I was recently meeting with a couple of teachers and parents to discuss a student’s progress. The student had come to Saklan from a more traditional school and was struggling with how we approach learning.* What emerged from the conversation was just how difficult it is for a student to move from an educational system that feeds a student information to one that asks a student to synthesize what they previously learned into questions that lead to new understandings. In my former life as a teacher, students would often say “Just tell me what I need to know for the test” or for an essay “Tell me what to write about.” For students, the quickest way to “learn” something is to be “told” it. But this only leads to a shallow understanding of the material.
The easy way out for all of us, is to show the students exactly what to do, to tell them what they need to know, or to accept mediocre work. But in the long run, we are not setting them up for a truly successful and fulfilling life. Our 8th graders will be going off to high schools that will have a different culture than Saklan. Those 8th graders will one day graduate from high school and go on to a university that will require another culture shift. And on and on.
What that meeting reminded me of was just how difficult it is to switch cultures. In the case of the student above it was about moving into a culture that places a high value on student questioning and discovery. A culture that is reluctant to tell you what you “need” to know. To do a “culture switch” takes a large measure of perseverance and resilience. Both those characteristics are difficult to teach. As a matter of fact, they can’t be taught but have to be nurtured and learned.
At Saklan, we work behind the scenes to build those inner muscles of resilience and perseverance. Kids fail and struggle and sometimes do not get it. We are there, like a family member, to support and help, but not to give them the answer. In the words of Rob Evans, we want to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. So when they do meet with failure, defeat and ambiguity, they do not just bounce back – they bounce forward.
* I intentionally chose the word “learning” instead of “teaching” as teaching feels like something that is done to us by others while learning tends to be both collaborative and self-directed.