Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
David Foster Wallace (2005)
As educators, our days are fraught with distractions. Time is precious, attention spans short. Less is more, but which less? To what—and how–should we pay attention?
Here are some guidelines that help me when I feel overwhelmed by all the options—and by all the limitations.
- Choose connection. Take time for students. Validate them. Laugh together. Cultivate moments of light. Trust me, you will not get to your destination faster by skipping this step.
- Choose to breathe. Relax. Be clear but do not rush. You will not get to your destination faster by talking faster.
- Choose deep meaning. Foster debate, discussion, comparison, reflection. Allow students time to wrestle with an idea. You will not get to your destination faster by covering a topic superficially.
- Choose lucidity. Plan carefully, understand thoroughly, explain succinctly. You will not get to your destination faster by talking more.
- Choose the arts. Research shows that the arts support academic achievement. You will not get to your destination faster by eliminating them.
- Choose physical education. Daily PE is necessary. You will not get to your destination faster by having kids sit all day.
- Choose structure AND creativity. Structures (routines, graphic organizers) provide the framework for productive creativity. Without structure, you will have chaos; without creativity, you will have tedium. You will not get to your destination faster by using just one or the other.
- Choose risk. Try something different. Dare to fail. There are no ultimate right answers. Taking a serendipitous path could be a shortcut or long detour. Taking chances is one way that you just might get to your destination a little faster.
So what are your guiding principles? Have I missed something obvious?
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