I met an FFA educator recently in Linden, CA. She was responsible for teaching students how to prepare the food that her colleagues teach students to grow, develop, harvest, or ship. And she shared with me what she took away from the workshop I led at her school on student motivation.
One of the strategies I emphasize in my workshops is a bit odd-sounding: “An Apologist Winsome and Sure.” You can read more about it here, but the gist is this: we want to become the kinds of teachers who relentlessly, repetitively, confidently, and creatively explain to students why what they're doing in our classes ***matters.***
An apologist teacher expects that students will ask things like, “Why is this worth my time?” They're not offended by skepticism. They respect that kids — especially those in secondary school — have good reasons for being doubtful about the Value of school.
And yet these kinds of teachers, these apologists, are wholly sure that the work of learning THEY ask their students to do, in THEIR classes, MATTERS.
And so the FFA/food and nutrition teacher I'm talking about, at the end of the workshop, handed me a piece of paper with her takeaways from the workshop, and under the Apologetics column she wrote these things:
- Food sanitation saves or costs lives.
- Everyone has to eat.
- We are the fork to the community's farm.
And these notes, to me, were beautiful because they:
- Flow from the teacher's personality and viewpoint.
- Communicate tangentially related ideas in ways that are short and pithy.
- Are the kinds of things that she says to students all of the time.
It's not crazy to regularly say these kinds of things to students. It's not a novel idea to say that we should say them.
But in my workshops and my practice, what I find with things like this is, “Yes. That thing that you do, that thing that you say that communicates deep Value: do that, say that, repeat that. Do it even more than you already do.“
Communicating deep Value — it's a thing we envisioned ourselves doing when we decided to become teachers. So often, I find that my work comes down to this: remember that impulse? Go back! Do that. And do it again and again and again, with full confidence that no matter what you SEE, the things that you SAY are of great import. They matter. They exert a gravitational pull.
So what are your one-liners, colleague? Your versions of, “We are the fork to the community's farm?”
Carmen in San Diego says
When my awkward, terrified of judgment 8th graders have to speak to each other in a small group in the beginning of the year, I mention that someday at a park they may see someone attractive they’d like to talk to. They need, therefore, to practice speaking to people they don’t know well. I also sometimes mention they will all have to interview for a job if they’d like to continue eating as adults. So I next tell them, “Your future children’s existence depends upon this activity– your own existence depends upon it!”
Its not a sure-fire thing in the first two weeks of school, but it does a) make them laugh and relieve tension b) make logical sense c) sell the acrivity. Later I can just melodramatically plead,” Do it for the children!”
Dave Stuart Jr. (@davestuartjr) says
Carmen, I love this!!!!
Dave, Carmen in San Diego, I LOVE your comments. Yessss! I say every day to my students that what we do in my grade 6-8 ELA Lab class matters. Carmen, great life application and Hook into their motivation(s). My retired colleague used to say, “Get ’em where they’re greedy!” What do they want? A good grade. Decent class rank. Something of substance behind the grade and rank…to equate to success in their thinking, problem-solving, communicating…throughout their lives. As you said Carmen, the job and feeding of the self and their families. Or as you say, Dave…do hard things. Work for long term flourishing both now, and forever.
Dave Stuart Jr. (@davestuartjr) says
Kathy, “get ’em where they’re greedy” — I am going to think on this! There is lots of wisdom packed into it.