“Kids are Not Motivated” Might Say More About Your School Than the Kids: Educators with a Growth Mindset

I hear it all the time. People talk about disengaged, disinterested, unmotivated learners. “Kids are different than they used to be,” teachers and others explain. I don’t doubt the presence of generational changes, but I’ve visited enough learning communities to know that there are some communities of young people that are rich with engagement and interest. Students are taking ownership for their learning. They are challenging themselves on a regular basis. They enjoy being there. They are still young people. They experience the struggles common to being a developing young person, but the general feel of the community is largely positive.

When I point this out, there are many who want to dismiss my comments by explaining that these are different kinds of young people than the ones at their school. Some kids are just motivated and engaged, and others are not. People attribute it to upbringing, family dynamics, challenges within the community, economic status of families, the education level of parents, and all sorts of other factors. Again, I don’t deny that these factors can and do influence what happens in a school and in the lives of young people. Of course, all of of life’s experiences are formative to some extent, and it is hard to be be interested in learning when your basic needs in life or unmet. However, once those needs are met, even amid less than ideal circumstances in a young person’s life, there are models of incredibly positive learning communities. For those who take the time to 1) explore what is happening the larger education system, 2) who are open to consider the fact that there are models and exemplars from which they can learn, and 3) who recognize that everything is not just a sum of social factors beyond the control of teachers, students, and administrators; there is much that can be done to improve the state of any learning community.

As such, when we say that “kids are not motivated in my classroom” or that “the kids in my school don’t care about learning”, I’d like to suggest that these statements sometimes say as much or more about our schools than about the young people. There are countless factors within our control, and when we focus upon maximizing those things that are indeed within our control, the learning community will be better. It will not happen overnight. It will be hard work. There will be two steps forward and then one (or sometimes two) steps backward. There will be frustrations. There will be bad days and disappointments. Yet, this sort of growth mindset for schools and educators is just as valuable and beneficial as the growth mindset that we talk about as being necessary for students to thrive.

Schools as Incubators of Civility: Beyond Silencing, Ignoring, and Demonizing the Other

The current climate of public and political discourse in the United States continues to trouble me, and I have to wonder what we can do in education to help. Yet, if we are going to do something about a problem, it is necessary to define or at least describe the problem. In this instance, there is more than one issue, but I’m beginning to focus on the nature of discourse and how we treat, think about, and interact with people who have significantly different beliefs and values from our own. My concern is that we are using media, policies, and laws with the goal of power more than truth, understanding, or even justice. I see four especially strong signs that this is indeed the case.

Silence the Other

One sign is that there is a seemingly growing effort to silence those who disagree with us. We want to use laws or whatever other means to make sure that the other person does not even get a chance to speak or respond. There is limited interest in genuine understanding or discourse. We want the other to “shut up and sit down.” We pursue this tactic even if it eats away at the constitutional rights of others, not considering the larger implications. Our focus is to win in the moment.

Ignore the Other

We do whatever we can to ignore the other because we don’t want the media or any significant group of people to hear from the other. Perhaps there is fear that the other will convince people, and since the goal is to “win”, there is sometimes the goal of ignoring toward that end. In fact, some will argue that the other is not even worthy of acknowledgement. “Don’t entertain such stupidity with your attention,” some might argue.

Demonize the Other

Perhaps even more troubling is the growing trend to demonize the other (not even just the position held by the other). By doing this, we also dehumanize the person. We frame the person and the person’s position as intolerant, bigoted, extremist, or whatever other language diminishes the sense that this person should be respected, granted the rights described in the constitution, or even granted treatment of basic human dignity.  We define the other person as a “killer” or “defender of killers.” We do whatever we can to pair the person with the most evil characters that we can think of in past or recent history.

Personal Attacks

This is the norm for political discourse in much of social media today. Issues are not debated as much as people are demeaned, minimized, demonized, and mocked. Sarcasm trumps logical discourse. One liners are sought more than insight. Black and white positions drive people to draw a clear line in the sand, and if you are not on my side of the line, you are an evil person. Sometimes it is direct, but other times it is done subtly. We write or say it with a cool tone so as it make it sound like we are being more objective. I see this in countless media headlines when clearly biased reporters are framing the headlines to represent their ideology and values more than to objectively report on the news.

