It’s tough as parents when we don’t know how to support our kids in school and what decisions are best. Sometimes we feel like we are failing. Tradition has put an image in our minds that supporting a child in school means sitting at the table night after night working through homework. But I think so much is changing in education and it is causing parents to feel restless and unsatisfied with the old traditional suggestions. They are looking for ways to inspire their kids into confidence, motivation, and a love for learning. This blog outlines 5 different concepts that are about “leaning into” opportunities - harnessing the effectiveness of situations and ultimately seeing a shift take place.
You can't disregard teaching moments at home because they are key to your child's success. Wherever a student puts their focus, there's a reason for it. Harness that. Press it. Lean into it.
-Jody Cordova, Director of Curriculum & Instruction
#1: Lean Into the Interests
It is hard to let go of the pretense that certain interests are a waste of time but let me tell you what I have learned. First, these interests are pathways to motivating learning, and second, they are opportunities that provide a level of effectiveness you won’t be able to recreate. When students connect learning to their own interests, kids start to see the relevance of learning inside their world. And this is critical because we need kids to be lifelong learners, not regurgitators.
As adults, we thrive on developing certain hobbies and interests. When we hone our skills, find a way for it to become a part of our livelihood, make gifts out of it for friends and family, or for pure enjoyment, the success of the hobbies and interests pushes us forward. We tend to feel more valuable about what we can offer. People see a light come on in us when we delve deeper. How many of us have transformed our interests and hobbies into careers, or taken a second career because of a hobby or interest?
It is peculiar to me that we expect something different from kids. Take what they love, dissect the various components or skills wrapped inside of it, and help them dive deep into learning it. Get to know the professional side of the industry, find videos and classes to help them become an expert with the tools and tricks and strategies, and seek experiences that will help set their sights on goals and desires. And during this process, take stock of everything they are learning: project development, developing ideas, creativity, critical thinking, math, writing, reading, following directions, a love of learning, confidence, and self-driven motivation.
#2: Lean Into the Questions
One thing I have become notorious for as an educator is answering a question with a question. Yes, it would be easier to simply provide an answer, but what gain does a student have except in that one specific moment? So – lean into the question. Help them become a thinker. It is an underdeveloped skill in our society, and totally invaluable. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked a question and did not know the answer. I answer with “well, I don’t know”, but then I model asking my own curious questions and my own observations. And we dig into it. We talk it through, draw conclusions together, make curious statements together, watch videos that explain it, analyze different scenarios, have situational conversations, and so on. Often, one question leads to such curiosity in a student that I can guide them in a direction and then let them run with it. It is a fantastic way to encourage innovation, open new interests, critical thinking, thinking outside the box, and permission to be a different kind of thinker.
The ability to question and then think it through is something that must be nurtured. When it is, it creates a bridge between what they are told and what information is still out there to be learned. I think, oftentimes, we have taught students that learning happens when the teacher flips the switch on and learning stops when the teacher switches it off. Reasoning through a question is a skill that is applicable to everything and encourages a mindset of "more". There's always more to learn. Learning doesn't stop.
#3: Lean Into the Strengths
Even as an educator I tend to fall back to my own strengths when coming up with lesson plans and activities. It’s a natural tendency. Since I am such a visual person, I prefer things right in front of me, which includes hands-on activities. And I find myself assuming a particular student will enjoy a certain craft, or an animated video will be most effective, or certain manipulatives will drive the point home. More times than not I have to take a step back and reflect on the student’s personality, remind myself of the times the student lit up or zoned out, and what activities did the student excel in or struggle with. When I do that, I find that the answers align with the student’s strengths and learning style(s).
Recently, one of my students started working on subtracting 10’s and 100’s, which has a whole bunch of skills packed into it but specifically introduces borrowing/regrouping. So, I approach it carefully. Too much, too soon will only lead to utter frustration. I decided the best approach was to use math cubes and a small whiteboard. Hands-on, visual, tangible, interactive – it checked all the boxes. As it turns out, the student was more successful using a number line and example subtraction problems on the big whiteboard. So, whose boxes did my original plan check? Mine.
When I say lean into your child’s strengths, make sure you are not projecting your strengths onto them. One major downfall of the traditional education system is lumping kids into one category. If the kids can’t perform, then there’s something wrong. Concepts click at different times using different methods. Supporting kids academically can feel like troubleshooting. One way to do it is to offer a couple of options and see which one they pick because most lessons can be presented and practiced in a million different ways. For creative ideas, I love using Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers.
#4: Lean Into the Challenges
When I used to tell people that I taught 6th grade they always felt the need to empathize with my plot, which I quickly corrected because I absolutely loved 6th grade. The kids were amazing! The best part was seeing them rise to a challenge. Truthfully, I think students are looking for a challenge. Because when they conquer it there is a new sense of pride they can own. And the fact that I would present them with a challenge speaks volumes to students about what I think they are capable of. So, I say – lean into the challenges. Allow a little bit of struggle. These are great times to provoke deep thinking. Ask questions, watch an educational video together, give examples, analyze the situation, guide the child right to the edge of the solution, and then see if they can finish it. Eventually, they’ll approach challenges with confidence and a problem-solving attitude.
One of my favorite shirts hanging in my closet says, “You Can Do Hard Things” and students get a kick out of the extra vote of confidence when I need to draw their attention to its message.
There is such potential for growth and confidence inside a bit of a challenge. Always point the child’s attention towards their growth. Doing something one time cannot determine success or failure and doing something the same way because it’s easy won’t inspire a boost in confidence. It’s when the kids surprise themselves with their potential is when I see the most motivation and growth come.
#5: Lean Into the Moments
When I was in college 20 years ago I was told to always look for “teaching moments”, which was a weird thought because…wasn’t everything a teaching moment? I mean, I was becoming a teacher to teach all of the moments. What it really means is to keep an eye out for those moments that lend themselves to student realizations. In a moment, someone will connect the dots and they will have a breakthrough. It might be a math concept that finally makes sense in the middle of a conversation about ancient civilizations. Whatever the case, you run with it.
The same goes for parents and their kids. Lean into the (teaching) moments. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for that perfect moment when you see your child engaged in something. Maybe you just spent an hour at the table in tears learning about money, but later you bust into the piggy bank you’ve been saving coins in all year, and it turns into a counting party on the living room floor. That would certainly be a moment to lean into. Oh boy....I could make a week's worth of lessons out of that!
I am a big advocate for conversation in the car. My two young kids sit in the back and ask me questions and they always know it’s going to be a solid explanation when I start my response with, “Well,…”. But I’ll never forget one time when my PreK daughter told me that 5+5=10. I was wowed by her knowledge, and she was proud of impressing me. So, I took the moment and asked her what else equals 10. During our car ride, she was able to figure out all the different ways to arrange the numbers to equal 10 on her fingers. Little did she know she was composing and decomposing numbers, which is more of a 1st-grade skill. And I will swear by this moment as a defining moment of confidence that was instilled in her for math.
Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.
It’s tough as parents when we don’t know how to support our kids in school and what decisions are best. What would it be like to see your child thrive in learning because they are inspired by opportunities you have allowed them to lean into?
Too many children suffer the consequences of an outdated teaching model that is failing them. Paradigm Learning is an innovative K-8 micro-school that provides learning style personalization so that each student can follow their own unique learning path and experience the confidence that comes when their own genius shines through.