Friday, January 20, 2012

teach like Ernest Hemingway

You bet I'm a charter member of Students First.  I agree generally with its whole platform and I admire the straight-talking leadership of Michelle Rhee (on this project at least), but the name of the organization does just say it all:  the needs of students--that's children and young people we're talking about--should come before the convenience of adults or the demands of a bureaucratic system.

I got an email from Students First yesterday with an intriguing subject line:  "Do you write like Hemingway?"  It read:
"It's said Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story using just six words: 'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.' He reportedly declared it his greatest work. Words are powerful tools — for learning, for inspiration, for transformation. When we choose our words with precision, we can say so much. It is with Hemingway as our inspiration that I write to you with a fun challenge: Describe what it means to be a great teacher in just six words."
Well, that's a straight-up poetry challenge, and my mind started percolating--but just like I spike my basic drip coffee with a layer of cinnamon, my current reading seeped in and flavored my six-word essay.  I'm reading Drive by Daniel H. Pink, which is all about what motivates humans of all ages, extrinsically and intrinsically.  He comes at the question of motivation mainly from a business/work perspective, but of course the research he cites and the new "operating system" he proposes--dubbed Motivation 3.0--are entirely applicable to education settings.  Here's the conclusion Pink reaches by the end of his exploration of the three elements of Motivation 3.0, which are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

"A CENTRAL IDEA of this book has been the mismatch between what science knows and what business does. The gap is wide. Its existence is alarming. And though closing it seems daunting, we have reasons to be optimistic.

The scientists who study human motivation, several of whom we’ve encountered in this book, offer us a sharper and more accurate account of both human performance and the human condition. The truths they’ve revealed are simple, yet powerful. The science shows that those typical twentieth-century carrot-and-stick motivators—which we consider somehow a “natural” part of human enterprise—can sometimes work. But they’re effective in only a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. The science shows that “if-then” rewards—the mainstays of the Motivation 2.0 operating system—not only are ineffective in many situations, but also can crush the high-level, creative, conceptual abilities that are central to current and future economic and social progress. The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.

Bringing our businesses in sync with these truths won’t be easy. Unlearning old ideas is difficult, undoing old habits even harder. And I’d be less sanguine about the prospects of closing the motivation gap anytime soon, if it weren’t for this: The science confirms what we already know in our hearts.

We know that human beings are not merely smaller, slower, bettersmelling donkeys trudging after that day’s carrot. We know—if we’ve spent time with young children or remember ourselves at our best—that we’re not destined to be passive and compliant. We’re designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice—doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.

So, in the end, repairing the mismatch and bringing our understanding of motivation into the twenty-first century is more than an essential move for business. It’s an affirmation of our humanity."

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Chapter 6. 
That's certainly how things look to me.  So I submitted my six-word essay on what it means to be a great teacher, and I submitted it although I know it's probably a bit too "spiritual" to win the iPad prize, even for Students First. 

Love says, "Welcome."  Faith says, "Grow."


I wonder if I successfully captured what I mean.  If you're a teacher or a librarian, I invite you to respond with your own six-word essay.  The Poetry Friday round-up today is with Elaine at Wild Rose Reader.

13 comments:

  1. Those six words do capture a universe of meaning. How lovely, Heidi. It's so heartening to meet teachers such as yourself. :)

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  2. I loved your sharing of Pink's words. At the school where I work, our entire approach to curriculum centers around student choice, student interest, and then we build the skills around those two things. Your words, love and faith, fit so beautifully in what we believe is the heart of school, that students want to learn and want to grow, but on their own terms. Thank you for the thoughts and the call for poetry from teachers.

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  3. I wrote an essay a couple of years ago called The Art of Disobedience about this very thing -- why do we encourage compliance when the most important things in life -- love, relationships, growth -- require independence and vibrance?

    I love your six words. I've done this exercise a number of times and have not yet achieved Hemingway's brilliance.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Ooh, interesting post, Heidi. I did a six-word bio once, though I can't find it now. Going to try, because I actually really liked it. I'm going to have to think about a six-word essay. Great challenge for poets!

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  5. What a great post, Heidi. I think there should be a spiritual category in the contest, to "welcome" submissions like yours.

    No luck coming up with my own six-worder yet. Kudos to you on yours!

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  6. I love your six words! I'll have to think a long while to come up with something equal to that.

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  7. Loved this combo from the Pink excerpt: "The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution."
    and
    "The science confirms what we already know in our hearts."

    So true, at least for me and what I've experienced in the corporate world.

    I'll have to give the six-word story a shot someday. That'll take some real thinking ...

    -Ed

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  8. This will be a comment in multiple parts, as I read your post.

    First off, Pink had me hooked with these words, "A CENTRAL IDEA of this book has been the mismatch between what science knows and what business (ie: educaiton -- I added that word with my own brain) does." AMEN, brother.

    "We know—if we’ve spent time with young children or remember ourselves at our best—that we’re not destined to be passive and compliant. We’re designed to be active and engaged." SO TRUE!!!

    My impromptu essay (I may come back with second/third/fourth editions):

    I am only taller, not smarter.

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  9. Thanks, everybody, for your reactions. Any jobs at your school, Linda, and is it--could it be?--a public school? Irene, I would like to read your essay on the art of disobedience. Laura PS, looking forward to your six-word bio! Laura S, I think part of my point is that the whole category of teaching--even in a secular, public school, would benefit from being a lot more spiritual. Does that even seem possible?

    Mary Lee, your six words totally took me by surprise (since humility is not one of my strengths), but yes--how things would change if we all regarded children as our equals!

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  10. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    That's my six word response to your post! Thank you - that Pink work goes along so well with all that Alfie Kohn says too - we are internally motivated, and so often schools seem to be set up to sabotage that internal motivation.

    Thank you for your always-thoughtful and provocative and heartfelt posts. It's so good to know you're out there in the world.

    a.

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  11. Hemingway's 6-word story is so sad. Yours is full of inspiration. :) I will have to think on this as my brain is too tired currently to think of only 6 words that could be as good as yours or Hemingway's. :)

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

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  12. Love your post, Heidi! It rings true in a very deep way.

    Have to run, so my six words from kids for education will be:

    Ask me how to solve it.

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  13. Now you got me to thinking about verbal parsimony. I'm not the best at that. The six word story makes my head spin, which I suppose is the point---those six words make the mind run with possibilities. Glad I found your blog during the Challenge, even if on the last day.

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