Sunday, February 8, 2015

Does your teaching reach hearts?

"The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious.
The desire to reach hearts is wise."
- Maya Angelou

What does meaningful learning look like?

Yesterday I attended #NovaNowGR.  This was the first time I had the opportunity to see Kent Innovation High.  For some time I saw pictures and heard about the phenomenal learning spaces.

Talk about impressive!  The space was open, inviting and the natural light was a refreshing change. 

As I walked into Kent Innovation, I immediately entered the +Rushton Hurley session.  Rushton led a discussion on meaningful learning.  He asked about our experiences as learners and within a minute he had my wheels spinning.  Three memories perculated in my head.  Interesting enough, not all were positive.

The first occurred in 7th grade.  My teacher was Ms. Berg.  Each day she had us writing in our journals.  On the surface this isn't that memorable.  But a couple things made it so.  The first was that we journaled every single day.  Routine can produce lasting memories.  The second was that each day Ms. Berg commented on our journal writings.  Not at the end of the week or even every other day. She commented each and every day.  As I look back this was significant.  Ms. Berg made relationships an important part of her classroom.  The final part that made it memorable for me was that I could write anything and I trusted her, she had won my trust.  As a 7th grade boy you sometimes need an outlet...Ms. Berg was that outlet for me.

The second meaningful learning experience was not a positive one.  I can still clearly visualize the moment.  I was sitting in science class next to my friend Doug.  It was quiz day.  Well, to be honest pop quizzes were part of this teachers norm.  The quiz was designed to see who read the chapter from the night before.  I sat in class and answered each question on my half-sheet of paper.  I felt so-so about the quiz.  I figured I got 8/10.  The teacher then asked us to pass the sheets forward.  As Doug and I waited for the person in front of us to turn around we whispered to each other.  He told me he thought he bombed it.  I shrugged and told him I thought I did okay.  Then SUDDENLY our teacher stormed in front of us, grumbled and crumpled up our papers right there.  Both Doug and I had open jaws.  The teacher looked at us, and then angrily said, "I said NO TALKING!"  We then had to meet with him after class.  As we shuffled our feet to the front desk I was prepared to apologize and try again...but no such luck.  He simply said, "I hope you learned your lesson because you both just received a zero on the quiz."  I was devastated...Doug on the other hand simply gave up.  Both of us truly despised our teacher.  Later that day I went home and told my parents.  They encouraged me to work hard and "get it back".  But internally I told myself I would never be like that teacher.  I knew right there that I would never intimidate and scare people to make myself superior.

The third moment is one I would have never predicted.  I was in Home Economics...something I dreaded...(until I saw the class list and noticed it was mainly girls in the class).  I did enjoy the teacher and somehow, someway she got me to step out of my comfort zone. Mrs. Anderson challenged me to cook and knit.  I'll never forget cooking in school and getting good enough to take the recipe home and try it for my family.  The night I cooked at home I was so proud. I was growing up.  The meal was a spinach pasta blend.  I added cheese and bread. I was really looking forward to serving my family.  Bless them, they were kind and supportive...but I could tell they really didn't like it.  Funny thing was, I actually did like it.  But everyone else was simply getting through it.  I'll never forget this experience and I'll always be thankful for Mrs. Anderson for pushing me out of my comfort zone.

These three learning experiences are all very different, but there is a commonality.  Each created an EMOTION.  Whether positive or negative I felt something.  The first was a strong feeling of friendship and caring.  The second was a feeling of despair and anger.  The third was a feeling of anxiety and doubt.  These emotions were real.  

I can tell you one thing that is certain.  The vast majority of my memories don't involve grades.  In fact, I don't think I ever said,  "That was special because I got an A!"  My experiences throughout school were generally positive.  I attribute this to teachers that helped make learning meaningful.

Looking back on +Rushton Hurley session I applaud him for sparking reflection and generating discussion.  I believe teaching is an art, it is imperative that we connect with our students and find ways to make learning matter.

This Week's Question is: What are your most vivid memories of learning?  


