Lost at Sea

I watched from the back of the room as the students began to disengage from their teacher. Several of them pushed their chairs back in frustration. They were lost. It didn’t take long before they completely gave up on the lesson. They couldn’t keep up. The teacher was moving pretty fast. I could almost hear them say, “What’s the use!” A few short moments later they were doing other things at their desks.

I continued observing the class and noticed a number of individuals who were confused but hadn’t given up. They were turning to the students next to them for help. At first it was just, “What did she say? I missed it?” But the teacher was moving very quickly and soon they were working with their neighbors as if the teacher wasn’t even in the room. They would figure this out together.

Many in the class didn’t feel comfortable with asking those around them for help. They tried to figure things out by themselves. Most of them became hopelessly lost. Some raised their hands and asked for help. This slowed the teacher down. She had to stand near them and figure out what they had done to get so lost before she could bring them back to where they were supposed to be.

All the time the teacher was working with the lost “independents”, there was a group of “high-end” learners who put their heads down on their desks in frustration. For them the lesson was painstakingly slow. They were totally bored and getting angrier by the minute.

And finally, there was a group who hated being confused, and was very angry with the class. Whenever they got lost they would make a comment about the teacher. “She was moving too fast. She should have been clearer, made the lesson simpler, provided more support materials.” They were so angry they spoke out loud while others were asking questions or while the teacher was talking.

All in all, the classroom was a mess. The teacher was knowledgeable and well intentioned; and yet the students were all over the place. It was not a pleasant scene. The catch is that these were all school Principals learning how to use new laptops they had been issued a few days earlier. These were the school leaders who would be transforming education, or not.

It was obvious that they had completely forgotten what it was to be a learner; yet they were in charge of the learning of others. They didn’t like the feeling of being “lost at sea” that sometimes comes with learning new things. Most of them would claim support for lifelong learning for their students; but it didn’t seem like a real commitment as I watched them act out their frustrations in ways that were eerily reminiscent of the students in their classrooms. I think they would be embarrassed if they saw themselves on tape.

How different our classrooms would be if administrators and teachers remembered what it was to be a student…sometimes “lost at sea”.



4 thoughts on “Lost at Sea

  1. YES! That frustrating and difficult feeling that happens before real learning happens or a new skill is mastered … the point where you just want to quit – but force yourself not to.
    Then the amazing joy of knowing you have done it, it did not beat you! Learning to love that uncomfortable place to get to the real joy.

  2. Marilyn Taylor described the cycle as Disorientation; Exploration; Reorientation; Equilibrium; and so on. To get out of Equilibrium, there has to be some Disorientation, but Exploration does not begin until the individual is comfortable in not knowing and is willing to Explore. Good learners leap from Disorientation to Exploration, IMO.

    More: http://www.jarche.com/?p=1218

  3. I agree that the feeling od accomplishment after you thought you could never do something is amazing. But I also believe that some students never get to experience that wonderful feeling. If a student goes through their school years always having teachers that teach at a fast pace and they dont understand, eventually they will get turned off and not interested about learning. Thats why its important for teachers to teach the subjects in a variety of ways. There are many different techniques used for visual learners and those who learn best by hearing it.

  4. Great comments all!

    If you think about it, teachers and administrators must remember what it is to be a “beginner”, without familiar landmarks to guide them. It’s like the moment you put a small glass of water down on the table and reach for a bigger glass; there is a moment when your hand is empty. It is at that moment when many of us lose our nerve because an empty hand seems so risky.

    I remember letting go of the bike when my daugher was learning to ride without training wheels, it was hard to distinguish her screams of fear from her squeals of delight!

    To be compassionate and effective educaors we must continue to experience the fear and delight of being beginners, being learners.


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