Education is too often times viewed by students as something that is being done to them rather than something that they are taking part in. They are not a part of their education— rather they are a menial piece of the greater system. How do we expect students to learn the critical thinking skills that are necessary for them to succeed in being creators of knowledge and materials when they have no stake in the game?
At a recent conference, there was a teacher who seemed to have a very microscopic view of what students can accomplish and what they can create. This person kept on downplaying the students’ ability to be creators and doers. The person returned to the notion that the students are only children and they cannot be expected to be creators. Each time the student ability was downplayed, I wanted to recant by shouting: Our students can be and are brilliant right now! They can be creators of knowledge and makers of products. They should not be viewed as empty vessels in which we try to pour endless amounts of information into in the hope that some of it will stick. I suspect that I wasn’t the only one in the room with the very same thought. We must be focused on what our students can do rather than focusing on what our students can’t do. Our students come to us with so much brilliance and energy from which our community can only stand to benefit. We must identify and embrace their brilliance while harnessing the energy that they can provide the larger community.
Some will assuredly doubt that all of our students are truly brilliant. It is true that some may take a little more work than others, but I assure you that each and every one of our students comes to us with a set of truths from which our community can benefit. In some student, we may have to shake off the dust and work a little harder to uncover it, but once it’s in the open they too will shine.
Uncovering Their Brilliance
Albert Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This quote has been hanging on my wall for nearly 4 years and it is a constant reminder to me and to my students that even if you aren’t feeling like a ‘genius’ at that moment, it doesn’t mean that you are stupid. Too often we create classroom spaces where students who are not brilliant in one particular way, will be left thinking that they are stupid.
If we want our students brilliance to shine, we must work at uncovering what each individual student has to offer. For some, it is quite evident what brilliance that they have as it emanates from them anywhere they are. For others, it may take some more time and digging in order to uncover where that child’s brilliance lies. There are those that shine in the traditional ways that classrooms expect, while others are barred by the traditional confines of school system.
I am sure that as you are reading this, there sits in the corner reaches of your mind that one or maybe multiple students that you never could light a fire under. Maybe you saw their brilliance and you struggled to make the connection. Maybe there were too many obstacles in the way to finding that gem. Either way, we must continue to work at uncovering it and letting it glisten. Our students deserve it.
Encouraging Strengths and Polishing Weaknesses
Another way to think of this concept is playing to their strengths. Most of us who have become successful in any way have done it primarily through playing to our strengths. We must create systems in our schools in which we can highlight student strengths— even if they do not show up in traditional ways. If our classroom spaces continually highlight student weaknesses and point to them as the reason for them to be learning, then we are paddling upstream. What person wants to have their least favorable qualities constantly on display? Although this type of environment might create forward growth in some of our learners, it is far more likely that we will be turning them off to the learning process altogether.
It is impossible to play to the strengths of all students all the time. However, the more we use each individual’s strengths to aid in the process of polishing their weakness, the more we are sending the message: ‘You belong here.’ What person doesn’t want to feel like they belong? We have to learn our students deeply and completely, not only as learners but as people. As we come to learn more about them, the ways in which we can highlight their strengths will become increasingly clear.
Let It Shine
Students live up to the expectations that we set for them. I have heard it said too many times throughout my educational career to not know that there is some truth in the statement. In the same way, our students are adept at picking up on the perceptions that we have of them. In order for our students to show their brilliance, we need to first perceive them as beautifully brilliant people and know deep down that they are capable of great things right now. They can be creators of information, disseminators of knowledge and makers of products that impact the world around them. Never has this statement been more true than at this current moment in our history. Young people do not have to wait until they ‘grow up’ in order to be creators of change or impactful to the world around them. They don’t need to wait until they’ve graduated from college or even from high school, they can be pursuing their dreams and making their ideas come to fruition while they grow up not when they grow up. As players in the way that our students see the world and how they see their place in it, we must be mindful of the message that we are sending. The message should read: “You are brilliant right now. Let your brilliance shine.”