We are halfway up our summit and the air is getting a little thin! This week we take a look at the role of knowledge on the trail to becoming a Summit Seeker. In this case, we aren’t talking about knowledge of content, because we are all content experts (or should be!). This knowledge comes from two places: Ourselves and our students. Knowledge of both is essential on the journey, and they serve to direct our path from our hearts and inspiration, to the summit of Engagement and Reflection. This twin sources of knowledge are our guides, and it is for this reason that this week’s post is titled Nesotaieux, which in the Algonquin language of the Arapaho is the name given to the Twin Sisters in Colorado. The word translates as: “The Two Guides.”
Let’s begin with knowledge of self. This primal knowledge has been the foundation of many journey’s to self-discovery. Hundreds of books have been written about seeking out this type of wisdom, but for our purposes we are going to talk about knowing what kind of teacher you are, and don’t say “I’m not creative!” Everyone has a part of themselves that is creative, it’s all about unlocking that creativity in a way that works for you. In my classroom, my students are on a gamified adventure combining my love of the National Parks with my all-out Indiana Jones nerdiness. Throughout the year, I periodically dress as Indiana Jones to provide a “guest speaker” feel to my class on the adventure and tie in elements from the franchise to my story to help build it out. But I had to learn how to accept being me in order to do this. In previous years I would hide my nerdiness from my students in order to be the more straight-laced history teacher who uses best practices only and builds relationships with kids in a more “traditional” way. Last year I realized that if I wanted to amp up the engagement, I had to suspend all worries about being laughed at, or being seen as silly or nerdy, and just embrace it. So I did. And it made a world of difference. But that’s me. As the phrase goes, “You do you.” Find that piece of yourself that you might be a little afraid people might not like about you, and bring it into your classroom. Know yourself and what you are willing to do to engage your students in your lessons, and go for it!
The second guide is knowledge of your students. When you start with Heart, you get to learn a lot about them, but that is not enough. You need to put that knowledge to use in guiding your lessons. Do you have a class with a lot of energy, but is struggling to focus? Find some Brain Breaks and get the kids moving during class. Let them shake it out or do cross-body exercises midway through the lesson (or more often if you need to). Do you have a class of makers? Change up some projects to let them build and design their presentations in new ways! Having a hard time getting kids to get engaged with a book? Seek out your librarian and have them give some book talks (or do Speed Dating with books!) Whatever it takes, but know your students and what they need. Remember, it might be that all they need is someone to listen as they shout their frustrations into the void. Knowing your students can serve as a wonderful guide alongside a knowledge of yourself, and once they know you know them, you can move on to engaging them in your content.
Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out two Summit Seekers who truly embrace a knowledge of self & students, Quinn Rollins & Katey Walz. Quinn is author of Play Like a Pirate, which is field manual for anyone who is nerdy and enjoys playfulness. His book can teach you how to bring in everything from comic books to Legos to Play-Doh to Barbie into your classroom and get kids hooked on learning. I’ve been lucky enough to meet him and hear him speak on the power of toys and games in the classroom and he is truly amazing. In true nerd fashion, you can follow him on Twitter @jedikermit. Katey is a middle school math teacher who I had the privilege of working with for a few years, and she taught me the importance of Brain Breaks for kids with a lot of energy. She routinely incorporates movement throughout her math lessons and gets kids excited about learning because they know she knows them and what they need. I am honored to have worked with her and I know she continues to hook kids on learning math in fun and engaging ways. You can follow her on Twitter @mrskwalz.