Passion, Progress, Purpose

BRAIN_temp coverIn our fifth grade class meeting last week, I had one of those moments that we, as teachers, hold sacred.  It became apparent to me that my students still didn’t quite understand the symbolism of the rubber bands as they relate to learning and the brain research presented by JoAnn Deak. In early January, JoAnn Deak visited The Walker School and shared her latest brain research…and the example of how rubber bands symbolize areas of strength (large, stretchy rubber bands) as well as areas of weakness (small, inflexible rubber bands).

So I reread Deak’s Your Fantastic Elastic Brain book aloud to them. Although they enjoyed practicing the pronunciations of the words amygdala and cerebellum along with me, I could tell they still didn’t realize the significance. There was no connection. I got smiles and polite nods, but not a single light bulb flickered on.  I tried a new tactic. I asked them to guess what my largest, most elastic rubber band was. I heard things like:

“Speaking!” “English!” “Reading!” and “Writing!”

“Yes!” I said. “Those are my PASSION bands, and do you know how they got sooooo stretched? I loved writing and reading books and teaching others when I was young. I told them stories about how I used to come home from school and play “school” for three hours until my mom called me down for dinner. (Some of the looks of disgust/incredulity from my students were priceless by this point.) I went on to tell them that I remember fishing through the trash for discarded workbooks on the last day of school so I could use the unused pages for my imaginary students at home. (By this point the chuckles grew louder.) And then I dropped the bomb.

“Guess what was happening to my brain every time I read, and wrote a story, and pretended to be a teacher in my little classroom upstairs? IT WAS STRETCHING! The areas required for those tasks were getting worked and stretched and expanded and strengthened, but it didn’t feel like work at all. I was just following my passion.”  

I then made it personal: “So, Shane, you know all those basketball videos you make on iMovie with your buddies for fun? You are doing EXACTLY what I was doing when I played school. You’re having fun, exploring your passions, and stretching parts of your brain that might not have otherwise been stretched.”

Rhodes chimed in, “My stretchiest rubber band is definitely organizing. I love it.”

“Mine is definitely talking,” said Adam (one of my highly communicative students).

I continued on to talk about my small “PROGRESS” rubber bands – the ones I wish I’d stretched more as a child. I talked about math with Mrs. Herrmann and Mrs. Hussey…Mrs. Rhodes’s dreaded physics class…Mr. Parkhurst’s chemistry course…and even my public speaking courses in college. (My class was shocked to learn that I would much prefer speaking to parents one-on-one than giving a large lecture on Parents’ Night.) These were all taught by amazing teachers whom I still respect and admire to this day, but because the content was not my passion, I didn’t ever grit my teeth, press on, and really S-T-R-E-T-C-H them.

We ended our discussion by viewing Shane’s video entitled “Elite Dudez: Episode II” and it was everything I had hoped it would be. The flawless technical editing on iMovie, musical overlay, exaggerated celebration, and passion encompasses everything I love about teaching fifth graders.

What’s important about moments like these? I am reminded that the power of knowing this information about the human brain is, I believe, better than any knowledge I impart to my students this year. Understanding these seemingly silly, symbolic rubber bands can literally open doors that would have otherwise remained closed. Who knows where Shane’s videos will lead him? Where Rhodes’s passion for organizing will take her? What doors will open up because of Adam’s quick wit and ease in speaking? We, as adults, can only look back and wish that we had stretched our bands more. How wonderful it is that we are showing these young minds the power of stretching both their PASSION and their PROGRESS bands!

If you’d like to see what stretching looks like (and you need a good laugh), please check out Shane’s latest basketball video. It’s a priceless reminder of progress, passion, and the purpose behind everything we do here at Walker.

About the Author: Mrs. Kate Carter (’99) is the fifth grade Language Arts teacher in the Lower School. She has been at Walker since she was in Preschool but has been teaching for six years at the school. Mrs. Carter currently serves as the upper elementary Language Arts coordinator.

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