Listen to the Mustn’ts

Theo Jansen is a talented artist and inventor who has created a kinetic sculpture that moves and lives on its own. His goal is to make a new life form, one that gathers energy from the wind.   These unique, animal-like creatures are made from PVC, walking up and down the beach with propellers and wings, each new generation becoming increasingly independent.

The creatures are an incredible display of ingenuity and persistence. Theo has dedicated 20 years of his life to this project, with the love and care a parent gives to their child.  One youtube video of Theo’s sculptures has attracted 740,000+ viewers, but as incredible as the creatures are, so are the variety of comments following it.

While many are positive (incredible, unbelievable, inspiring) others are less so  (I don’t think it’s that useful, I’m not impressed, I’ve seen better stuff).

If Theo had listened to negative statements like these throughout his lifetime, he might never have invented or refined his amazing brainchild.  But he remained true to his vision and persisted in researching laws of science to take his vision through years of improvements that have led him to realizing what was in his heart.

Persistence, faith, protecting your dream.  Are you teaching your student the qualities they need to succeed in reaching for the stars?

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.
Shel Silverstein

Owning your destiny

When I was a young teacher, I remember a parent saying to me, “My child just loves to come to school.  You’ve instilled a love of learning in him.”  I felt rewarded and appreciated.  Of course, I was teaching first grade and most of what we did all day was pretty darned fun, so it wasn’t much of an accomplishment.

Dedicated middle- and high-school teachers don’t often receive that  same validation. Kids that age don’t jump out of bed in a rush to get to school and work on their calculus or biology.  But it does raise the questions of what motivates students, and do their teachers have anything at all to do with it?

We can be fairly sure that a poorly performing teacher can singlehandedly cause their students so much frustration and confusion that they will give up trying to be successful in school.  It’s also fairly certain that if a teacher is organized and clearly states the requirements to get a particular grade, this allows students some control over their performance and helps teach them how to plan ahead for success.

How would this look in a classroom?  Providing a scoring rubric in advance for a project or essay – or making one together.  Giving out a list of requirements for getting a certain grade in a class.   Letting students know the percentages of the overall grade various items represent, like tests, homework, and class work.

It seems to me kids like things a lot more – whether at home or in a more formal classroom environment—when they have a sense of ownership about their destiny.  Come to think of it, I do too.

Keep your kids current (at every age)

The other day while I was in line at Port Authority bus station, two young teenage girls were in front of me chatting with an older gentleman and, though I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, I couldn’t help but hear their conversation.

“It was just like what happened to that guy. you know the mayor of Washington D.C. with the drug problem. What was his name…”  (This was the man speaking, and he was referring to Marion Barry.)

The girls were too young to remember him. No problem. The conversation that ensued, however, was.

“I don’t know too much about politics.” one girl said apologetically.

“Me neither.” said the other.  “I never know this kind of stuff.”

“Well, I know we have a mayor of New York. That’s Bloomberg.”

“Right. Right.”  (Pause here)  “Is there a mayor of New Jersey?”

Um. Really?  I had a hard time stopping myself from jumping into their conversation and having one of my teachable moments.

These girls had mixed up their basic knowledge of government, and it reflected poorly – not on them but on whomever had managed their education.  It raises the broader question:

Are you including current events into your curriculum on a regular basis?  Do your students know what’s going on in their world and can they discuss it?  This process begins in nursery school and it never ends. It should be a weekly part of every good curriculum – articles from reliable sources and scheduled discussion (including around the dinner table) are vital to the informed mind. It’s easy to get so busy that we’re tempted to leave this out. Don’t. Because if you do, well, I don’t have to tell you.

Ask the mayor of New Jersey.

Is ADHD Becoming Obsolete?

Lots of jobs already require people to balance two phones, a computer, a live conversation and three pads of data.


Will a student with the skill set needed for listening to a single conversation and thinking slowly and carefully do as well in these jobs as one who is used to playing with lots of windows open on a computer screen, listening in on several conversations at once or running a few different tasks at the same time?


ADHD students spend their lives doing that every day.  They’re fine in a fast-paced, unique environment.  It’s slowing down for a classroom where they run into problems.  But more and more, our world is changing in a way that accommodates their style.


Will the slower, more reflective thinkers who have usually done well in the classroom become the attention deficit students in the classroom of tomorrow?


And if so, what would that classroom look like?

Whatever it Takes

While there were kudos and complaints about the movie Waiting for Superman, Geoffrey Canada got a few things exactly right.  His philosophy of doing “whatever it takes” to help students succeed is good education. Assess, plan, implement, re-assess.

Administrators need to assure their teachers can do this for their students. Instead of burdening them with unnecessary paperwork and meetings about obscure topics, teachers need to be empowered with making decisions about how they can support students – doing whatever it takes to help their students succeed in their unique environments.

Canada also assures students he’ll stick with them all the way through the educational process.  This is tough for individual teachers, as they don’t work with children year after year, and it’s the place where schools most often fail children as they grow older and subjects are compartmentalized.  Elementary teachers teach students.  High school teachers teach subjects. They can stop seeing the person in the seat because they’re not with them long enough.  We see the results in falling test scores as students reach upper grades. Schools need to stick with their kids.

Someone might say, “What is the job of the student here? Shouldn’t these kids be inner-motivated?”

Sure.  In a perfect world, we all should be. We should do our jobs because we love our work and shouldn’t need rewards for a job well done — not even a pat on the back.  But how many people do you know (other than yourself, of course) who are like that?  Our job as educators is to find a way in – to work with the attractions and distractions of our students’  lives and make it all relevant.

As educators, we’re shaping our students thinking and habits and helping prepare them for their future. One day they’ll grow into their running shoes — but for now our job is to help them get to the starting line.