Was Santa a Great Teacher or Did He Get Lucky? - Steve Barkley

Was Santa a Great Teacher or Did He Get Lucky?

At the Learningforward Conference this month I had the opportunity to attend a keynote by Yong Zhao .  He shared the need for schools to focus on identifying and supporting students pursuing their strengths and interests. Zhao illustrated the point by having the audience sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games

Rudolph hadn’t done well in meeting the black nose standard. The social skills of the other reindeer were poor. The song doesn’t tell us about Rudolph’s engagement but the situation wouldn’t appear to be promising. I’m guessing Santa had some classroom management problems with the other reindeer too.

In a blog  Zhao writes about personalizing learning by personalizing learning outcomes, being strengths –based, and focusing on passions:

Personalization of learning outcomes ….allows students to pursue their strengths and interests. It does not accept a prescribed curriculum or set of standards as common to all students, as in the traditional paradigm. Thus, the goal of education is not to fix students’ deficits measured by external standards. Rather, this level of personalization assumes that all talents, skills, and knowledge are of equal value and thus all learning outcomes are valuable.

 Strength-based personalization …allows students to personalize their outcomes to enhance their strengths. Thus, strength-based personalization requires teachers to not focus on what the students cannot do. Instead, the teacher looks hard at what each student can do and uses that as a starting point to build an individualized pathway for the student.

 Passion-driven personalization … focuses on  students’ passions, which can be different from their strengths.  What a student may be good at can be different what he or she is passionate about. Students’ interests should be considered as legitimate sources of motivation; what students are passionate about has intrinsic value, although it may or may not coincide with the prescribed curriculum.


So a great learning opportunity happened for Rudolph:

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight
 Then how all the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You’ll go down in history

 So did Santa orchestrate this opportunity for Rudolph to play a leadership role in his learning and the learning of the other reindeer or was it just luck that the fog set in on that particular Christmas Eve. I’m going to give Santa credit either way. If it wasn’t planned, Santa seized a teachable moment.

I had the chance to attend a question and answer session with Yong Zhao after his keynote and took the opportunity to ask him what he thought should be happening in teacher learning….. “What should we as educators be learning to best impact our students’ learning?”  Zhao first responded that teachers need to be “human educators.” The knowledge students need for learning could likely be found easily in many places. How does the teacher identify, promote, support, and challenge students’ passions?

“Teachers become curators of learning opportunities and also “tour guides” for students. They do not impose but can certainly mentor, motivate, and challenge.”

                                                                           Yong Zhao

Inspirational and motivational quote. Effects poster, frame, colors background and colors text are editable. Ideal for print poster, card, shirt, mug.

Consider this description from the Big Picture Schools where teachers are advisors working with a group of students over two to four years:

“At Big Picture schools, quarterly meetings result in a spreadsheet of learning goals that the student is working toward, with deadlines and resources to help him accomplish them. Then, throughout the quarter, the adviser guides that student to meet the goals, teaching when that’s appropriate, finding experts if necessary and providing emotional support as well.” (Mindshift Blog)

Shelley Wright describing the need for a “slow education” shares……”this student-driven approach to learning allows kids to explore what matters to them, to build things that don’t work and to figure out why. It requires them to form opinions and justify them based on solid evidence. And it requires adults who care and can speak carefully and honestly into the lives of kids.”

 Angela Maiers describes what passion looks like and feels like : For many people, it’s the exhilaration of solving the unsolvable or fixing the unfixable. It’s the warm feeling you get when you reach out to another person and truly feel that your message or product has changed their life for the better.

 What’s it take to be a passionate teacher that personalizes for students’ passion? Robert Fried in The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide provides this description:

to be a passionate teacher is to be someone in love with a field of knowledge, deeply stirred by issues and ideas that challenge our world, drawn to the dilemmas and potentials of the young people who come into class each day — or captivated by all of these”

 Here is a wish for 2016 to hold passion filled learning opportunities for you and the learners that you serve. Plan for it and grab each teachable (learnable) moment that comes your way!

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