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TEACHING THE ART OF LEARNING IN A RURAL WYOMING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (PART THREE)
Guest Blogger: Heather Danforth
Heather, an elementary school teacher in rural Wyoming, is working with The Art of Learning and sharing her classroom experiences…
Lesson Two: Value Process Before Results
This lesson began with a short video of a hermit crab changing shells. The students watched as the hermit crab quickly made the leap from one shell to another, and then we discussed what they had witnessed. Even my youngest students understood the significance of the quick transition; because the hermit crab is most vulnerable when it is outside its shell, it makes these changes quickly to minimize the time that it leaves itself open to attack. Then I posed the question: If leaving its shell makes it vulnerable, why does the hermit crab do this? We discussed the fact that, if the crab were to stay in the same shell, it could never grow. The hermit crab must make itself vulnerable in order to grow.
Following our hermit crab talk, it was easy to shift the direction of the discussion to the relevance of this metaphor to our own lives. I told my students the story of my first ballroom dance class, admitting to them that I felt frightened and embarrassed when, on the first day, I realized that I was easily the worst student in the class. Everyone seemed to master the steps more quickly than I did! When I returned home, I was tempted to drop the class. It would have been easy not to return. I could have gone back to the things that I felt comfortable with, such as reading and writing, and left this art to those that (I supposed) were born with the natural talent to be successful. However, I really wanted to learn this skill, so I didn’t give up. Instead, I found the best dancer in the class and asked him if he would be willing to partner with me – under his tutelage, I often felt clumsy and slow, but I learned. Even if something took me 50 tries to master, while it only took someone else 5 tries, I put in the necessary time and effort. Four years later, after many more classes, I was no longer the worst dancer in the room. In order to grow, I had to make myself vulnerable. There were no shortcuts. Growth only came when I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone and take on someone that was outside my current level of ability.
After I shared my story of feeling like a shell-less hermit crab, my students were eager to share their own stories. Tae kwon do, skiing, ballet, long division, interpreting poetry … they each described times when they had felt as vulnerable as the hermit crab making the jump to a larger shell. We discussed the kind of self-talk that can naturally follow in these experiences: “Wow, I
guess I’m not as smart as I thought I was” or “I’m just bad at this, there’s no hope for me.” We brainstormed a list of things we could tell ourselves to change this negative self talk. Class favorites included “I guess I’m changing shells, and that’s a good thing!” or “If I were lifting weights, I’d have to “max out” to make any growth. I guess I’m “maxing out” my brain!” Now, I often remind students that we need to take opportunities to change our shells – stepping out of our comfort zones and going beyond our current abilities in order to grow. Even more powerful, I have noticed students reminding one another of the same thing. Recently, I watched one of my young students start to cry because he was struggling with a difficult math problem. Another student put her arm around him and said, “It’s okay – you’re just a hermit crab changing shells.”