Posts Tagged Sir Ken Robinson

Bring Forth What Is Within

Bring Out Your Strengths

Educate: …from the root word Educe – to bring forth what is within      (Aimee Mullins)

Our school goal: For each student to master basic skills, recognize and develop his/her unique talents and interests, and to become a confident learner.

Embedded in this goal is a mission to help students find an area in which they have a strength or passion.  Too often we, as educators, focus on the deficits of students and develop strategies on how to help create more success in these areas.  What we often miss is the fact that students are already successful, they DO have a strength but it may be in an area not recognized by our education system.  As a staff, through recognizing each student for who they are and not what they do, as well as offering students opportunities to explore areas outside the curriculum, we are trying to help students to find and develop an area of strength or passion.

This TED Talk by Aimee Mullins, The Opportunity of Adversity (see video below), further emphasized to me the importance of bringing out the strengths from within. Although this is a truly inspiring lecture, the direct links to education are mentioned by Mullins in the second half (about 13:20 onward).  She speaks about how we need to be opening doors to students and not putting lids on them; “All you need is one person to show you the epiphany of your power”.  Who was that one person for you?  Have you been that one person to any of your students?

How often do we, as educators, take away a student’s strength to focus on their weakness (see Sir Ken Robinson)?  I am not saying we ignore the struggles of our students but how often do we see areas like the arts or physical education, which could be an area of strength, missed so that students can complete their unfinished reading or math.  How often are athletes prevented from playing their sport because their marks have slid (please see Brian’s post on this here); would we ever ban a student from Biology class because they received a yellow card in the soccer game the evening before?  During budget cuts, what are the first programs to go – arts, athletics, outdoor ed, field trips, etc.  We really need to reflect on what doors we are opening and what lids we are closing for our students.  The learning outcomes need to be lessened and the academic hierarchy needs to be flattened so students are provided with more opportunities to showcase their talents.

Environment is key to providing students with the mindset that they can bring out their strengths.  Mullins references a 1960′s case study in which the A-level students were told that they were D-level students and D-level students were told they were A-level students.  Teachers were also told the same thing about the students.  After 3 months, the students that were originally A-level students became D-level students.  They were taught differently and expectations were lowered because of the perception that they “could not”; conversely, the struggling students who were perceived to have A-level ability rose to those expectations.  How much harm occurs when we focus on the perceived educational deficits of students, rather than focusing on their strengths?

As educators, we need to begin to truly educate students by bringing forth what is within; we need to celebrate the strengths and passions of our students and support their individual needs in a way that instills confidence in their learning.  Only then will we know the true capability of our students.

Please join the movement to recognize ALL students.


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Summary: Sir Ken Robinson in Nanaimo

On April 26th, I had the privilege of attending the Windows of Opportunity seminar in Nanaimo, BC that featured world renown author, speaker, and educator Sir Ken Robinson.  He did not disappoint as he used his dry wit to not only entertain the audience but also motivate us to participate with him in his educational revolution.

Although there were too many things to possibly write down, here are a few key thoughts (paraphrased):

“All people have talents; some find them while others do not… Some are provided with ample opportunity to showcase their talents in the school system; many have talents that are not emphasized in the current system… the education system needs to provide opportunities for students to reveal their talents.

“The education system does not often respond to who students are.”

“It’s very hard to know what we take for granted… Because we take it for granted!”

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save the country. – Abraham Lincoln

“Our current education system was designed for the industrial revolution and remains a manufacturing process where conformity, standardization and linearity is the norm.”

“School subjects are still divided into “useful” and “useless” according to the opinions of society/schools. Things that are useful are those that lead to university or can supposedly get you a job. Those that are considered useless are things like the arts.”

“We often punish people by taking away the things they enjoy doing.”

“Human life is not linear but our education systems are; human life is inherently creative.”

“We are in a state of cultural evolution.”

Flowers came to life in Death Valley following the extremely rare rainfall in 2005.

Flowers came to life in Death Valley following the extremely rare rainfall in 2005.

“Analogy of gardening: Gardeners do not grow plants – plants grow themselves. Gardeners provide the optimal environment for plants to flourish (sunlight/shade, water, heat, etc). One environment can cause one type of plant to flourish while another to die or become dormant. In Death Valley in 2005, it rained 7 inches. In an environment that was supposedly ‘dead’ of plant life, under the right conditions, a beautiful layer of flowers formed. Under the right environment, people flourish.”

“Education must be personalized, not standardized.”

Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” “We have no choice but to push the system and start to blossom.”


For more on Sir Ken Robinson, please watch his TED Talks Video or read his book, “The Element”.

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10 Skills for “Doing” School

I think it was Mark Twain who wrote, “I never let schooling get in the way of my education”.  Unfortunately, Twain had a point; there are skills that you need to do well in order to “do” school well in the current system of education.  If a student is unable to polish up on these skills it becomes difficult to achieve success in today’s schools.

Here is my list of the 10 skills (in no particular order) that students need to work on in order to become good at “schooling”.

  1. Stay in your desk – do not get up to talk to anyone, go to the bathroom, or get a drink unless you ask.
  2. Put your hand up to speak – do not call out.
  3. Do what you are told; comply – do not question what is said or how things are done; do not be different.
  4. Do your own work – do not collaborate as we need to know what you know not what your partner knows.
  5. Memorize - do not apply learned knowledge beyond what is needed for the test.
  6. Do your homework – and do all of it, even if you understand it – or worse, you do not understand it.
  7. Line up and walk down the halls quietly – order is important, other people are watching how you act.
  8. Stay on task – do not focus on thoughts other than what is being taught, or until the bell rings.
  9. Excel at numeracy and literacy – do not worry about the arts, PE, or the trades as they are not important.
  10. Strive for rewards – stickers, percentages, letter grades, awards are all important.

Alright, so you can hopefully read the sarcasm in the above list.  I have to admit that as a teacher, I have unfortunately overemphasized these skills many times throughout my career (and still catch myself doing so).  The aforementioned skills will help students to do well in school; if they hone all of these skills, they most likely will get good grades and make their teachers and parents happy.  What being successful at these school skills will not ensure is that the student is educated and will prosper beyond formal schooling; in life outside of formal schooling, there are more important, deeper learning qualities such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving as well as character skills such as love, care, compassion, and empathy that will help students to truly flourish in life.

Unfortunately, we have all been raised in a system that places emphasis on these skills so we all think this is the norm.  We are also in a system that has high class sizes, low teacher support, and a broad and demanding curricula that forces many teachers to have to maintain control and order of their classes just to survive the day.  There are, however,  teachers and educators that are trying to change the system; they are trying to create a system that places more emphasis on student learning and education and less emphasis on schooling.  It is important that we start hearing the success stories of these educators – teachers that are spending less time on rewards, grades, memorization, tests, and control and more time on student engagement and learning.

What it comes down to is determining how we define the purpose of school. David Coulter, at the University of British Columbia, speaks of how schools should be there to help students create their path to lead a good and worthwhile life; how the “good and worthwhile life” is defined is up to each individual.  If we define education this way, we need to question if the skills that are emphasized in the current system encourages students to develop their own path toward a worthwhile life.

The biggest frustration for me is that schooling and learning are not the same things – a student who struggles with the skills needed for school often begins to believe that they are unsuccessful learners.  We need to start focusing on the individual strengths and interests of our students and start putting learning, rather than schooling, at the centre.  By doing this we will hopefully move toward an education system in which schooling, learning, and educating are all synonyms – a system where “doing” school has a much deeper meaning for our students.

For some quality work on this topic, please read the writings of educators/authors David Coulter, Guy Claxton, Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Joe Bower.

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