What I learned from my children…

When Jeremy MacDonald and I discussed blogging about what we have learned from our kids, the first assumption was that we’d be writing about our students. This is something teachers have to deal with constantly… differentiating between which ‘my kids’ we are talking about at any particular time! I’ve just spent two weeks in Ecuador visiting my daughter and am currently in Boston, visiting my son and daughter-in-law. It seems like a good time to re-post this description of some of the things I  learned about teaching and learning from my own children. It was first posted at Jeremy’s blog @MrMacnology a few months ago…

My son Adrian was the first person I heard coin the phrase ‘Guess what’s in the teacher’s head’. It’s the common practice teachers have of asking a question, with a specific answer in mind, and waiting for that answer. He said it was a game he didn’t want to play! It taught me to be open to all kinds of student thinking and to validate every student’s response. I learned to ask questions beginning with ‘What do you think..’ and stress that every answer was therefore acceptable.

He once came home exclaiming how kind a certain teacher was and how much he liked her. At a time when many middle school teachers were making demands and punishing students for not being sufficiently organized, this teacher had kept a student back after class for not doing his homework, and spent the time helping him organize his folders. I remember thinking how sad it was that my son found this unusual. It made me aware of the importance of treating my students as fellow human beings first, offering them help rather than chastising them for their shortcomings. I learned that treating my students with respect was a sure way to get the same in return.

My daughter Mazz is smart and talented, but school was not ‘her thing’. She was always an indiviual and the school ‘system’ didn’t suit the way she learned. There were times when she thought she was the problem. I learned that one size does not fit all in education. If a student doesn’t learn from the way I teach, I need to change the way I teach and not the other way around. I learned to provide different kinds of opportunities so that every student could maximise their learning, irrespective of the expectations that school has for every child to ‘fit in’.

In a pottery class, the students were once told to make a yellow sunflower. When Mazz, a creative child with her own ideas, said she would rather make something different, the teacher made her sit outside. It increased my awareness of the fact that students should own their learning, not the teacher. I learned the importance of allowing students choice in the way they express their learning. I learned to value creativity and initiative above compliance in my students.

One of Adrian’s teachers once informed me that while he was getting B’s, she knew and he knew that with more effort, he was perfectly capable of getting A’s. His response? ‘If I know that I am capable of an A, and she knows that I am capable of an A, why bother to put in the effort?’  I learned that letter or number grades tell you absolutely nothing about students’ abilities and even less about learning! And I realized that grades themselves do not necessarily motivate learners.

When Mazz studied theatre in her final years at school, she had a wonderful teacher who unfailingly encouraged and supported her. He gave her the biggest gift a teacher can give. By believing in her, he gave her the courage to believe in herself. She’s been out of school for 7 years and still keeps in touch with him. It reinforced my belief that students will reach their potential if you have high expectations of them. It reminded me to focus on what my students can do, not on what they can’t. It taught me how important it is for students to know you believe in them.

My kids are in their 20’s now. Both care about the world they live in enough to spend extended periods of time volunteering in developing countries. My son and his wife spent last year in India, working with Navsarjan, an organisation that promotes the rights of the untouchable castes. My daughter is in Ecuador, coordinating volunteers and working with kids at an interactive children’s library which promotes literacy and the arts. It’s made us aware that my husband and I have a great deal to be proud of and also so much to share. We might like to do our own stint of volunteering in the future.

By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

Learning from my kids…

Guest post by Jeremy Macdonald.

Jeremy is a teacher and technology coach in Klamath Falls, Oregon, USA. While managing the chaos of a growing family, Jeremy is always trying to find more innovative ways to make learning meaningful for his 5th graders. Read what he’s learned from his kids, then see my companion post at Jeremy’s blog MrMacnology, for what I learned from mine!

I still consider myself a ‘new’ parent (despite having a kindergartner already), and an even ‘newer’ teacher.  When Edna presented this idea for a guest companion-post for each of our blogs I felt a little unprepared.  As a newer teacher and a young father, many of my experiences at home and in the classroom seem to blur together, as I often struggle remembering what I fed the kids for dinner last night or what math lesson I presented the day before.  I enjoy staying busy and there is no doubt that my growing family of three and my ever so dynamic classroom will make sure there is never an idle moment.

My daughter was born in the Spring of 2005.  I was quite confident that I was ready for Brynlie and for being a parent.  We had the room all ready, a dresser full of diapers, and plenty of burp-rags strategically placed around the house.  Needless to say, we grossly underestimated the newly undertaken adventure.  Many late nights and (what seemed like) thousands of poopie diapers followed.  It was an eye opening experience and I learned to accept that I’ll never be completely prepared for what life brings me.  I try to plan as much as I can for my class; for each day; for each week; and when I want to be an overachiever, for each month.  But it is the same result every time–I grossly underestimate the task before me.

In addition to my daughter, I also have two extremely active boys.  Kelson is 3 and Dane is 18 months old.  The three of them combined form the fiercest tag-team trio known to man.  The most common request from my kids is, “Daddy, come wrestle.”  This often comes while I’m on the computer for too long, or they think they are done cleaning their room.  Either way, it is a good distraction.  Not all distractions are bad.  Often the rigors of a school day wear on kids.  Focused instruction and focused learning can take its toll on even the brightest.  Irregular distractions help all of us unwind and often motivate us to get back to “work”.


When I come home from work, the house can often be quite chaotic despite the efforts of my wife to keep things in order.  Three kids running around, yelling at one another, and trying to find something to hold their attention for another 30 seconds.  The noise and commotion isn’t usually convenient nor does it allow for much else to get done, but is a time that the kids need; at time to just be kids.  As teachers, we often expect kids to be on task and focused during the day.  It may even seem like herding cats sometimes, but that’s because kids aren’t hardwired to sit still.  They need time to be kids.  I’ve quit taking away recesses and sending home homework every night.  They are asked to sit and ‘focus’ all day; give them time be kids.

After dinner has been cleaned up, kids are bathed and ready for bed, it always seems like my three catch some intense second-wind that sends them on a rampage just prior to bedtime.  The end of the day is always a difficult time for us (and if it seems like the last three paragraphs have been about chaos, it’s because most my life at home and at work is managing controlled chaos).  After experiencing this in the classroom first actually, I was able to gain a better understanding of the ‘end of the day frenzy’.  Even if my class struggles to stay upbeat during the latter part of the day, the last few minutes of class almost always seem chaotic.  It’s helped me learn more about my students and how to pace the day.  If we can be more productive during the day, I don’t mind the frenzy so much.

 Just the other day I watch Dane move his fingers across the TV.  He would slide them quickly from one side to another; almost like a swipe.  To further feed my own curiosity, I put the cable guide up to see what he would do next.  Dane then began to touch various options as if to select them with his finger.  Then it donned on me.  He was trying to use the TV like he uses his mom’s iPod Touch.  His own understanding of manipulating the screen on the iPod was transferred to a much larger screen (though to him, both served the same purpose).  I would have never thought in a million years that my 18 month old would ever make such a connection.  This reminded me that we are always learning, even if “learning” isn’t presented to us directly.  Many of my students make connections and ask questions that truly surprise me.  Their minds are absorbing information and ideas all the time.  I need to remember that many of them want to learn and are naturally inquisitive.  I don’t need to always be the one providing the learning.

Often if I just sit back and observe, I might learn something myself.