Monday, September 8, 2008


by Ed Latham

I was talking to some students last week during some of the "down time" that often pops up towards the end of many classroom experiences. The talk was very casual, I was an outsider, and this was the first time I had met these students. I simply asked "What are you good at?" and sat back and listened. You may want to try that with a group of kids you know, it can be fascinating to watch what happens and the discussion that comes out.

The short story is that many students, even the academically successful students, did not feel they were good at much other than getting in trouble or irritating adults or peers. After a few minutes of listening, I asked those that did not feel much worth why they felt that way. Every single one of them was able to share a quick story of adults and peers that have judged the student's value to be unsatisfactory, of poor quality, or just wrong. School is a place many come to learn about themselves and how they fit in. Unfortunately, a good sized chunk of the population find out more about what they are not good at rather than the positive.

Sir Ken Robinson has a 20 min talk at TED concerning these issues. His talk is more of an awareness that the problem exists. I did not come away from the video with a "Here is what we can do as a system to help address this valid concern." Instead, I saw the video as a challenge to each individual out there working with kids to at least keep these thoughts in the back of their mind as they go through the daily chaos we call our school day.

Our schools were designed to get young students from point A to B and over time we have had many adaptations in the systems to try to allow for changes that are required. When you take something that works and keep adding on and adding on and modifying it over a hundred years, does it necessarily get better? Will it even accomplish it's original function as efficiently as it did "back in the day"?

With the pressures, tests, learning results and all of the other demons we face in our school lives, how are teachers finding opportunities to help students explore their creativity to find out what they are really good at. Trust me, when a student finds something he or she is good at, they will not need to hear it from you or even from a peer to know "I love this! I really like doing this!" Can people please share different ways Teachers/Schools/People are opening doors, rather than shutting out so many possibilities. Many adults and students can point to a time when he or she felt really good doing something only to be totally deflated by a simple careless or insensitive statement from a peer, a respected person or loved one. How are we helping people find those desires and helping to kindle those often tenuous fires that can one day burn so bright on their own, but for now, need nurturing to reach their potential?

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