Given the blizzard of 2014 and plenty of school cancelations in the Midwest, there has been plenty of time for us teachers to be taught via movies, blogs, books, etc. During these ‘lessons,’ I noticed a common theme; people always need a leader.
An old Irish poet named W.B. Yeats said that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver are both great reminders that students will run through a brick wall for a leader that they believe in. The students in Stand and Deliver even come in on Saturdays in order to eventually pass the AP calculus test. In Dead Poets Society, we see Dr. Keating (Robin Williams) convince a bunch of adolescent teens to get jazzed up about poetry. Are you lighting a fire in your kids with the way you lead them? Are you a flowing stream or a stagnant pond?
In the Ted Talks (ted.com) “Hacking Language Learning” and “How to Learn Any Language in Six Months,” I was forced to reflect on how vital it is to have an excellent leader in the foreign language classroom. Given the number of errors that students will make in our classes, it is so important that we know how to keep our students moving forward amidst failure after failure. And that’s the true mark of a leader- can you get your students to do things they may not want to do (engage in class) in order to arrive at a place where they do want to be (bilingual)?
In Benny Lewis’s Ted Talk (Hacking Language Learning), he said he was resolved to commit over 100 errors a day as he practiced the language. Could we bring our kids to this level of confidence and security? Do we regularly communicate “This is important, you can do it, and I won’t give up on you”? We have all had THAT leader in our life that brought us to the place we are at now. Also, we need to be able to create an ethos in our classroom where errors are encouraged. This is no easy task given the current educational system that stigmatizes error and failure. But as leaders in our classrooms, schools and communities, we need to be thermostats, not thermometers. We cannot expect nervous adolescent ‘Johnny’ (who has a major crush on the girl next to him) to comfortably communicate at an infant’s level in another language and still come back to class. It is our job to make Johnny look like the hero of the universe every time he makes an effort.
A final note on leading in the foreign language classroom based upon Tim Elmore’s leadership material (growing leaders.com)… Students need some clarity from their leader. This is not an easy task considering learning a foreign language does require a certain level of tolerance for ambiguity. This can be a source of extreme frustration for even some very gifted students. It is our job to alleviate this stress that comes with the territory and help students gain traction. Dr. Elmore asks the question, “Are you a flood or a river?” A flood moves in a bunch of different directions and only causes destruction whereas a river moves in one constant direction and causes flourishing. Translation: don’t try every idea you read on Twitter in a two week span. This helter-skelter approach is sure to do more harm than good. Rather get some momentum going with your students before you throw them completely in the deep end.
David Seibel is a third-year Spanish teacher in Indiana with a passion for engaging students in language learning. He spends his free time serving in his church, working out, and reading.
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