How Can Schools Help?

Of course, not everyone does these all the time. We each have our good and not so good moments. Yet, the more that these four and related patterns of discourse dominate, the more civility wanes in the public sphere. As such, I contend that schools are a place where we can do something about this. We can explore how to create and nurture forums where we learn to listen to one another, respect the rights of others, learn to separate ideas from people, discover the benefits of dispassionate discourse, examine the use of true critical / logical thinking in exploring contemporary issues, and examine how these less civil tactics risk destroying democratic life and discourse. These are achievable tasks in intentional, small, compassionate learning communities.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could establish a growing number of models in our schools for how the larger world can learn to promote a better and more civil society?

How to Start a Micro School

I just released a new episode of the MoonshotEdu Show podcast, an interview with Mara Linaberger. It was a great conversation. We learned about her journey into the world of micro schools. We talked about the value and distinct niche of micro schools in the education ecosystem today. We also got into some of the details of her new book, where she offers a handbook on how you can actually design and launch your own Micro School.

This is part of my ongoing research for what I hope will be a new book that profiles amazing and promising models of micro schools from around the United States and beyond. I’ll be sure to share my learning and journey along the way.

If you are interested, you can check it out over on the podcast website, or I’ve embedded it below for your convenience as well.

47 Challenging & Inspiring Quotes About Learning From Across Time & Around the World

  1. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” – Aristotle
  2. “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
  3. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
  4. “Music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young.” – Aristotle
  5. “Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.” – Plato
  6. “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” – Confucius
  7. “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” – Cicero
  8. “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Cicero
  9. “Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.” – Heraclitus
  10. “They can conquer who believe they can.” – Virgil
  11. “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” – Tacitus
  12. “Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.” – Goethe
  13. “Wisdom does not come overnight.” – Somali Proverb
  14. “By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from the tree.” – Buganda Proverb
  15. “The nature of man is always the same; it is their habits that separate them”. – Confucius
  16. “Traveling is learning.” – Kenyan Proverb
  17. “There are five ways in which to become wise: be silent, listen, remember, grow older and study.” – Arab Proverb
  18. “Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man.” – Albanian Proverb
  19. “History is constantly teaching, but it does not find many pupils.” – Austrian Proverb
  20. “Whoever cares to learn will always find a teacher.” – German Proverb
  21. “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” – Voltaire
  22. “Education is what you know, not what’s in the book.” – Egyptian Proverb
  23. “Learn about the future by looking at the past.” – Indian Proverb
  24. “What is the task of higher education? To make a man into a machine. What are the means employed? He is taught how to suffer being bored.” – Nietzsche
  25. “A man with little learning is like the frog who thinks its pond is an ocean.” – Burmese Proverb
  26. “The world is a good teacher, but it charges a huge fee.” – Finnish Proverb
  27. “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” – Chinese Proverb
  28. Quality is not an act. It is a habit.” – Aristotle
  29. “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” – Goethe
  30. “A scholar’s ink lasts longer than a martyrs blood.” – Irish Proverb
  31. “A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it.” – Goethe
  32. “The seeking for one thing will find another.” – Irish Proverb
  33. “Carve the peg only after studying the hole.” – Korean Proverb
  34. “If you are ugly, learn how to dance.” – Zambian Proverb
  35. “Learning makes some into Mullahs and some into devils.” – Afghan Proverb
  36. “As long as you live, you learn.” – Latvian Proverb
  37. “The first idea that the child must acquire in order to be actively disciplined is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.” – Montesorri
  38. “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.” – Rene Descartes
  39. “Whoever does not try, does not learn.” – Jewish Proverb
  40. “A silly remark can be made in Latin as well as in Spanish.” – Cervantes
  41. “Knowledge is gained in many schools.” – Hawaiian Proverb
  42. “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” – Nietzsche
  43. “A foreign language is more easily learned in the kitchen than at school.” -German Proverb
  44. “There’s no catching trout with dry breeches.” – Portuguese Proverb
  45. “It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape –not from our own time, for we are bound by that– but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our own time.” – T.S. Eliot
  46. “Dare to be wise; begin! He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.” – Horace
  47. “Without a gentle contempt for education, no gentleman’s education is complete.” – G.K. Chesterton