Monday, March 26, 2012

2 critical things to do & remember each day as a teacher

When I speak to teachers and parents of students and ask them if they are doing work that is meaningful, relevant, and worthy of the world, I often get puzzled looks or disappointing answers. Sometimes this is because there is a belief that we’re only preparing students for work worthy of the world. Actually doing is reserved for adults. Other times it’s because some believe that teaching their subject content is worthy in and of itself.  

I generally get a variety of answers.  An answer might be something like...

"Sure I am. My kids dissect virtual frogs in science class." 


"My kids turn in response to literature essays." 

A worse answer will be, something like...
"Sure I am.  My kids are going to be very well prepared for their standardized tests." 

The answer some people think I want to hear might go something like this...
“Oh, yes I am! I use Smartboards and I have my kids come up and tap it.”  

For those who know I think Smartboards are dumb, they may say something like this...
“We are using technology to publish student work.” 

Good start but when I ask where the work is published and what is happening as a result of the work? 
I often get answers like...
“It’s published on our website, blog, wiki, or maybe YouTube.” 

Okay. That’s nice, but if it’s meaningful and worthy of the world how are adults supporting students in getting this work out from just reaching a school audience and into the world? Publishing it to your school or class is nice, but it’s not the world. It doesn’t help young people feel like they matter. It doesn’t help them understand how they have the power to change the world.  Publishing something and doing nothing is usually not empowering students to do as much as they can.

Unfortunately, in this age of accountability, many have lost sight of what really matters. In many schools it no longer matters what students, teachers or leaders are doing to change the world. What matters today is how well you help students fill in bubbles. 

And, frankly...

That's a skill that doesn’t matter!  

It's time to get back to the basics and by that I don’t mean reading, writing, and rithmetic.  I mean, the basics of why we decided to do this work. We didn’t enter this field to help kids fill in tiny bubbles.  We want our work to matter. We want to make a great impact on the lives of children. We know students won’t remember their favorite teachers or best times in school from the teachers who talked, textbooked, and tested. They will remember their teacher who told them they mattered. They won’t fondly remember the one who lied and answered that "you need to know this and take these tests to be prepared for the world." They will remember the teacher who told them they can change the world today.

How can you become that teacher?  By doing and remembering two important things.

Here they are:
Every day educators must remember two things.
1) We are not teaching subjects. We are teaching children.
2) Children are more than test scores.

Every day educators must do two things.
1) Be aware of how you are supporting your children in doing work that is worthy of the world.
2) Ensure each child knows that they matter.

What does this really mean?  Well, I’m bringing to you the two best people in the world that I know of to explain what I’m talking about.  

Kiran Bir Sethi - Kids take charge
Watch this video to learn what happens when we empower kids to take charge and do work worthy of the world.

Angela Maiers - You Matter
Angela Maiers empowers youth to figure out why they and their peers matter. This reading and videos show how.  

Read this article
12 ways to let every person in our lives know their value, contribution and significance.

Watch these two videos

If you are an educator (note: parents are educators) who is doing this work with your children (or if you’re a child doing this work), know that the world is thirsty for it. Show us. Tell us. Comment and share here and inspire others. If you’re not doing this work yet, tell us how you plan to get started. Let’s let our children know they matter and we will no longer hold them back from doing work that is worthy of the world.


  1. YOU MATTER my friend! This is a powerful must read post- excited to share!!!

  2. I really like your 2 things educators must remember and do each day. POWERFUL. Concise. Going to write these down! ~Thanks.

  3. Nice blogs, being a teacher myself, i can say you are doing a good job.

    check out my blogs on similar topic at

  4. I am a teacher and I think the ideas presented here are important. I take exception to the information posted at the top of the blog that says that writing an essay is boring or unimportant, that smart boards are dumb, and that wanting your students to do well on a test is foolish. Please make your point without punitively speaking down on other educational ideas and overgeneralizing them. If you can't dissect a real frog, then why not dissect a virtual one? Yes, social activism is important and giving children real world experiences is also worth important, but don't yawn at me. My students are engaged, excited and learning too.

  5. On the one hand, I absolutely love your message. I think you're completely correct in that we need to teach students how to be self-sufficient, and when I say that I mean a great variety of things. Yes, they need to be able to keep track of their work on their own and they certainly need to be able to critically think on their own rather than waiting to follow some assigned task. But I also think of self-sufficiency as understanding not only what they *can* do but understanding how their skills fit into the real world and how to take their ideas, creations, etc. and get them out into the world, which is essentially what you're saying.

    I think this, possibly more than anything, because I've been a highly successful student throughout my educational experience, first studying science then returning to study education ... and I don't feel I myself am nearly as capable in this area as I wish to be.

    That being said, as another poster commented, I don't think you should be putting down things like virtual dissections or writing response papers. Both understanding how you feel about something and being able to convert that into meaningful written work is very important. Perhaps instead of "boring" suggest that a teacher have students write a response to a local issue they find important so they can then have the response published as a letter to the editor in a local paper -- this qualifies for getting students involved in the world outside their school and it's not so different from what you called "boring."

    What I think you need to remember is that most teachers out there have, like me, been successful in a school environment that does value writing papers about literature and doing dissections. It would be helpful if you gave more examples of what we could do differently from what our own experience was.

    Also remember that in many areas of this country, teachers are given little respect by the community. If we don't feel like our *own* work seems valued by the world at large, how are we in any position to help our students feel that way? Another interesting way of looking at an issue that seems vastly simplified here.

    Lastly, remember that although it should be very important to have our students engaging in meaningful work and that we shouldn't allow "subject area content" to get in the way of that, we can't let it go the other way, either. What I mean by this is: sure, it's great to feel like you're contributing something to the world. But maybe it's just as important for students to get a taste of contributing to help them understand that they need to do the dissections and write the papers in order to learn the skills they *need* to make future contributions.

    I am a science teacher, and if you look at the high school level students out there who are making actual contributions in a science field, they're students who've done the leg work and understand the principles. I'm not saying my students have nothing to contribute to the world yet, but I'm sorry, they're not going to be making any scientific breakthroughs until they have a thorough understanding of the basics.

    Instead of just emphasizing contribution, you should also think about how those contributions will look. Let's help students understand what they want to contribute and then use what might otherwise be "boring" (and I disagree that it all has to be boring) to help them get there.

  6. I agree with you - a lot of our focus when we are teaching is placed on the students results of learning which is usually assess with testing. What does testing prove in the area of impacting the world through the students actually doing something more than watching a video or pushing a like button?

    If we can allow students to think critically and to analyze and look at areas where "issues" are "issues" only because we(society) have let them become "issues" this is a start. There are so many topics which can be integrated into curriculum. We do not need to keep teaching the same unit year after year.

    With the age of technology, communication and 24 hour news updates, teachers can find information that is relevant to today and can build areas of study around this. Then, through tasks preferably other than tests, like alternative assessments, performance based assessments and project based learning, students can apply their understanding and their learning becomes more meaningful.

    Students can start locally and then spread out from there. Technology tools can help students actually do something and to spread their message out to others to ask for help and to empower them as well.

    If we show our students that they matter, that what they are learning and doing has meaning and matters to someone other than just the teacher, we are on the right track - a step in a positive direction.

    I remember teachers who told me that I mattered. I also remember that we learned about real topics and events that were happening. We started social justice clubs and talked about issues, we looked within our community and we donated time and support to those in need because we chose to.

    Teachers really are teaching children - and you never know what that child will go on to do once they leave your classroom. So why not educate them about the world as it is today, inspire them, engage them, motivate them, and show them what they can do.