Don’t “teach” 21st century skills, provide students with opportunities to experience them


Last school year during a faculty meeting, our staff grappled with the question: can we teach creativity? The collective response was, “No, not through direct instruction, but we can provide students with opportunities to be creative.”

Our educational focus moving forward should be how to improve our school environments to allow for students to have more opportunities to be creative and innovative. Attempting to “teach” students to understand aspects of the innovator’s mindset (@gcouros) through direct instruction of these skills is troubling to me. It just doesn’t work. Defining skills like perseverance, resilience, risk-taking, etc. for students is best done by providing them with opportunities that allow them to experience the characteristic through a learning endeavor.

Years ago I was in the Army going through a challenging Basic Training obstacle course. One of the activities called for the trainees to scale and climb over a wall. I don’t know exactly how high the wall was but it was certainly taller than me. I made several attempts of running towards the wall and trying to achieve the momentum to reach the top and continue on to the next event. But as often as I ran to and hit the wall, I fell to the ground and failed. What is the quote in Duckworth’s (@angeladuckw Grit) book -“7 falls eight rises?” Eventually, a very angry Drill Sergeant  (is there any other kind?) approached me from the sidelines, where I have no doubt he was enjoying the sight of my failed attempts. I looked at him hoping for mercy and mumbled, “I can’t.” He couldn’t have been less merciful in his response, “Get your ass up that wall.” Motivational speaking at its best. On my final attempt I was successful. I honestly don’t know how or what I did differently to make this effort successful, but somehow I made it over that wall. Greeting me on the other side of that wall was the aforementioned Drill Sergeant, “Don’t ever let me hear you say you can’t again Soldier!”

I learned a few valuable lessons that day. I learned that sometimes if you don’t give up you can be successful. But mostly I learned that I should never give up without checking my attitude. Remembering that if I think I can’t I likely won’t. And that in order to experience success I may need to experience a series of failed attempts in the process. This was a day that I experienced what perseverance feels like and to this day this memory informs my attitude towards a challenging physical task. I continue to attempt “crow” each time my Yoga teacher instructs us to take the position. Even though I have yet to experience the balance, I am confident that one day I will execute the move with success.

Creating environments that allow students to experience the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset will provide them with the attributes for future successes. Fall seven times rise eight.

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