I remember it like it was yesterday. I would sit at the dinner table each night, complete with a slouched posture and a forced frown, trying desperately to convey to my parents that I did not want to do my homework. As a middle school student, I knew what was right and wrong, and homework was definitely wrong. Sound familiar? Within minutes of starting my homework, I would often utter the words that my mom and dad had grown so accustomed to hearing, “Why do I need to learn this? I’m never going to use it in life.”
My dad’s response was always the same. “Mike, I’ve told you this before. School is about learning how to learn.”
Knowing full well that I wasn’t going to win an argument with him, I would whisper to myself, “Oh, there goes dad again with his learning how to learn speech. Why can’t he just agree with me and let me skip the parts of my homework that are irrelevant?”
Fast forward thirty years and I realize today that this was the single most important piece of advice my dad ever gave me. In fact, I often refer to it in my leadership teachings as a way of helping kids to change their lens on school.
To help you understand the wisdom of my dad’s statement, I’d like to give you an example of a conversation I recently had with a student.
Student: I’m just sick of doing these math problems. I know I’m going to need basic math in life, but these problems I’m working on now will never benefit me. I’ll never use them.
Me: You’re right, you may never use them.
Student: So, why do I need to learn them?
Me: Let me give you two options. One option is to continue using your powerless lens and see the math as worthless, which will lead to a lot of anger and frustration. The other option is to use your curious/creative lens and see the math as an opportunity to learn how to learn, which will lead to entirely different feelings, such as hope and confidence.
Student: What do you mean?
Me: Well, this is something that my dad used to tell me when I would convey to him the meaningless nature of my homework. Regardless of whether or not you will use these math problems, you will always be expected to learn. Each time you learn something new, your brain is developing new pathways, which ultimately strengthens your mind. Think of it as mental fitness. You like to go to the gym to work out, right?
Student: Yeah, but that’s different.
Me: The only difference is the way you are choosing to see it. Do me a favor. The next time you sit down to work on math, I want you to replace the words have to with choose to. If you have to do something, you are not in a position of power. If you choose to do something, you are. When you choose something, you are doing so because you recognize the benefits of it, which in this case is a stronger brain.
Time will tell as to whether or not this student will apply this new lens on learning. Student engagement, or lack thereof, is always a hot topic in education. I truly believe that my dad’s advice is the solution. Sure there are things about the Common Core that need to change. However, sustainable change occurs from the inside out. When students are able to change their lens on learning, their education experience is greatly enhanced.
Thanks dad for your infinite wisdom. It continues to serve as a foundation of my leadership program. I love you.
Do you have a powerful piece of advice that your mom or dad shared with you when you were young? Please share below.