Monthly Archives: March 2012

X marks the spot: Where to Find Hidden Treasure

If you knew where a valuable treasure was buried, what would you do?

  • Start digging frantically, trying to uncover it.
  • Ignore it. Digging is a lot of work.
  • Bury it even deeper.

I believe most people would start digging frantically.  I know I would.  If you are independently wealthy and have no need for money, I could possibly see the logic in ignoring it, but who in their right mind would put forth the effort to bury it even deeper?

I am sure most would agree that heaping loads of additional dirt on buried treasure does absolutely no one any good. Digging is hard work, so I can see someone being willing to put in this hard work to get the reward of the treasure, but nobody in their right mind would put in this sweat equity for nothing.  And what about eventually accessing the treasure?  The deeper it is buried, the less likely it is that it will ever be uncovered.  And what good is a valuable treasure if it cannot be accessed and used?

The mind of every individual is filled with valuable treasure.  Every person has a unique set of strengths and talents.  Everyone has something to contribute to this world.

Young children are eager to discover and act on these innate talents.  At age two, my nephew started to sort his toy cars by color.  Nobody told him to do this, he naturally saw the patterns and wanted to create order.  My daughter has always enjoyed creating elaborate art projects.  While most four-year-old children are content to simply color a picture with crayons, my daughter would make 3-D pictures by making grass from crinkled strips of green construction paper and trimming white fur from her stuffed poodle to make puffy clouds.  I certainly have no knack for arts and crafts, so I know that this talent comes from within. Young children know that they enjoy something, realize that they are pretty good at it, so they act on it and it makes them happy.

Then these innocent eager learners enter school. And too often, instead of looking at each child as a mine of valuable resources, we focus on the content that we are supposed to put into each child’s mind.   Rather than helping each child brush away the extra dirt to reveal their inherent value for the world to see, with every shovelful of “knowledge” we dump into a child’s head, we bury that treasure deeper and deeper, making it harder and harder to find.

I sometimes wonder if we are really “educating” children or simply covering them with information so they can function “appropriately” in society.

I believe that deep down, teachers and parents want what’s best for their children.  They truly desire to see their children attain greatness.  But while our culture and way of life is changing so rapidly, our system of preparing students to function in this ever-changing environment has adapted very little.  We are entering an exciting innovative age, which requires a new way of approaching education.

Let’s change this view of “education” from shoveling knowledge to revealing and polishing the hidden treasure within each individual.  Only then will we see students reach their fullest potential.  Only then will we reap the benefits of this valuable treasure: the minds of our students.

So in the same spirit of William Butler Yeats as he stated, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire,” I boldly state that education is not filling a hole, but revealing a hidden treasure.

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School: Friend or Foe?

Yesterday, I received an email from my principal sharing this inspirational story:  http://thelgroup.com/p_TheLetter/242.asp?v=play#video

The story of Anthony Robles, the one-legged wrestling champ, brought me to tears.  Like so many other inspirational stories, Anthony overcame a serious setback- being born with one leg- and ultimately achieved greatness.

In the video, a quote by Anthony’s mother is emphasized:

“Don’t let what you CAN’T do get in the way of what you CAN do.” 

Just about every teacher I know would nod their head in agreement, and proudly agree that this is their dream for all students.  But is it possible in schools today?

Society today has a tendency to focus on fixing what is broken, rather than celebrating what is good.  This same attitude is embedded within our schools.  I don’t believe it is intentional, but it is an unfortunate side-effect of using high stakes testing to evaluate the worth of teachers and students.

In our schools, much less time is spent developing and honing skills that students are naturally good at- the skills that are most likely to bring them enjoyment, satisfaction, and align with their future goals- while the majority of our time in school is spent trying to “fix” what is “wrong” with students- leading to frustration, resentment, and feelings of worthlessness.  I don’t know about you, but if this isn’t the ultimate example of letting what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do, I don’t know what is.

If Anthony’s mom would have focused on trying to get him to function as a two-legged individual, he would not have had the opportunity to develop into the wrestling champ that he has become.  If he focused on trying to repair the weakness in his lower body, instead of developing his naturally strong upper body, where would he be today?  Probably living life as an average individual who can generally function in society.  Or possibly worse- living life as a frustrated and hopeless individual who feels he has nothing to contribute to society.

I shudder to think of the wealth of resources that lay dormant inside the heads of frustrated, disenchanted, depressed students who have not had an opportunity to develop strengths because of the time required to “work on” weaknesses.  How much has our society been held back by our continuous focus on fixing what’s “wrong”?  What amazing contributions have we missed out on?

Alone, I don’t have the power to change the focus of our schools from weaknesses to strengths. And to be honest, I haven’t yet fully developed a tangible solution to accurately measure the success of students with such a wide variety of strengths, but I think about this often. I strive to be an example by building upon the strengths of the students I impact.  And I sincerely believe that I have made a difference with the few students I have been able to reach.  It is my dream that within my lifetime, our schools become places where we foster the strengths of each individual and capitalize on the value of our greatest resource- our students.

Do you think this is realistic?  What do you think is needed to shift the emphasis from weaknesses to strengths?

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