Crazy. Risky. Insane. Nuts. Dangerous (that’s one of my personal favorites!). Foolish. Confidently ignorant (another of my personal favorites!) I hear these words flung at me, but often more in whispers or passive aggressive comments on social media or elsewhere. I embrace these words, and understand that they are borne of ignorance. Ignorance of what I’m doing and why; those who fling them often know nothing other than what I’m doing is “different”. Ignorance of the fact that the act of educating needs updating.
Innovative. Brilliant. Inspiring. Leader. Pioneer. I obviously also embrace these words. While they are spoken much louder and more publicly, they also are often borne from ignorance. Just as those who fear change condemn what I do without truly understanding the why behind it, those who embrace change support what I do without truly understanding the why behind it.
Why Am I Doing This?
Simply put, because I must. I read an unbelievable piece by Elle Luna about The Crossroads of Should and Must. It captured perfectly the answer to the question I get so often: “why are you doing this?” Not because I should. Because I must.
A Broader View of Me
Allow me to digress and provide a little background. I am an educator. My profession requires me to conduct research, to engage in service for the benefit of my department and institution, and to teach. I’m at a school that claims to prize the balance of those. As you can see from Doan Winkel CV, I have been more than successful in terms of research and service. I do not value research in any way (that’s a soapbox I’ll save for another time). I love service – trying to build an entrepreneurship ecosystem here at ISU, in our local community, and beyond in the field in general. But most of my colleagues don’t really value or acknowledge the service component of my profession. That leaves us with teaching, what I believe is the most (or only in some ways) valuable component of my profession (at least in my discipline – I don’t discount research in many other disciplines, but in mine it’s basically worthless in my judgment because it doesn’t at all help us be better educators, which is the yardstick I use).
The Importance of Teaching
I believe a teacher has a bigger responsibility than delivering material, than “teaching”. My job as a teacher is to use my accumulated life experience and knowledge (and my ability to accumulate, assimilate and disseminate knowledge) to open the minds and hearts and souls and spirits of younger generations (whether they sit in my classroom or not). It’s my job to inspire. To guide. To challenge. To push back. To mentor. To inspire.
Referring back to Elle’s article, I do not see this responsibility as a “should”, but as a “must”. What’s the difference? As Elle states:
“Should is how others want us to show up in the world – how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small”
“Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are along with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listing to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.”
Just as most of my students have done, I proceeded through my K-12 educational experience with a should mindset. I never found or thought about must. Why? Because my teacher’s didn’t; they were the “experts” and I was trained to follow their example and take their direction.
I must change that experience for as many young men and women as possible. It’s unfair for me to perpetuate that when I know how absolutely destructive it is to the hearts and minds and souls and spirits of these young men and women. That’s why I push myself to create crazy experiences – for my students and for myself. That’s why I push my colleagues to do the same. That’s why I push every day, in every way I can. Because I must. Because education should be scary – it’s the only way to encourage the sort of entrepreneurial thinking that we need to encourage in younger generations.
Make It Scary
Education should be scary for the students, so they can really understand how important it is (I don’t see that they, generally speaking, believe this anymore – they take it for granted).
Education should be scary for the teachers, so they understand the huge responsibility they have to shape the hearts and minds and souls and spirits of our future (I also don’t see that they, generally speaking, believe this anymore – they take it for granted).
The best way I have found to make it scary for students is to give them control. They don’t know what to do with this; it’s very new and unknown for them. I of course offer tremendous support and guidance for those that reach out (perhaps I need to do a better job of making this bridge in the future). Uncertainty is scary for students, because they’re used to such structure and spoon-feeding and instant gratification.
The best way I have found to make it scary for me is to walk a mile in my students’ shoes. In essence, to give up the control that I offer to them. I don’t know where the experience is going, but I’m confident I can guide it no matter where it goes (or can find the best people to help me if I’m not capable). I don’t know how my students and I will learn, but I can guarantee those who seize the opportunity will emerge transformed. They may or may not learn the skills many of my colleagues think they should. I’m not concerned with that, because they can learn just about anything with a few YouTube videos these days. They will, however, learn much about their capability. Their confidence. Their drive. Their possibility. They learn this by understand and implementing entrepreneurial thinking. I do as well, because I am not only teacher, but student. Because I gave up control. Because I made it scary (stay tuned here for some exciting plans Michael Luchies and I have!)
What About You?
What is your must as an educator? What is your must as a student? How are you making your classroom experience scary?
What can I do to make it scarier?