Another viral video crossed my desk last week, accompanied by a lot of “Awwww….so cute!” comments. This one features Dixie, a puppy heading down a flight of stairs for the first time, with a little help from a friend – a Golden Retriever named Simon.
If you haven’t seen it, here’s a link:
Yes, Dixie is indeed a cuddly pup, and Simon took on the role of adorable big brother as he helped Dixie figure out how to make it to the bottom in one piece.
But I can’t help drawing the analogy to my teaching life when I watch that video (and I’ve watched it now, about twenty times.)
To that puppy, a half-flight of stairs compares to an adult leaping head first off an 80 foot cliff. Ditto the fourth grader coming nose to nose with dividing fractions…the eighth grader grappling with a long chapter of American History….the high school Sophomore about to open the pages of The Odyssey….the college Freshman walking into an organic chemistry lab…the law student prepping her first brief.
The unknown is scary stuff. Testing your ability to master new learning is scary, too. It seems, of course, that everyone else is so…so smart! So accomplished!
Every one of us has asked, at some point, “What if I fail?”
I’ve known great and accomplished teachers, from the time I was a small child right on through my professional years.
And I’ve studied teaching and learning. A lot.
Whether the lesson is one for a new puppy on her first journey down the stairs, or one for that law student, there are a few things that great and accomplished teachers do every day. There are a few things those great and accomplished teachers know for sure.
In college, it’s called instructional pedagogy. Good pedagogy gets good results; kids learn well from teachers who do it right. In fact, it’s what a lot of education reformers fuss about much of the time. We can learn it from professors and textbooks, of course, but today we’ll take our lesson from Simon and Dixie.
Here’s what Simon – and those great teachers – know:
- Some students will learn quickly. Some won’t. Be patient.
- Having a little experience makes things easier. Draw on your students’ background experience when you can. Share a bit of your own.
- Learning is an act of courage. Respect the courage of your students as they try. Respect them even more if they try and fail and come back to try again.
- It helps to have a good example. It helps even more when that good example -the teacher, mentor, coach, or tutor – doesn’t give up but keeps on coming back around to help again and again….and again.
- Peer-to-peer teaching is powerful, on both sides of the equation.
- “Show” – don’t “tell.” Work with me until I can get it on my own.
- Give lots of chances for practice. Build confidence to take the next step.
- No student is hopeless, even if they sit down and dig in their heels for a moment.
- Sometimes, when we are right at the edge of success, it can all seem like too much. Pace activities to move students forward, even when they want to retreat.
- Celebrate success! Celebrate learning! Don’t just “test” it, “evaluate” it, and “score” it. You’ve given that student (or even a puppy) a skill she can build on and draw on forever. It’s those “tail wagging” moments that we remember.
Look back on your own life and learning. Pull up a memory of a great big lesson you learned. Enjoy that memory today, for a minute or two.
Video Credit: Tim Doucette