For Here or To Go?

"Yes, I'll have that lesson to go..."
“Yes, I’ll have that lesson to go…”

This morning I was out for a jog and something dawned on me: Great teaching is something that sticks with you. That was the start. Then the thought began to evolve.

Is it the teaching or is it the learning? I asked myself.

What great teaching am I carrying with me right now as I pick up the pace?

I began assembling my stories; stories of the great teachers, the great lessons, the deep learning I was sporting as I lengthened my stride.

  • Story #1: The speedskating race. I did my first long distance speed skating race on January 2nd. I completed 15 laps of a 2.1km course in a little less than 2 hours and 15 minutes. Throughout, I could hear my coach’s whisper at each step, “feet together, feet together.”
  • Story #2: Reading aloud. One of my greatest joys as a parent was and still is reading aloud to my sons (aged 20 and 7). My mother surely instilled and inspired this habit in me. Every time I hear myself read aloud with passion, I imagine my mother looking on with pride.
  • Story #3: Sticking with the run I was on. It would have been easy to stop and walk, especially as I was plodding uphill. And there I heard a variety of voices, including my own, reminding me that I could and would succeed because: I know how this goes, I’ve tackled this before, I set the pace, the choice is mine and look at the blessings that surround me.
  • Story #4: The will to keep writing. Several folks have had a hand in this one, yet my thoughts actually go back to two of my high school teachers, Mr. Hawkes and Mr. Nelson, who encouraged me to recognize my writing as a definitive strength and that I should therefore dare to be confident in doing it. That lesson took a long while to kick in (some 20 years, at least). If they only knew…

So as I continued to chew on this line of thinking, I arrived at this: Great teaching, which often goes hand in hand with great learning, becomes great because it has staying power. Great lessons stick with you, are portable and transferable. Over time these lessons can become so uniquely and intimately useful to you as to no one else. This is what makes the learning your own.

I hesitate to draw the connection to education or schooling, because we know teaching, learning and lessons to be so much more, so much broader than what we tend to stuff into our favorite labeled compartments of education and schooling.  So think big and broad with me here, let’s go deep and not linger on the surface. When you consider some of your own great teaching, learning and lessons, both in the past and to come, would you like that for here, or to go?

Personally, I’ll take all three to go with a big side of uncertainty because there’s the catch – we just can’t know or predict before hand exactly what will stick with whom and when. All the same, let’s have the “to go” model in mind when we are serving up our best fare to students, colleagues, and loved ones. They will thank us. Someday.

Tapping into the curse


Try this experiment: Find a partner who will be your “listener.”  Now select an easily recognizable melody in your mind (like “Happy Birthday” or “The Alphabet Song”) and then tap it out (on a table top, for instance) for your partner.  How likely is it that your listening partner will be able to name that tune?  According to a study from the early 90’s, tappers predicted the odds to be about 50-50.  In reality, the listeners were only able to guess the tunes at a rate of 1 in 40, instead of 1 in 2 as the tappers imagined.  What’s going on?

If you’ve ever read Made to Stick (2007) by Chip and Dan Heath, you’ll recognize this story as their introduction to one of the most fascinating concepts I’ve encountered in a number of years: The Curse of Knowledge.  As they explain it, the tappers, who have the melody playing in their heads as they tap it out for the listeners, can no longer imagine the position of the listener who is not party to the same inner soundtrack that is practically carrying the tune through those simple taps.  How could the listener possibly not get this one?  The tappers have fallen prey to the Curse of Knowledge.  “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.  our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us.” (Made to Stick, p. 20)

Just think about that for a minute. You can’t un-know what you know and it is very challenging to recall and recreate the experience of not having that knowledge.  Gives a new dimension to the notion of “misunderstandings” doesn’t it?  The curse of knowledge: I was just so excited about this idea once I read about it.  It made the daily, hourly, minute-to-minute dilemma of my teaching so clear.  Every day, every lesson – I am in the position of trying to bridge that gap, to undo the curse and connect with my students to reach a common understanding of how to, if-then and why not.  And, of course, my students are also avid “tappers.”  Imagine all the tunes they have stored up which make absolutely no sense to their seemingly nearly deaf and dimwitted elders!  They, too, experience the curse in their own way.

And so we dance. And tap. And listen. And tap some more.  The curse can be broken and it requires thought, sensitivity, clarity and vision. The Heath brothers provide a fascinating tour into methods to beat the curse. The curse of knowledge has proven very sticky in my own toolkit. If “awareness is the first step,” then “tapping” into your personal collection of curses to rediscover and recoup listeners lost, may prove a worthy next step.