Never Stop Learning – A Lesson from Bessie Coleman
September 2, 2020
Not long ago, a helpful stranger sent me a video from the National Aviation Hall of Fame. It told the story of a little African American girl named Noa whose elementary class was assigned to report on famous women in history. Noa was instructed to give a report on Amelia Earhart, but her heart was set on someone else. She wanted to tell people about Bessie Coleman. However, when she asked her teacher if she could do a report on Coleman instead, her teacher refused.
Her teacher responded that she had no idea who Coleman was, so Noa would have to report on Amelia Earhart. Thankfully, Noa’s mother convinced her teacher to reconsider, and Noa was able to deliver a winning presentation on her favorite hero. For those of you who don’t know, Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American woman to hold a pilot license. As a child, Coleman had always wanted to fly, but segregation prevented her from receiving any kind of training in the United States. Undeterred, Coleman saved up money and obtained sponsorships to attend flight school in France where she acquired an international pilot license.
Coleman would go on to fly in numerous airshows throughout her career but always refused to perform where African Americans were not admitted.
The Important Question
Noa’s story is certainly heartwarming, but I was still concerned about her teacher. I don’t want to criticize them too harshly. I doubt there was any malice in their actions, and they did let Noa do her Coleman report in the end (even giving her an A). However, it’s discouraging that when confronted with information they didn’t know, their response was to ignore it. Choices like these don’t just rob our students of potential learning opportunities, they steal them from us as well.
As educators, we must never stop learning. It’s too easy for us to start thinking we have all the answers we need, when in truth, we’re not that different from our students. There is still so much for us to learn. In fact, if this summer has taught us anything, it’s that there are plenty of areas where we could improve. If we want our students to grow into curious, creative thinkers, then we need to practice positive learning in our own lives as well.
Learn by Doing
Here are just a few simple ways you can cultivate a positive learning mindset in your own life:
- Study History: To understand the present, we must often look to the past. Take time to read a book or watch a documentary about different events in history. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten trail either. Seek out those extraordinary individuals who might not have been appreciated in their time (like Bessie Coleman!)
- Take Up a New Hobby: Try learning a new skill, it doesn’t even have to be educational. Take up knitting or try making your own jams. Run a half-marathon, practice stand-up comedy, learn to fish. Share your new hobby with your students and encourage them to do the same!
- Learn Fun Facts: If curiosity is the doorway to learning, then fun facts are the doorbell. Discovering one fun fact a day can inspire you and your students to look deeper. Did you know spinach is healthier when it’s cooked? Why is that? Did you know music and mathematics are intrinsically connected? How? It’s fast, easy, and most of all, fun!
- Try Project-Based Learning: Hands-on projects are a great way for students to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired. Projects like the Blue Apple units encourage students to make a positive impact on their communities by exploring modern issues and concerns. They also give you an opportunity to try new strategies, test out new tools, and discover what matters to your students. All in all, PBL is great for students and teachers alike!
Remember Bessie Coleman
Learning is a lifelong journey. We can finish school, amass various certifications, and spend years teaching students, but we will never stop learning. And honestly? That fact makes me excited! A few weeks ago, I had no idea who Bessie Coleman was. Now, thanks to the perseverance of one little girl, I know about an extraordinary woman who broke boundaries, changed the world, and inspired others to fly.
If you ask me, that’s what learning is all about!