Connect the Dots

“Why do we need to learn this?” – student

“So you can get a good job!” – teacher

“I can make more than you without knowing what you are teaching me” – student

An informal straw poll I conducted out of curiosity a few years back amongst a high school staff revealed that 90%+ of the staff told me that the purpose of an education was to allow for students to secure a good job after high school. Nothing more was offered…that was it. I really hate to admit it, but the demise of the Roman Empire, Differential Equations, Othello, and Osmosis are not key ingredients for a young person to make the big bucks, and they know it. So why is it that many of the staff in the school I queried were perceived as effective teachers?

The Human Touch

Teachers that greet students by name and ask them how they are doing today, and then listen, as they enter the room. Teachers that read student work and make real comments back to them. Teachers that tell them they are doing great when they are, and that they are being lazy when they are, and that call home in BOTH situations to talk to their parents. Teachers that have PASSION for what they are doing. The “work” of learning becomes forgotten in the moment, and students come through. The teachers have established a connection. This is good, but it could be better….

From MySpace to MyPlace

Students (and the adults they see) are connected to everybody they know and have known, through social networking sites. They belong to a large group of others who belong to ever widening circles of ever widening circles. While I will not argue that students cannot have meaningful conversations via their texting, there is something much richer, and warmer, about face-to-face human interaction, with no interruption for ring tones or anything else. It requires an emotional give and take, and often leaves both parties feeling better.

What if the same teachers who are effective with kids were to intentionally develop their lessons and learning to incorporate Place. Place being the community in which the school and the child reside. This type of education is known as Place Based Education, of which I have become aware and enlightened about through the mentorship and teaching of Greg Smith, Lewis and Clark College.

This teacher could be the math teacher taking the algebra class to the local elementary school, so that the students could tutor 3rd grade students, many of whom are desperate to be appreciated by big people. If you have never seen the power of this, you are missing out – I have, and it has such a profound impact on the older students. They belong, they are NEEDED. Take this example, and multiply it out across each class in a high school student’s day. Pretty soon absence from school does not need to be punished, or students cajoled so much to attend, as they know they are known, needed, and will be letting others they care about down if they skip or do not perform.

Connect the Dots and Close the Circle

Two of the most profound moments in my life were when I was congratulated for joining a group that I held to be in esteem.

The first was when I returned home from Iraq in 2003, and my two neighbors, both 50 something Vietnam Vets, came out into the street and welcomed me home, and talked to me, and listened intently, and told me “Welcome to the Club”. I could feel that they held me in high regard, and it made me very proud.

The second was recently after my family had attended Doshinkan Karate-Do Special Training in Spokane. We returned to our dojo, and after the training, our Shihan (instructor) and the higher ranking students stayed after class and congratulated us, and asked questions, and told us about their experiences. It was a time of being accepted in, because of something important that we had struggled through and accomplished.

Students show up to school because the law compels, their parents need to work, and that is just what we do. The magic for a diploma or a grade is just not there. If they have to struggle, really struggle, and they can make a connection to not only the teacher, but to others through the teacher’s use of craft and skill, they too will have the “Dots” of importance become connected and close in around them, like a protective and warm cloak. It is possible….to connect the dots (students being one) to society.

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