Sunday, July 10, 2016

Growing Butterflies

My amazing wife, with a few clicks of the track pad, added a butterfly kit to our Amazon cart. Within just a few days, we were the proud parents to a jar full of caterpillars and within another week, those caterpillars were wrapped up tight in a chrysalis stage, transforming from worms with legs into majestic flying creatures. Our four year old daughter, and even our 10 and 12 year old boys, each stopped by from time to time, while passing through the living room, to peek into the butterfly basket to check in on the transformation.

Image result for chrysalis stage of a monarch butterflyThe lessons of this amazing spectacle are limitless for those of us in education. First, it is important to remember that even though, at one point, the caterpillars look as if they are doing absolutely nothing, to the naked eye it seems as if they have wrapped themselves up in a self-spun blanket and have gone off to sleep for several days; it is at this point that each one is actually rearranging their molecular structure by, at one point, liquefying their current existence and transforming their body into a completely different organism. This first magnificent feat reminds me that I never believe a student isn't learning. It just isn't possible. Even though, to the naked eye, a student may seem docile and disengaged...there is always learning happening. There is danger in assuming a student has stopped learning just because they are sitting quietly in a chrysalis stage at a desk by the window. If I assume a student is disengaged because they are lazy, and I let them out of participation, the student has just learned that grown-ups who don’t believe in her will let her off the hook. What a student learns is dependent on the environment. Just like the caterpillar, when a student is given the right circumstances for learning, a full metamorphosis from kindergarten to college is the outcome.

Next, as a butterfly begins to emerge from this incredible time of transformation, there is an observable moment of struggle for life and death. The head may emerge from the chrysalis, then a leg, maybe an antenna or two, and finally a wing. There is this moment however, when it seems as if the butterfly has given up. Breaking free from its past is just too difficult. It is at this moment, when the butterfly seems that it can not make it alone, that, as a good butterfly parent, you feel compelled to help. It would be so easy to just peel back that last piece of hardened shell of the chrysalis to allow the butterfly to break free - it feels like the ethical thing to do. However, it is exactly this moment of productive struggle that helps the butterfly build enough strength in its wings to eventually fly. If you help the butterfly emerge, it will never fly. In our classrooms we have to inspire the productive struggle. We have to set our students up to do hard work that will eventually lead to individual success. Too often school is a place where children spend the day watching adults work very hard - it should really be the other way around. If we know each student well enough, we can set personalized targets that, with a little productive struggle, we are sure each can meet. Once each student feels the inspiration of success, they will be ready to fly to the next challenge.

I love education. Working with kids and those who help to grow kids has been the greatest honor of my life. Maybe I see the lessons everywhere, but I could not help drawing the parallel between growing butterflies and launching students as productive lifelong learners. I think the lessons I am reminded of are that first, environment is everything, and next, personalizing is crucial to create productive struggle that ends in success. Let’s all spend some time this summer dreaming up ways that we can create an environment that propels students to grow; let’s strive for a classroom that recognizes students are always learning - even when it doesn’t look like it from the outside. Finally, let’s start the year with personalized targeting in mind, to ensure that each well crafted opportunity at productive struggle ends in an affirming success story for each learner.

This week, when the Amazon order arrived, I found out that we are growing Ladybugs! I can't wait to see what happens next!