(Originally published on gettingsmart.com on July 16, 2013.)
I write where I am, and for the last week I have had my toes entrenched in the sand on the beaches of Panama City, Florida. My seven days of sun and relaxation were reminiscent of a song from the Zac Brown Band. However, just like any true educator, I was open to any lessons while I kicked back in a beach chair, covered in Bull Frog 50+ SPF sunscreen, behind prescription shades, and under a Columbia fishing hat. Somehow, someway, five lessons managed to roll up on the waves and saturate me with educational droplets of wisdom.
Lesson #1: Doing Nothing is Doing Something
Unless you consider throwing a Frisbee, playing cornhole, and swimming in the ocean to be intensely physical activities, I didn’t do much of anything for about seven straight days while on vacation. The funny thing is, however, that I reflected on many parallels to the classroom while sitting on my behind. How often do I leave work more fatigued than my students? I have often been told that a solid classroom is indicated by the students working harder than the teacher. Do I consider myself a teacher or a facilitator of learning? I used to be proud when an administrator walked in to observe me and I was busy lecturing away. Now, I know better. I am proud when my students are “observed” as active learners, and I am simply strolling around the classroom seeking to help and guide students on their individual learning journeys. Am I too eager to jump in and “rescue” a student who is struggling with a standard or concept, or do I stand by as a patient guide while waiting for him to ask for help or clarification? I can honestly admit that I oftentimes made the answer all-too-easy to discover during my first few years of teaching.
Lesson #2: A Pier’s Foundation Must Be Strong
A popular community pier was about a half mile from my spot on the beach. Through binoculars (and not trying to exert too much energy) I witnessed all walks of life trek back and forth on that pier, and I could only imagine how sturdy the pier’s foundation needed to be to handle all types of weather. Do I set my classes up strongly by introducing and practicing all classroom procedures or do I dive immediately into the curriculum? Will these classroom foundations be solid, but flexible enough, to allow for all types of learning activities? Do I establish a BYOD system that welcomes all learning devices, including smartphones?
Lesson #3: If You Feed the Birds, They Will Soar
On day four of my beach escape, I watched a young man throw pieces of CheezIt crackers into the air just feet above him while Seagulls floated on the gulf breeze and gobbled up the bite-sized snacks. It was quite mesmerizing. As long as he fed them, they stayed directly above him…hungry for more. Am I knowledgeable of my students’ interests, passions, past failures/successes, and future ambitions? Do I allow these same interests and passions to dictate the direction of class? Do I stay abreast of current educational trends and practices in order to meet the students” where they are” and not where “I was” as a teacher?
Lesson #4: Every Seashell is Unique
The collection of seashells produced by my son, daughter, nephew, and niece reminded me of this unchanging truth. Do I continually treat all students as if they were the same by teaching as the sage-on-the-stage through boring lectures? Am I open-minded enough to allow ALL students to be who they are and learn the way they do even if I don’t truly understand why? Do I seek to help students discover their own individual ways of learning and then provide challenges that help them perfect those individual styles?
Lesson #5: Connections Are Everywhere
My father-in-law is one of the best cornhole players I have ever seen, and it was a given that his set of cornhole boards were going to Florida. I was so glad he did because we continually met aspiring players from Kentucky, Alabama, Texas, and Georgia. Hearing their stories and learning about their backgrounds was very educational. I even met one professor from Texas and one history teacher from Kentucky. Of course, we didn’t talk work too much, but the moments we did left me with even more insight into an ever-evolving profession. Do I provide “outside-the-classroom-walls” connections for my students? What technology tools do I use to make these connections? Google Hangouts? Skype? Lync? Twitter? Do I gamify certain lessons in order to bring students together with a common purpose? Yeah, my beach vacation was definitely needed and definitely successful. In fact, each day had me singing words from the very same Zac Brown song… “Life is good today, life is good today.” One thing’s for sure. If I take these five lessons to heart, I’ll be singing this same line at the end of each future school day.