian Durst and his student for the inspiration for this post.

Why should I change how I grade?

Grading reform is near and dear to my heart. I am a huge advocate of healthy grading practices that support learning for our students. Yet I still get asked the questions – Why should I change the way I grade? What difference does it make how I grade? Grading doesn’t impact the way I teach or my students learn, does it?

The truth is, grading has a huge impact on our kids. It sets the tone for classrooms and schools, and suggests where students’ focus should lie. The way we view and practice grading communicates its importance. Should a major emphasis be placed on grades, scores, and points? Of course not – but many teachers and administrators don’t realize how much traditional grading practices interfere with the learning process. Grading is what makes many kids nervous to come to our classrooms and be assessed. Grading makes it easy for some kids to hide behind numbers and good behaviors for proficient marks. Grading contributes to fearfulness of risk taking and trying something new. Wait a minute…if our students never try something new, how are they learning? How are they growing? How are they preparing for the next steps in their educational experience?

In order to shift the focus from grades to learning, educators must lead the way and demonstrate its positive impact. Students need to see that motivation exists and is enhanced when grades are in the background. So many of us have spent countless hours developing our scales, weights, and points for every assignment and assessment, but the time can be much better spent. The time should be used to create valuable learning experiences and to provide opportunities for kids to take risks, try new ideas, and maybe even fail a few times on the road to success. Students need us to lead the charge and show that there is more to education than point chasing and high stakes assessment. They require a role model in the classroom that not only values learning, but also what each student contributes to the process.

When we make this change, feedback becomes the norm for new growth and achievement.  Authentic self-assessment becomes a purposeful endeavor that previously may have seemed like a doubtful guess at a point total. When we do assign a grade, it carries accuracy and meaning. Scores and grades are criterion referenced, evidence based and defensible to all stakeholders. The mystery of how grades are determined vanishes and we ensure an honest, genuine reflection of learning. With the abundance of feedback prior to assessment, students develop confidence in their abilities.

So, after all this enthusiasm toward grading reform, what perpetuates stagnation? What compels so many to continue using a traditional grading system that maintains a competitive, extrinsically motivated (or extrinsically unmotivated) culture? Is it the fact that grading is personal for educators and can seem like the only piece of our practice that is autonomous? Is it a power struggle for teachers to keep ‘control’ of student behavior? Is it that many retain a fixed mindset and fear unfamiliar territory? 

So I return to the question at hand…Why should I change how I grade? To be a role model of progress for students. To find healthy grading practices that support learning. To take on old traditions that undermine a focus on growth. To make a difference for each student that is bored, unmotivated, or inappropriately challenged. To communicate that learning supersedes everything else, and lasts for a lifetime.

Astounding ourselves

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.                                                                                  – Thomas A. Edison

What gets in the way of our working to capacity?

Fear. We are scared we might fail. We are scared our students might fail. We fear the unknown. We fear what is new, unexplored, and beyond the realm of tradition. We fear student backlash. We fear parent push-back. We fear we will be misunderstood or ostracized by our colleagues.

I have vowed to be courageous this year, and I feel like I am fulfilling that promise. I have faced every fear above and done my best not to succumb to them. I can’t stop now, though. I must continue to push ahead and beyond the fear. I know I don’t work to my ultimate capacity every day, but as long as I am progressing, learning, and growing, I am content. I get stuck sometimes, but in turn find support and inspiration with my colleagues and ever-growing PLN. There is always help and reinforcement for those who seek it. I have learned to appreciate times of struggle as well as those when ideas flow easily. My greatest growth happens at the moments when I feel stuck but continue and persevere. These are the moments when we astound ourselves. We are capable of amazing things.

It is at this point during the school year that so many of us feel like we are dragging. The weight of the school year and all our other obligations loom heavily. We are tempted to go on auto-pilot and coast into the summer. We become scared that our students have given up and are ‘done.’ We can easily allow fear to creep in and take over, but our students need more. They have grown tired as well and need us to be fully present more than ever. This is the time to show our students how learning happens everywhere in their lives. Learning continues no matter whether school is in session or not. Learning is what carries us forward and keeps our minds active.

Great work is done by people who are not afraid to be great.                                                                                                            – Fernando Flores

Shed your fear and be courageous. Shatter the walls that hold you back and cause stagnation. Charge forward and literally astound yourself!