Next week, I’m going on vacation. There’s going to be sun (I hope). There’s going to be sand. Not to mention water and waves and miniature golf. 

Also, there’s going to be work.

That’s right. In the morning, before anyone else gets up, I’m going to open up the computer and chip away at some tasks. Before bed, I might do the same. During the day, I’ll do a little reading — and if something sparks an idea, I’ll think about how it might apply to my work, and scribble down some rough ideas. I’ll get a little work done.

That’s not because my kind and benevolent boss (Hi, Dawn!) demands it — it’s because I happen to like getting a little work done on vacation. I find my work interesting, and never like divorcing myself from it completely. At a recent conference, I was told that this makes me useless. That I “need” to be able to turn off my work brain, and that if I don’t, I’m going to be ineffective, inefficient, and unproductive.

I must respectfully disagree.

Being Useless

I was, frankly, a little offended. My immediate reaction was to get all defensive — to start listing to myself the cold, hard proof that I was doing just fine, thank you very much, without turning off the light switch. Then, I immediately started to go on the attack, jumping right into the soldier mindset. And of course, as often happens when we get all soldier-y, my attacks were all wrong. 

But although I felt this speaker was wrong, my soldier-mindset attacks were just as bad. We both made the mistake that runs the world: assuming that everyone who’s different must be wrong. This is the type of thinking we as teachers are supposed to discourage in our students. Our responsibility is to help them listen, consider evidence, and make an informed decision while still respecting those who reach a different conclusion. If WE fail to model these attributes, how can we expect them to do the same?  

Humans have a deep tendency to assume that people are more like us than they really are. As I mature in my profession, I realize more and more that there are a lot of ways for people to live in our world. For this presenter, it was compartmentalization. For me, it was keeping thoughts of education close, even during a vacation. No one needs to demean something that works just fine for someone else.

In the Classroom

Teachers are prescribers; it’s part of what we do. Students often benefit from opportunities to construct their own understanding from rich, hands-on experiences — but sometimes, they need the guidance, advice, and instruction of a teacher.

When we’re called on to prescribe, how can we do so wisely? How do we recognize that our students are very different organisms than we are? Here are a few practical suggestions to keep in mind… although of course, just because they’ve worked for other teachers, doesn’t mean they’ll work for you! 

  • Listen for Understanding. The more deeply you understand your students and their worldviews, the more you can take into consideration their unique selves when developing plans for and with them. An Interest Inventory can be a great place to start, but making space for Deeper Questions can be even richer.
  • Create Choice. Students know themselves best — and providing choice allows you to let them guide themselves, within the boundaries you’ve established. It’s a great balance of freedom and structure; use the Blue Apple Choices to start brainstorming ways you can open up options for your students. Better yet, show students that you honor and value their unique talents when you Use Their Gifts.
  • Prize Inquiry. When students engage in open-ended tasks and projects, they have an opportunity to bring their own diverse approaches to the task. In writing or in PBL this happens quite naturally, but we can get open ended even in subjects like math with Inquiry-Oriented Strategies.
  • Cultivate Empathy, Diversity, and Equity. When we model a value for equity, and cultivate it in our students, we create space for students of every background to thrive. Check out our recent (and free!) Equity Webinar and Resource Document to learn more.

In one of my favorite Blue Apple projects, Take a Stand, students learn in a creative, powerful way how sometimes, people see the world very differently. Check it out, and let me know — how do you step back to recognize and model the fact that each one of us sees the world through different eyes?

*Image courtesy of Michal Klajban via Wikimedia Commons.

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