By Kevin Scott
Like many of you, I spend a lot of my time playing with my sons. Since they’re 10 and 12 years old (5th and 7th graders), we don’t get outside as often as we did when they were little and would spend the afternoon at a local playground or park, but we still find time. In previous posts, I’ve talked about how a walk through our neighborhood can lead to interesting conversations, and I also spend a large chunk of my time with them coaching hockey. It’s one thing to see my boys at home or in a one-on-one environment with me, but it’s even more interesting to see them act as teammates on and off the ice.
A phrase I know I overuse with the kids I coach is that “our time is precious on that sheet of ice.” Hockey is not like other sports where they can go to a soccer field or shoot hoops at their elementary school until it gets dark. In the D.C. area, it’s rare to get time on skate-able ice—although it does happen sometimes—and we need to learn every time we put our skates on. I think all coaches want their players to progress every single time they show up to play a sport or practice an instrument, but I feel a little added pressure when ice time is so sacred.
When I think about myself as an adult learner, I think that same philosophy holds true. Don’t we all want to learn more every day? Don’t we want to be better teachers, principals, or educators, regardless of our roles, because our time is valuable? I would hope the answer is yes, but I know that isn’t always the case.
In a recent conversation with Fred Ende on the new “ASCD Learn Teach Lead Radio” show, we were talking about his experience teaching teachers, and he asked me if I was a “reluctant learner” as a teacher. Sadly, I was frequently a complainer when it came to mandatory meetings because I always felt like it was taking me away from the “real work” I had to do related to my students. I think part of it has to do with my personality, because I didn’t like being mandated to do something, and the other part probably had to do with the fact that I didn’t like the typical “sit-and-get” meeting approach we used. The good news is that the world of learning is changing for students and for adults. There’s still a place for face-to-face meetings and learning, but we’re also learning on the fly in microbursts—acquiring information via Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Voxer, and so on.
Online information may spark curiosity, and real conversations can take it further. On a walk with my younger son a couple of weeks ago, we somehow started talking about 9/11. I always look forward to these walks because of the spontaneous conversations that tend to get pretty heavy pretty quickly, but I didn’t expect to discuss 9/11, which occurred four years before he was born. Living in the D.C. area, we had some direct connections to the attack, and we talked about our lives in the days, weeks, and months following that infamous day in history. Cue the questions about where I was (teaching), where was mom (work), if I could see the smoke from the Pentagon (no), and whether we “got the bad guys” afterwards. That lead to a discussion of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and then Iraq, and I think I must have said a dozen times, “You know what? This is pretty complicated and kinda hard to explain to a 10 year old.” The thing is, that 10-minute conversation may have been the springboard for him seeking more information about the world in 2016, sparking his curiosity and making him want to learn more on his own. To me, that desire to learn on his own is more important than any grade he gets on a test.
Kevin Scott is director of member engagement at ASCD and works with members and constituent groups to increase awareness and action for educators. He spent seven years in Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools as a middle school history teacher and has been a director of education and membership manager at other associations in Washington, D.C. Connect with him on @Edu_Kevin_.