Monday, February 9th:  3pm Meeting
Monday, February 9th:  4pm Lego Club
Monday, February 9th:  String Team
Tuesday, February 10th:  Bible Release
Tuesday, February 10th:  4pm Minecraft Club
Tuesday, February 10th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Wednesday, February 11th:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45
Wednesday, February 11th:  String Team
Wednesday, February 11th:  3pm discussion on twitter and voxer (meet in the library if interested)
Thursday, February 12th:  NAEP 4th grade testing 9am
Thursday, February 12th:  CP Federal Credit Union 2pm
Thursday, February 12th:  4pm Minecraft Club
Friday, February 13th:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Smith's room
Friday, February 13th:  Valentine Parties in the PM
Friday, February 13th:  5th grade to All-Skate

*  Staff Meeting topics
- Standard Based Grading
- M-Step
- Reading Month
- Positives!

Articles Worth Reading:

Hurry Up and Slow Down @laughwithchad

Videos Worth Watching:

Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon BeatBox! (4 min)

The Austin Hatch story (7 min)

Lip Sync Battle (Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart and Jimmy Fallon) (13 min)

Schools that work for Kids... @E_Sheninger (15 min)


  1. Grt post Ben. Liked the Soundcloud address! And COMPLETELY agree w your message that the lasting impact we leave w Ss are the emotive memories. These are what we access so many years later.
    I clearly recall the warm smell of my classroom some 50 yrs ago, the dry resonance of shoes on oak flooring, my chin propped in my palms as I listened to Sister Renalda read every afternoon from Little House on the Big Praire.
    I do the same with my elementary Ss today and they seem to love it. The group read aloud creates connectedness over a common experience, ability to discuss and share personal connections, and offers an anchor for meaningful reflection that will last.

    1. Rob,

      Thanks for the share! Everyday experiences become meaningful when teachers take the time to connect and care. Keep fighting the good fight!


  2. Excellent post Ben! I loved the intro, walkthrough, and reflective piece of the Soundcloud audio track. I was hoping you were going to read the post aloud as I was driving at the time......but the cool thing was it had me anticipating the read when I fina got home. I completely agree with you that making an emotional connection is what makes a lesson stick. The addition of emotion is what makes an activity, lesson, or moment more easily retrievable even years later. Thanks for sharing another great post.

    1. Tom,

      Thanks for reading and responding. I'm glad you enjoyed the SoundCloud piece and I hope it set the table. I think we are very similar in the fact that we both value relationships. Often times a strong relationship is the basis for an emotional connection. Appreciate your feedback!


  3. Ok, you asked for comments! A big learning experience for me happened in 6th grade. I had a teacher who was older and had come back from retirement. She also was afflicted with Polio. She walked with crutches and had a brace on the back of her leg. I always thought she was very brave for teaching that age group with her condition. Kids that age can be very cruel and I always defended her when someone would make fun of her. Well, I had taken a quiz and made some mistakes and only received a 75%. I commented that at least I got a C. Well, she got all over me. "Dennis you are capable of so much more than Cs and if you settle for average, you'll never reach your potential." While I may never reach my potential(because I've settled!) that lesson has always stuck with me. As a parent, I try to teach that lesson to my kids, hopefully it sticks with them!

    1. Dennis,

      That teacher knew what buttons to push with you! She may not have been your favorite, but she found a way to make an emotional impact. Thanks for reading and responding!

  4. Great post Ben! Kudos to you for trying out Soundcloud- it made an excellent intro to your post. Part of what hit home for me was your story about your paper being destroyed and receiving a 0 for your test. In my sophomore year I worked really hard on a book report for my ELA teacher. I spent allot of time on this project but failed to follow all the outlines of the assignment. She gave me a 50% for "completing the assignment" and I was devastated. Granted it was my responsibility to follow the outline - but it begs the question, did she want me to learn or be compliant? The learning was there - perhaps even more than she intended but my grade reflected failure. The good news is this story like your own, is a catalyst for what not to do in education.

    1. Lisa, Lisa...oh I feel your pain!

      I love that message...did she want me to learn or be compliant? That is a powerful question to ask ALL educators.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Ben,
    Great post as usual. I just posted the other day a quote I saw that stated you can't get to Bloom's stuff until you take care of Maslow's stuff. Each day we have an opportunity to be Merchants of Hope for our students and as principals for both students and staff. At times we all get overburdened with mandates and "time" and we forget to be passionate about the "why" of education and focus too much on the "How". We need to rely on each other to remember (as per Jon Gordon) that our purpose is greater than our challenges. I wrote a post awhile ago that addressed this and would like to share with you and your readers. All the best,