When Jay McLean was asked why he leaves thank you notes on customer's cars who choose not to drive drunk he said he likes "to teach about preventing drunk driving using kindness and good examples." That mission statement gave me great pause. It is elegant, and specific, as all good mission statements should be. It also sums up what I believe about successful teaching, and what I find to be one of the most difficult things to do consistently, 100% of the time.
What makes it difficult is that it's less about what I am doing, and more about what I am not doing. How much can I remove myself from the conversation so that real learning is happening, not just listening? There is a difference between learning and listening, and when you are learning the brain is re-wiring itself; your brain's nerve cells change shape, firing differently. Many students, myself included, only really learn and remember concepts they may have been led to, but ultimately grasped on their own. Scientists used to think that our learning peaked in our teenage years, but there is evidence now that we learn our entire lives.
The key is to remove yourself from the conversation enough, while still giving students sufficient information. That's where those good examples come in, your scaffolding for the lesson. I think a really good lesson is one where you build the scaffolding and students can sort of climb all over while building onto it. They can go any direction they want, and piece together some truths for themselves. I'm still working on trying to get this effect in a 90-, or worse, 50-minute period.
Leading others through kindness and good examples is one of those very simple things that can have a huge impact. It's harder than it looks, for most of us. There are those it seems to come totally naturally to, you know them, the good eggs. They rest of us have to learn the hard way- it's only human.
Speaking of good eggs, if you leave your car at Mr. McLean's restaurant, he will not only leave you a thank-you note, he will also include one free pound of chicken wings. This reminds me of a manager I worked under that was particularly beloved, who firmly and relentlessly believed in the power of snacks, and used them often and wisely in relationship-building. Now, she never brought us chicken wings, but like I said, most of us are only human.
I'm going to let Mr. McLean inspire me this month. How can I lead others through kindness and good examples? How can I learn from the kindness and examples of others? What can I offer people in lieu of chicken wings?