#10summerblogs: What I learned about education from going to Disney World with my family.

It is ridiculously cold in Iowa today, so I am reposting a blog from a couple of years ago that I am quite fond of. Enjoy and think warm thoughts.

Here is my second submission in the #10summerblogs. I know that blogging on vacation can sometimes be ill advised, but what I was learning here was worth archiving and, in my opinion, sharing. How can a trip to Disney World be relatable to any part of education, you ask? I had no clue, but I picked up a few things that I thought we're relatable.

1. If you don't listen to the group, people get crabby.

I am traveling with 11 people who's age range from 2 - 65. We are adult, child, woman, man, American, European, interested, and not. But, the one thing we all share and hold dear is our opinion. You have the same thing in your classroom: opinions. Call this student voice. Call this a culture of learning; whatever. You know if you listen to your kids and value their opinion they will not only trust you, they will believe in you. If you don't you will have full grown men waiting 80 minutes for some princess fairy tale business they will spend weeks trying to justify to themselves.

2. People are starving to make a connection.

People want to connect. Have you ever been on a vacation, or somewhere out of town, and run into someone you know? Do you ignore the people or are you stop and talk? You stop and talk! I teach in Iowa and love the Hawkeyes (for reasons that sometimes escape me). I was wearing a Hawkeye shirt yesterday and had four people stop me and say, "Go Hawks!" Each of them were from or had lived in Iowa. Each went out of their way to stop and connect. Of course, coincidentally, yesterday afternoon two of my 7th graders were in Animal Kingdom with their family waving enthusiastically to get my attention. People want to connect. Your students want to connect. To you. To each other. To those who they feel share their passions. How can you connect to them?

3.If you risk a little, others will risk a lot.

Today was our first day at Magic Kingdom. First ride...Space Mountain. My six year old made the height requirement by an entire inch. Jack and I had been talking about this ride for a while.

"Dad, is it scary?"

"No, not too much?"

"Dad, will you go with me?

"Yes, Jack. Right behind you."

"Dad, what if I get scared?"

"Grandpa and I will be right there. No worries."

I sound tough, right? For those of you who might not know, Space Mountain is an indoor roller coaster. That is mostly in. the. dark. Not dimly lit. In. the. dark. I don't like heights. I like heights in the dark far less. Secondly, this is my first born son. I'm putting him on a roller coaster that was built in 1975! That is precisely five years before I was born! I'm putting him on the same technology that produced movies like 'Escape to Witch Mountain' and the 'Apple Dumpling Gang.'

Yes, in reality, I understand the ride is very safe, and my experience would go to prove that. However, my 6 year old has none of these assurances and is trusting me for all of the information he has regarding the ride. How different is it in the classroom? There are times that you students have no experience with the content or subject or 'stuff' you are teaching them. They are risking a lot.

Now, here is the fun part. Let's say you risk a little by taking a new approach at a certain unit. Let's say you integrate technology that you haven't previously used. You risk a little and allow an opportunity for your students to take a leap of faith and learn in ways that they hadn't been able to before. Let's just say that. Here is how it played out for me:

Here's the end of the Jack story: he trusted, and risked. He gained confidence. He conquered Space Mountain, and, when it was time for Splash Mountain, he had a bit of swagger in his step as we walked down the line. He followed the story of Brier Rabbit closely and after the big drop the only thing he was concerned about was it Brier Rabbit got away from Brier Fox and Brier Bear. Be open to risking a little, and give your students the opportunity to benefit from their risking a lot.

4. Get out of the way of other's discovery.

I see many times where some one or some thing or some institution will say, "you need to do this, and you need to do it this way." I think 'they' do this because experience has shown there to be a certain pattern that can be followed where just about everyone can be successful. But we all know that the educational system that was built to create assembly line style, factory-ready products is no longer the one that our current labor market needs. Now, please do not think that I am listing those type of positions as unneeded or somehow undesirable. There are now so many positions that need thinkers who choose the A to B route as one of many options. If we, as educators, allow for students to approach their learning in a way that not only produces the correct answer, but allows for the student to provide proof of learning that changes how they approach the next learning, we will create students who are not just educated; they are learners.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if I want to ride Thunder Mountain and then Space Mountain AND then the Magic Carpets of Aladdin even though I have to cross the ENTIRE park three times! Let me. (Just roll with the poor grammar. It was for dramatic affect)

5. Children are inherently drawn to collaborate.

On our trip we were fortunate to visit at the same time as some friends from Germany. We've had a great time. Here's the interesting part: our friends have a 6 year old daughter (same age as Jack) who speaks almost no English. Problem, right? No way! How is it that six year olds who share no common experience, nor a common language, can interact, play, and learn from each other with relative ease, and I can't get my eighth graders to work together to save my life? When is it that we teach the inherent collaborative nature out of our children? When do children learn that working together creates an environment of inequity, irritation and irrelevance rather than the opportunity to learn, connect and grow? More questions than answers, but there is a point where this mentality changes. We teachers need to be aware and combat this change whenever possible.

6. It's not about you. It's about them.

This is my third trip to Disney.

Ages for each trip: 16, 30, 34.

Children per trip: 0, 1, 2.

Needless to say, my priorities for each trip have changed. The importance of Rockin' Roller coaster and Terror of Tower have dwindled, and the Dumbo ride and finding all of the characters has somehow escalated.

My opinion of 'who is the most important' has changed dramatically. How is this true for your classroom? The importance of learning is never in question, but the burden of proof is shifting. Out the window has gone teacher-centered, this is how we have always done it, laminated lesson plan thinking (that should all be hyphenated). My priorities have shifted from me-centered to them-centered. This goes back to my ideas on education and learning. I 'educate' students. I'm an educator. However, I have less control over my students learning. Learning is something they do. Learning is a choice. What I can do to make the divide between education (what I do) and learning (what they do) less daunting? These are the things that need thinking. My last question: how do we change school from a place where education resides, to a place where learning happens? I'm not sure yet, but I'll spend the rest of my summer 'on' trying to find out.

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

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