This strange, new world online has brought me many joys. The greatest of which is the wonderful people I’ve met. I don’t have too many opportunities to see these people in real life, but that doesn’t lesson the bonds. Recently, Gary Stager checked in on me, quite kindly. In the course of our conversation, he said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘what is the smallest seed I can plant to generate the largest blossom?'”
I love that question. Reading it made me realize how often I’m putting a lot of time and energy into some really big seeds that are only going to generate small blossoms. That’s a recipe for burnout. So I asked Gary what his answer to that awesome question would be.
He said, “My answer to the awesome question may not be definable. It’s a variation on “less us, more them,” and a response to curricular planning. If I can teach by raising an eyebrow or asking one question, why build elaborate plans in advance. A much different skill set is required.”
“Less us, more them” is Gary’s mantra. If you’ve ever heard him speak, you’ve heard him say this. I’m glad he says it again and again because I need to hear it again and again. It definitely hits to the core of planting small seeds to grow large blossoms. The kids have to be the ones doing the work, the thinking, the asking questions, for this to be true. (When my children were toddlers, my father told me the best activities to do as a parent were ones that took very little of my energy, but lots and lots of theirs. They have so much more energy than you do at that point. He was right. Just as Gary is.)
A new colleague of mine has introduced me to the idea of responsive teaching. The idea here is to be prepared to respond to students’ questions or errors and move forward based on those. It is more powerful than anything scripted or highly planned could ever be as it is designed to meet kids where they are, in that moment. It sounds, to me, like something that could be a small seed to generate a large blossom. It requires knowledge of the content one is teaching. (One of the reasons Gary can do so much with a raised eyebrow or one question is because he knows what he is asking kids to do inside and out.) It also requires knowledge of how people learn. (Another thing Gary knows inside and out.)
My next question then, based on these thoughts, was how do we help teachers do this? It’s scarier to walk in without a detailed lesson plan. It requires a lot of knowledge. It’s not in most folk’s comfort zones.
Again, Gary’s response was helpful to me. He said, “1) dig kids 2) know stuff – actual things like facts 3) be curious 4) lack of fear 5) confidence that the students choose to be in your company 6) a bag ‘o tricks”
Dig kids should just be a requirement for anyone who wants to work with them in any way. No matter what.
Know your stuff gets back to the needed knowledge to be prepared to address whatever may come your way. The more you know the more prepared you are because you have your information but also because you have some pretty good ideas of where things might head.
Be curious. Wow. So simple and yet so huge. The more curious teachers are, the more willing we will be to allow kids to be curious. And kids learn far more through their own curiosity than they do through anything we require of them.
Honestly, I think lack of fear might be the toughest one in this list. It’s also the one I think is least important because if you’re willing to give it a go, in spite of your fear, I believe you can do it. Fear doesn’t have to stop you.
Confidence that students choose to be in your company – this one intrigued me. At school, typically, students don’t get to make that choice. If they could, would they choose to be with me? If so, we’re in a good place for some serious learning. If not, that’s quite a barrier to overcome.
Finally, a bag o’ tricks. I think the bag o’ tricks is really what’s already listed above, curiosity, knowledge, love of kids. Maybe there’s more you need, but I’m not sure of it.
This question about the smallest seed for the biggest blossom is one that I want to keep rattling around in my head. It focuses me in a positive way. Thank you, Gary.