One of my favorite ESPN 30 for 30s is Survive and Advance. It documents the journey of the 1983 NC State Wolfpack, who shocked the hoops community when they upset Houston’s Phi Slama Jama to win the national championship, and it also details how their coach Jimmy Volvano inspired a much larger community during his battle with cancer.
Jimmy V was one of the greatest coaches of all time. He was humorous, passionate and had an innate ability to motivate his players. Jimmy’s infamous 1993 ESPY speech is featured in the film. At that time, Jimmy was fighting a battle against cancer. I listen to this speech on a regular basis; it is extremely powerful. At one point during the speech, he gives one of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard:
To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.
Simple and powerful. We should be using those very simple guidelines to design and reflect on our lessons and learning opportunities for our students.
Laugh: Are your students laughing and having fun? Are you enjoying learning together?
Yes, it is important that you cover the curriculum. It also important that students are enjoying their learning experience. Combine the two! When you are able to laugh with one another, it shows that you have established a relationship and comfort level.
- Share funny anecdotal stories that relate to your content and activities
- Some students still think teachers are robots. Show that you have a sense of humor and that you are human!
- They will be more comfortable with sharing their own stories
- Create an energetic environment
- You set the tone as soon as students enter your class. Do you want silence or do you want to create an energetic environment?
- Start with a conversation, make a connection or play a song that relates to what you are teaching (there are songs for just about everything!)
- Don’t forget to play!
- Create activities that you are excited about. Your passion shines through.
- Take brain breaks- challenge students to find school appropriate funny videos that connect with what you are covering in class. I personally love the music dubbed animal videos. It challenges students to find the connect and have fun while doing it.
Think: Are your students reflecting and critically thinking?
This is a no brainer, right? Well sometimes we get set in the “this is how I have always taught this” mindset, that we stop challenging ourselves to look at our lessons with a different lens. Are your students ever going to look back on their high school career and remember that KWL pre-reading chart for The Crucible? It is highly unlikely, but there is a better chance they would remember when they had to collaborate with theirs peers to create a retelling of The Crucible with creating the modern witch trails of today that encompass the same themes of motivation through jealousy or the slippery slope of lies and deceit.
- Challenge yourself to create those un”google”able assignments for students
- Stop assigning worksheets
- Connect your assignments to real world problems that will ignite/challenge your students to work towards creating a better world!
- Allow time for your students to reflect and remember. They will be more likely to remember when they have time to reflect! Your activities should make students think and apply what they know not memorize and regurgitate.
Cry (tears of happiness and joy): Are you creating learning opportunities that make an emotional impact on your students?
I think this really will only happen if you have laughing and thinking in place. The first two establish a learning environment which will encourage your students to open up to you and their peers. When reflecting on the year, you should ask yourself “did I create a community of learners who motivate and challenge each other to take their cause beyond the classroom walls?
- Create opportunities that will encourage students to find their passions and cause
- This can happen in all activities that you create not just saved for Genius hour opportunities
- With a vast network at their fingertips, allow your students to utilize it and discover and explore their passions.
- Incorporate Design Thinking Challenges (not just for STEM rooms)
- One of the defining elements, and I would argue most important, in design thinking is empathy. When students are actively designing for another they are able to put themselves in another’s shoes. By incorporating these opportunities in your classroom, you will see that empathy transfer to all that you do because it is not a method but instead a mindset that is established.
- Start a TedEd Club
- TedEd Clubs support students in presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks.
- It not only develops a student’s 21st century skills but also gets them thinking about being leaders today.
Give yourself a daily 5- and reflect on those three questions. Did my students laugh, think, cry today? Because if you get your students to “laugh, think, cry, that is a full day- that is a heck of day!”
“I just got one last thing, I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,’ to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.” – Jimmy Valvano