Sunday, September 15, 2013

Second Guessing...

This is a year of new experiences. New curriculum. New standards. New vision and mission for our school. And a new mindset for me as a teacher. I spent some time reflecting upon who and what I need to be as a teacher, and why I teach. I gave myself permission to find my passions and indulge in my own loves in life.

I had big plans for my students this year, and I set the bar pretty high for myself.  Even when fear crept in, I believed in my plan and plowed forward thoughtfully and purposefully.

One of the new elements we added this year is Genius Hour.  I introduced it the first week of school. The students were so excited and our room was abuzz with ideas. This was when something confusing happened, something I don't remember it ever happening before. I was bombarded with a question. It was different for each student, but it in essence they were all asking the same thing.

Each student started with, "Can I..." Some couldn't bear to make eye contact. Others
grimaced as they asked. All displayed some emotion that would not be associated with joy, but instead anxiety or fear. They were opening up and they were so scared I would deny them their own ideas and passions.

I met each of these students with affirmative answers, reassurance, excitement, and awe. I loved all their ideas and they needed to know their passions were validated. But it was getting out of control! Every student was second guessing themselves. They lacked confidence in their own interests. All I could do was express my love for their ideas and help them think through the brainstorming process. I watch their eyes and faces light up when I did not deny them, but instead engaged them.

I gave the students a proposal form to help them organize their ideas. They asked if they had to wait until next Friday to get started, and of course I told them they could get started right away. We have time in class on Friday set aside only for Genius Hour, and unfortunately the next Friday I was out of the building and the class had a sub.

As the third Friday rolled around, my heart was so worried they would have forgotten their great ideas and we would have to start from scratch. I quietly asked if anyone wanted to meet with me to discuss their proposal and project ideas. Almost all of the students raised their hands. I actually stood with my mouth hanging open. I was filled with hope and joy that this was working.

I had second guessed myself and this process, but my students pushed forwarded because they did not second guess me. They trusted the process, and therefore took matters into their own hands.

I met with more than half my class, literally howling in excitement over their ideas. Each project was so unique! So special, so thoughtful. So much better than anything I could have planned for them to learn. They had resources, notes, interviews, timelines, and materials. They did not even need me.

Afterwards, while I was privately reflecting on this experience, I remembered a TED talk I had watched over a year ago. Sugata Mitra's talk, The Child-Driven Education, is profound and powerful. 

Mitra hits on two ideas that seem to be deeply related to this experience I am having with my students. He says, "If students have interest, then learning will happen." It was clear to me that my students were engaged in this process because they had interest, not because I told them to get something done.

There is also this notion that when adults step aside, students will rise to the challenge. I had left my students to devise their own plans and ideas. I showed them I trusted them, and I wholeheartedly communicated that I knew, without doubt, their ideas were beautiful and worthy of sharing. They did not second guess me, and they stopped second guessing themselves.

My favorite idea from this talk is by far the role of the grandmother. "Stand behind them and admire them," Mitra's says.  This was all I had to do to ignite the spark in these students. I praised, admired, and nurtured each one of their "Can I..." questions until they naturally morphed them into "I will..." statements.

As Mitra's closes out his talk with the idea of self-organizing systems, I continue to think about how I can create and cultivate this type of learning environment everyday. What is my role, and how to I help grow these amazing learning systems- the ones where I am not in charge but simply a person that nurtures my students and guides them. If it could look and feel the way it did last Friday, then I am willing to do anything to get us there.

As I go into a new week with my students, I will be paying close attention to where they, and I, are seconding guessing our abilities. I will pay close attention to where I can offer admiration, hope, confidence, and love to my students thoughts and ideas. I will help them see their own ideas and passions are powerful and worthy.  Together, we will move to a self-organizing system of learning where all my students can be engaged and thrive.

What great passions and ideas have you squashed down because you seconded guessed yourself? Where did you stop exploring because you let someone else devalue your ideas? In turn, how can you display admiration for the people around you this week? When your students and staff trust you enough to share their ideas, what is your reaction to them? Do you second guess them or do you inspire them?


  1. This is brilliant! I am implementing Genius Hour with my 7th and 8th grade yearlong classes this year for the first time and have been just as excited as the kids have been about it. It is thrilling to see them engaged in creating, testing, learning, designing, etc. What did you end up using for a proposal form? I had my students brainstorm under different ideas (what I want to learn, test, create, change, design, make, etc.) and then make an "unGoogleable" question from that. They wrote why it was a good question and how the end result would "make the world more awesome". We watched one of the Kid President videos as a pep talk right before they did it. :-)

  2. Thanks you for sharing your Genius Hour ideas here Lindsey! So glad your kids are also thriving with this time.