At school, I used a triangular protractor of 50 cents. It was purchased at HEMA. I had to learn how to write with a pencil. I had to learn where Apeldoorn is, in order for me to find it in Google Maps now. What did they make in Apeldoorn? Paper, of course. And in Gorcum? Metal. That this city was called Gorinchem, was unfamiliar information to me. I had to learn what a dozen was and how to say ‘’Do you know where the library is?’’ in French. Makes sense, that you prefer to go to the library when you are in France with your parents.
I never got an answer to the question why I had to learn something. I did not know how I could know what was useful. Or that I could say ‘’What’s the use of it?’’ to my teachers. How could I know? To think about your future, about the important qualities to succeed in life: none of it. But, I did know a lot about Alkmaar and cheese. Methods that help you to work more productively? No way. I did not learn anything about how the brain works, how the brain of a teacher functions or how to react constructively on what you go through.
Apparently the Pythagorean theorem is more important than knowing what you learn, how you learn and from whom you learn it. So: ‘’In a square triangle, the sum of the squares of the lengths of the rectangular sides is equal to the square of the length of the sloping side.’’ Well, that’s what they call ‘’knowledge’’. That’s what it’s all about in the classroom.
I don’t want to stand up for education improvement. I’m not going to whine about how bad it is nowadays and how that happened. What I do want to talk about, is my child. This is Nikeé. He is one years old in this photo. Nikeé will turn 100 years old. Well, that is what people predict who can look into the future. Let me – through the eyes of my child – take you into the world of the near future. A future where every teacher is a student. And every student a teacher. Because that is what it’s all about: to learn differently, to look at the world differently.
Nikeé doesn’t acquire trigonometry with a triangular protractor anymore. He learns how to write by speaking. And not with a qwerty keybord from 1873. Nor with a pencil from 3000 BC. Nikeé probably knows how to manage stress when he is six years old. He is being raised in a world where he can do gentech individually – in the garage. And where smartPhones are not forbidden in class.
I think about this often, because I have been a teacher for some time now. With the most innovative smartboards and iPads. With innovative methods and the most articulate, most studious clients. For all this time I’m trying to figure out how everyone learns best. I do this for my students. As well as for my child.
The first thing that Nikeé taught me was that I had to create legacy. He taught me that I should never repeat something that thousands of teachers did before me: teach someone lessons that are not useful afterwards. Because that doesn’t provide much.
An example. Nikeé just turned three years old. He wanted to have dessert. But he already ate two. Nonetheless, he wanted to get two more. I gave permission, he went into the kitchen and came back with three desserts. ‘’How many have you got now?’’ I asked. ‘’Five.’’ Naturally, the eye was bigger than the stomach, since he couldn’t finish the final one. I said: ‘’How many do you have left?’’ And he said: ‘’Just one, dad.’’ Nikeé was three years old. He was capable of doing math. So, it doesn’t matter if someone is old enough to learn something.
I could put Olvarit in my child’s body. Prevent that he would fall down the stairs or eat out of the sandpit. ‘’Be ahead’’ of everything. But then, he would only learn that I would always be there to prevent everything from happening. But maybe, he wouldn’t properly learn how to deal with issues that hide everywhere. ‘’When will I be a successful father?’’ I asked myself. If I don’t have to explain to him how the world works when he is twenty? How people treat each other, how to process disappointments, or how to make sure that you keep developing one another?
That is why Nikeé was allowed to use the stairs individually from the moment he could crawl and he could go and explore the forest. We let him use knives that were sharp. If he was feeling like it, he would use facetime on his iPhone to call his grandparents. From the moment he was three years old, he wanted to go to primary school with his friend. But school did not allow it.
As you might understand: the essence is in the dessert story. Is your child allowed to have five desserts? The answer is ‘’No. Nikeé is not allowed to have five desserts’’. However, what he is allowed to do, even has to, is to learn how to explain to me how he wants to learn how many desserts he allows himself to have. How he tells and teaches me and his mother what he has to do with excess.
He is allowed to do so, because he was taught to question us about the risks and consequences of his actions. This is how we learn together. And this is how we learn from each other. In other words: We learn how we learn to learn together best.
Another example. After a course or lesson, students sometimes receive an evaluation form. This is how they can submit what they have missed. If they found the class ‘’inspiring’’. That the teacher was able to teach and that he could explain the same thing differently three times.
What’s the use of such ambiguous feedback? Did students learn how to comment on how they would like to learn? Or how to correct you? Do they know that they are the ones responsible for their own learning process? Probably not; they are used to teachers that methodically tell them what the future will look like. Without doubt, without any replies. I couldn’t quite get a bead on this.
Now I learned that I should listen to my child. And to recall on what’s bothering him. I taught him to evaluate me and to respond on how I tell something. That’s why I trust him in what he’s doing and how he does it. Everything I learn this way, is something I can apply onto my daily job. Why don’t my lessons get better when students evaluate them? Because I did not teach them how to evaluate me.
The first thing I do nowadays when I meet a client, is to let them explain to me how they learn best. I do not know that immediately. What I do know, is that I need to be able to improvise quickly. What I also know is that making mistakes is allowed. Clients learn more quickly if they tell me how they want to learn it. Every teacher is a student. And vice-versa. So, give each other feedback. But go beyond “Why do we need to learn this?”
And let that be the prettiest concept about innovation. A field of study I know a lot about. Innovation is an iterative process of making it fit. From designing, creating, giving feedback, redesigning, etcetera. If you don’t respond or offer feedback, you go nowhere. Apply that as teacher. Challenge people, let them respond to you, each other and themselves. Alert, sharp, but fair. Never make it personally or destructively.
I want to learn from you. Learn how you can learn to learn together best. Let us know how you want to learn and how you teach others to learn something from you. Focus on ‘’receiving’’, because by only ‘’transmitting’’, no one learns better.
Finally. Anyone who doesn’t teach others to be a teacher, cannot redesign anything. Nor innovate, nor improve. He sticks to the Dutch Forest Atlas. To endlessly use a HEMA-triangular protractor of 50 cents to measure the distance between Gorinchem and Apeldoorn.