The lessons I want my students to learn…

I was recently challenged to give a twelve minute talk at the African International Schools’ Conference in Nairobi, Kenya on the topic of ‘The lesson I want my students to learn.’

There were so many options I simply had to pluralise my offering. What follows is a summary of my talk.

“It’s not fair!” “She always goes first.” “His is bigger than mine!” “Everyone else is allowed!” A common cry both teachers and parents hear regularly.

One of the lessons I want my students to learn is, life’s not fair.

My sister and I are 17 months apart in age and I am the eldest. We were always treated the same. We were often dressed the same, taught right from wrong and give strong values. We were encouraged to work for and value our possessions. I recall working hard to earn the money for a new bike. I researched the options and colours. Once I had the money, I made my purchase. I was a proud owner of a 10 speed bike. Three weeks later my sister purchased the same bike in a different colour! Life was not fair! I had done all the work and she had copied. It was the first time I recall feeling injustice in my life. It was a shock and at the time it rocked my world. Life was not fair!

In life, we often start on our journey with a goal in mind, a plan of perfection and in reality the journey is frequently very bumpy. It is, however in those bumps, those challenging times, where the best learning often happens.

Many teachers are facing students suffering from learned helplessness in their classrooms. They are paralysed with fear of failing and making mistakes. It is in the making of mistakes, the failing, the bumpiness, where life feels unfair. I want students to know they have a working brain and a functioning body and always have choices when faced with challenges.

Dylan Wilian says, “The purpose of school is to prepare students for a world that we can not envisage, so when they are stuck with something they have never seen before, they choose to think instead of remember.

When students find themselves at the bottom of the pit, I want them to know how to persist, try again and keep going. If plan A doesn’t work there are 25 more letters in the alphabet. I want students to know how to make a plan and then stick to it, the self-discipline and being able to delay gratification. I want students to know about thinking flexibly, if they only focus on the black and white, they will miss all the beautiful colours the world has to offer.

I want students to know that their brain keeps on growing if they keep feeding it, keep learning and keep challenging themselves. I want students to be able to ask for help, to be able to be vulnerable, to know there are always people willing to lend a hand.

One of the lessons I want my students to learn is the when life is not fair, there are always opportunities, to look for the opportunities, to look for the silver lining, the lesson, the reward. It is always there.

One of the ideas I want teachers to know is you make every other profession possible – that is what you do each day. The world’s future is in your hand, every day. And as American historian Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” You make a difference!

The next time you hear a student say “Life’s not fair” remind them of the skills, dispositions and opportunities they have and how it is their choice how they view the situation.

What would you say if you were given this challenge?

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Published on Sunday, October 15th, 2017, under Family, Life lessons, Parenting, Success

Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

6 Responses to “The lessons I want my students to learn…”

  1. Lynne Torrie says:

    You are an inspiration for teachers.

  2. Ruth Davey says:

    This is why I love teaching programming. Students get it that they make lots of mistakes before they get it right – its expected, but their response becomes “Ok, that didn’t work. How can I change it then? what could I do differently?” The new computational thinking curriculum is awesome for helping kids to learn to think and problem solve.

    I call this resilience you speak of the McIvor spirit of doing things. He never gives up, is always positive, looks around at what he has and makes a plan to create a solution!

    Instead of saying “I have failed”, students need to say “I’m not there yet” – that is growth mindset thinking. That is part of learning to learn and to succeed. It isn’t instant.

    Teaching students to think and learn for themselves takes slightly longer than telling them exactly what to do to for all tasks, but the benefits are huge! I. like you, want them to learn that mistakes are just part of the journey, not the destination. Learning sometimes is hard, sometimes costs, but is always empowering and makes you a better person.

    Nice talk! Keep telling them how it is, because you really do learn more in your failures than in your instant successes. But you need to be looking for that silver lining or you miss the best chances to learn. Winners make lots of mistakes. But they refuse to get pulled down by them. They have learned how to fail successfully. So eventually they succeed and nothing can stop them or get them down for long.

  3. I totally agree with your comment about mistakes, Karen. Mis-takes are essential for learning. I encourage my students to experiment and to be more like a dog! If a dog is chasing a rabbit and he slips and falls over, he doesn’t say to himself “you stupid, clumsy dog, why can’t you stay on all paws”. No, he gets up and continues to chase the rabbit!

  4. Lesa MORRISON says:

    Fantastic advice and very well said. Thank you for this.

  5. Jingyi Liu says:

    Hello Karen,

    Thank you for your sharing. It is very inspiring for a new teacher!

  6. Bunmi Bakare says:

    Dear Karen,
    You are an inspirational mentor to teaching profession.Thanks for the advice and sharing this important lesson.”The lessons l want my student to learn….
    Regards,
    Bunny Bakare.

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