Ideas, Influence, Impact

Posts tagged ‘productive struggle’

Jack Climbs the Rock

This weekend, my family attended a function that was outdoors with a lot of large rocks that were to be used for seating.  My son, Jack, decided that he was going to stand on the rock instead.  Instantly, when I noticed that Jack was trying to climb the rock, I tried to lift Jack up so it would be easier for him to stand on the rock.  Jack – all of 18 months old – swatted my hand away and carefully hoisted himself up on the rock.  He first knelt on the rock and then, once he got his bearings, stood up.  His smile was so large, you would have thought he had climbed a mountain.


I stood there both happy for Jack and frustrated with myself.  I was upset with myself because I almost robbed Jack of this moment – this purely joyous moment.  Like all good parents, I wanted Jack to be safe.  And he showed me he was as he climbed that rock alone.


When I return back to school, I hope I remember this lesson.  For our students to truly experience the joy of learning, they have to know the struggle.  They have to struggle alone.  And we have to be there – ready for support, ready to keep them safe, and ready to not be needed.  I hope Jack is just as happy with learning at 18 years as he is at 18 months.


Every educator needs to pledge to keep it so, make it so, for every student.  


Sam and His Pillowcase

Another family member has taught me a lesson about schooling.  Last time, it was one of my daughters, Elle.  This time, it was my oldest son, Sam.

Sam is five years old, and bright as can be.  He just soaks up everything he hears and sees.  He is already reading books, spelling, and doing math above his learning level.  Some things academically are coming easy to Sam.  So, I am glad he helped me make his bed recently.

My wife and I decided to wash the bedding for all of our children, and Sam was asked to help put his back on – like his older siblings.  Sam’s job was to put his pillows back in the pillowcases.

This was not an easy task for Sam.  He struggled to figure out how to get the pillowcase on the pillow.  He sat on the floor and tried to push the pillow into the case.  He stood up and tried to kick the pillow into the case.  And he pleaded to his father to end his suffering and do it for him.  (He does not have that type of dad.)

I told him to keep trying and tell me what he learned.  When he became less frustrated, he was able to share that he could not get the pillow into the case by pushing it in.  He stood with the pillow and the case and began to share back and forth while getting mad again.  Suddenly, he noticed that some of the pillow was slipping into the case.  Now, he began to jump up and down to get more of the pillow into the case, watching his progress with each jump.  When the end of the pillow was completely in the case, Sam threw the pillow up in the air, and announced, “I did it.”  The smile on his five-year-old face was bigger than his pillow!  Sam proceeded to do his other pillow in the same manner with the same success.

After his bed was made, I sat there while Sam picked out his clothes for school the next day, and I realized that Sam had persevered.  He had shown grit and determination, and he was successful in the end.  I sat there on his newly made bed, and I wondered if I should have modeled how to put a pillow in the case or even start it for him.  In the end, I am glad he struggled.  Yes, glad.  I want things to be difficult for Sam (some things) so he can know the depth of his resolve.  I want him to know that he can struggle and still be successful.  He should know that some successes only come from struggle.

I want the same for Sam in his school, and for all of his peers in the education system.  We must have students construct more of their learning, struggle more to find success, so they can be flexible, adaptable and resilient learners.

If we accomplish that goal, we will truly have the learners we need in the future.  Sam’s journey has already begun.  I hope others help him struggle.

Productive Struggle

This summer has not been the summer that I wanted, expected, nor planned for.  It has been a summer filled with setbacks, surprises, and struggles.  And throughout the summer, I have worked hard to deal with the surprises, address the setbacks, and work through the struggles.

It has taken a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of sacrifices to continue to feel like I was moving forward the summer, that I was doing the things that I needed to get done.  And that I was maintaining some sense of balance in my life – the reality is there was no balance.

The truth is that the entire summer has really been focusing on working through the struggles.  Recently, I attended a leadership conference for administrators, and I heard the term “productive struggle”, and I finally realized that was what I have been trying to accomplish this summer.  Educators have often talked about the things that are not as easy to learn are the things that we remember better.  They advocate for students to have a productive struggles in their learning, so that they would develop grit or perseverance or the willingness to follow through to completion.   Ultimately, we will have students that remember and have learned better.  And so I take the idea of productive struggle and analyze my summer and I realize that I will remember this summer.

I will remember all the new information I learned – and I will remember all that I learned about myself once again – and finally I will remember the choices I made to learn and to get done what needed to be done.  In some cases, I hope I do not have to make the same choices again.  In other situations, I hope that I will remember how I proceeded through the struggles and how I felt on the other side of them.  I have learned, I have grown, I am better than I was before.

Robert Frost once said, “the best way out is through.”  I have never appreciated or understood that comment more than I do at the end of this summer of productive struggles.

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