Dene E. Gainey

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Is it Just a Job?


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I am curious about what came to mind when you watched that little clip. Consider also how what we do compels our students to think, reach and synthesize new ideas or new ways of looking at something they have known for some time? I submit to you that it is more than just a job and honestly, it has always been. Have we at some point, gotten it wrong? Perhaps, but one thing is certain; students need to be "reached." We may not have eight arms, and our arms may not physically be long enough, but in order to reach these students, who are all different, we must understand that what we do is not simply a job, but it is in fact a movement. It is the decision to have impact. It is changing the world as we know it.

The Desire to Please

When students begin to see the value that you have as an educator or parent and the knowledge and wisdom that you have gained that will aid them in development, not to mention the expectations that you have of them, they aim high. One of the greatest realizations I have experienced as an educator is that students will reach as high as you expect them to reach. Perhaps I am not referring to every student, nor am I insinuating that everyone's expectations should skyrocket. What I am saying is that I wonder how many students underachieve because no one expected any more or any greater from them. Perhaps no one challenged them to reach? And in the reach, just maybe they won't make it the entire height of expectation, but they are learning to reach. Students are resilient and desire to please, so why not give them something to aim for?

The Courage to Take Risks

Recently, I had a talk with a couple of my students about their spelling lists and the two students in question are highly intelligent as well as diligent in their pursuits. We talked about how I use spelling to reinforce the writing process, particularly editing. Further we talked about the relevance of being able to have spelling words that challenge you. I use leveled lists that I create and based on performance, students can advance to higher lists. I do this because I believe that if you can challenge students, it can reinforce the belief you have in them to accomplish the task. We challenge students because we realize the ability they have. We challenge students because we want learning to be an experience, not an assignment. We challenge students because it keeps them motivated about learning and increases their desire to continue take risks. Risk-taking is important in education, and also in life. What is life without risk? Risk implies that we could either not meet the target we shoot for and learn from the experience, or we could hit or exceed the target. However, if we are unwilling to take risks, we may forfeit the opportunity to seize the moment(s). These two students, well one provided the example for the other, decided that they wanted to take on two different spelling lists at the same time.

Now let me be clear, I challenge these students. One of the lists had 30 words and the other had 35. These two students decided to take on 65 words in two weeks. Not only did they perform admirably on both tests, they were not at all stressed out by the experience, but rather motivated to do it all over again.


The Resilience to Try Again

What happens when things do not go as planned? It is likely in life that this very thing will occur and perhaps many times. We learn from our experiences and our mistakes and clearly, if we succeeded every time, then there would be no need to try harder, plunge deeper or apply more effort. We develop as we endure the good, the great, the not-so-good and the ugly. But perception in this regard, is everything. When I look at the great, do I look for ways to make things greater? When I look at the good, what could make it great? When I look at the not-so-good, where did I come up short? When I look at the ugly, I might say "I have another opportunity to try."

I believe that we model this for kids and through our example, our kids or students can develop the lifestyle of perseverance and determination. Sure, it is possible to succeed on the first try and I am inclined to believe that some will, but what of those that are not as fortunate? What about the rest of the population of students who may need that third, fourth and fifth opportunity? There is much to be said for those, that in the face of adversity, choose to persist and not give up, despite how hot the fire is, or how high the stakes are. This is not to take away from those who achieve what they desire or are focused on, the first time. If we truly are to reach the masses, we must understand that the focus is on getting there.  We have heard lots of discussion about growth mindset and the perpetuation of desire and progression and the understanding that we should use every opportunity and experience, good or bad, to grow. My brother, who I love a great deal, stated that "we win and learn, not win or lose." As long as we play, we learn. (Thanks Justin Schleider) What a powerful statement rendered in such few words. We challenge each other, my brother Dionisio and I, to reach and to form right perceptions, be individuals of action and have the will to progress and never become stagnant. "When setbacks occur, consider the possibility that they are a setup!" Resilience to try again when you know the last time wasn't as you would have liked, says much about one's character. Don't stop trying, because there is a reward within the persistence to try, AGAIN.