Playing at the Park: A Learning Adventure
My wife and I were playing in the park with our kids the other day. We were hanging at the swings with our two-year-old and our soon-to-be one-year-old when we heard a shriek from across the monkey bars. Our four-year-old was doing an obstacle course maneuver over a wooden fence, during which (& much to his dismay) a bug landed on his hand. “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” I looked up to see that he was bouncing around, holding one hand in the other, and crying hysterically (a solid, full-on, hyperventilating cry – this big guy leaves very little to the imagination when it comes to expressing his discontent). I figured that a splinter from the worn wood had jabbed him in the palm, or that he knocked his funny bone in just the right way, or possibly that a confused squirrel had attempted to nest in his hair (again, it was a pretty intense shriek).
So, in line with any delusional father who believes that a calm reaction can make pain and/or fear instantly diminish, I strolled over with a raised brow and a combined look of compassion and confusion, and I serenely asked, “What’s the scoop Bud?” Now convulsing uncontrollably, alligator tears streaming down his face, lower lip forcibly curled and trembling, an impressive, globular string of drool emerging from the corner of his mouth, and through an Oscar caliber puppy dog whimper, he mustered the strength to utter, “A-a-a…a b-b-b…bug l-l-l…landed o-o-o-on my ha…ha…hand!” I would be remiss if I neglected to articulate that this particular child has somewhat of a flare for the dramatic. I don’t where he get’s it. No one in my family is overly dramatic. Must be from his mother’s side (nice folks none-the-less).
Anyway, the very next thing he said was, “I want to have my birthday party inside this year.” I love this guy! What a mind! If you spend any time with children you quickly realize that their personalities shine as bright as interrogation lamps (stars felt a bit cliché…but you get my meaning). I can picture how it went down. He felt a bit of a tickle on the back of his hand. He was in mid-climb. He reached down for a quick scratch. Then came the moment of shock and distress, the instant of realization when he was supremely aware that no mere scratch would remedy this situation…the disgust, the awfulness, the unadulterated terror of being faced with the knowledge that this was no simple itch. No patch of dry skin or wind gust could have caused this sensation. He felt the bug. Even worse, he may have crushed the bug with his gargantuan human child finders (ironic, isn’t it). Can you imagine the shudders that ran down his spine and lingered in his soul? Chilling! I truly love that he projected the possibility of a bug landing on him again, and the need for a bug-secured birthday party. I giggled as he continued to cry and leap into my arms.
But here’s the rub, kids (along with the rest of us) are intense and easily distracted by lots of stuff. It makes sense. They’re figuring things out. This one has only been alive for four years. Kindergarteners have only been alive for five years. Fifth graders have only been alive for ten years. High school freshmen have only been alive for thirteen or fourteen years! Considering the intense volume and sheer magnitude of things I have yet to understand at the tender age of forty gives rise to the notion of distraction as an important part of the developmental learning/growth process. Let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken, and when I reach for an itch that turns out to be a big, hairy bug crawling on me, I’m startled enough to consider an indoor birthday party. I had to carry this kid around the park for next half hour. What fun for the both of us. He was eventually able to make his way around independently again. He joyfully returned to swinging and sliding, and I’m guessing that he might even re-consider an outdoor birthday party. However, it’s the intense and immediate distraction that peeks my interest from an educational leadership perspective. We have an agenda. We have learning standards and pacing guidelines that must in be taken seriously, and rightfully so.
As our students progress, they do need to develop skills and understandings appropriate to next steps at each level of growth and achievement. Also, bugs on their hands (along with many other legitimate distractions) will contribute and/or detract from their focus and motivation. How do we, as educators, account for, appreciate, and value that which is important to the individuals we serve while perpetuating cultures of collaborative learning and universal progress? In what ways can we recognize that bugs on hands are legitimate issues to be addressed, and keep the growth train moving simultaneously?
Some related stuff I’m working to improve upon
Seeking First to Understand. Here we go again with the darned Covey references! Whether in a disciplinary situation with a student, a professional learning effort with colleagues, or in partnership/communication with parents, I am consistently working hard to remind myself that we each have a personal, unique, and deeply critical perspective; critical in part because our individual perspectives drive our motivation, and in part because it is through those perspectives that we are able to contribute to the achievement of universal outcomes.
Recognize, Appreciate, & Address the Bugs. Wouldn’t it be great if our organizations ran like clockwork simply because we want them to. What if we could will every learner to be ready and excited for each new day of exploration? What if educational leaders were able to effortlessly perpetuate positive partnerships with all stakeholders simply by knowing how effective optimism, collaboration, and mutual respect are in growth and development? That would be cool. However, as we know, this stuff takes lots of dedication and hard work. One piece of the partnership puzzle is that bugs cannot simply be brushed off (pun intended). I am working hard to remind myself that when communication doesn’t seem to be working, it could be about a real and important distraction. I am working hard to listen with an open heart and an open mind, so that when my partners (be they students, teachers, parents, colleagues, or other school community stakeholders) need to address bugs that land on their hands, I can compassionately assist.
Be Patient. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has got to want to change. I know that as an educational leader I must remember that change, while ever-present, is a patient process, and that each of us needs to see the value in potential growth before we are able to fully engage. To that end, I am focused on listening and learning, modeling and encouraging, and being patience as those who I serve work independently and collectively to learn and grow through the constant changes that drive progress in our learning community. I just wish it wouldn’t take so long:)!
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.