All They Do In Class Is Play: Can I Play With Madness?

My #4OCF Voxer group recently discussed the dilemma of perception. The old adage that one bad apple spoils the bunch seemed to permeate our thoughts as we pondered, debated, and discussed. Here’s the skinny that we collectively decided, for now. We might revisit the topic later, as we tend to do, and push the boundaries of our thinking, but for now, here’s how we see the perception that if students are having fun, learning must not be present. Rigor is absent. That teacher just wants to be liked. Some or all of that may be true for a handful of our profession, but that’s a whole other ballgame for another blog post. This post is dedicated to the educators out there who bring their content to life and create learning experiences that will last their students a lifetime. Educators like you.

Give Me the Sense to Wonder

It’s Clearly a Popularity Contest

I’ve taught in two states and five school districts. With the exception of my time in Texas, I’ve encountered this sentiment among teachers. During conversations in schools all over the nation, some teacher will casually comment that the teacher down (or up) the hall clearly lets the students play and have fun just so he or she will be popular with the students. While that can be and sometimes is true of some, it isn’t true of everyone.  But since it is sometimes true, the perception seems to color the rest of us who manage to create learning experiences that are also fun. Many educators work very hard each and every day to build relationships with their students. You can make an enormous difference in your classroom culture just by getting to know your students and letting them know how much you care about them. As my friend and fellow educator, Elizabeth Merce, likes to say, Maslow’s before Blooms. Every time. If the basic needs aren’t met, then learning isn’t going to happen at the higher levels, if at all. Say it with me, “Maslow’s Before Blooms.” Chant it. Sing it (I’ll harmonize with you). Look it up then chant some more. Look at that pyramid and take note of the top three tiers. Love/Belonging equals relationships with students, and that my friends, is worth the time it takes to build. Grab a hammer. It’s never too late.

To Wonder If I’m Free

If They’re Having Fun, They Aren’t Learning.

Here’s another gem of a sentiment that is present in schools nationwide. Where in the How to Be A Teacher Handbook does it say that students aren’t learning if they are having fun? It might have appeared originally in chapter 3, but in the revised versions, it isn’t there. Nope. Nowhere. (I am snarkily making that book up. If there is one by that title, it is merely a coincidence.) Connecting with our students helps make the time we spend with them fun, even if the work is hard. With the time you have left with your students in this school year, flex your creative muscle and find ways to make the learning fun each day. Don’t waste those precious minutes. I have plans for my classes, which include: creating a school podcast, engaging in debates, writing a near death experience essay (based on a story and four guest speakers who will or have shared their near death experiences), creating action figures with a marketing plan to pitch to a customer (a colleague with a prep the same time as my Mythology class or an administrator I can talk into being our customer) based on either Greek or Norse Mythology.  There are all kinds of fun learning experiences you can uses in these final days of school. Make learning fun again.

Give Me a Sense of Wonder

It’s Utter Chaos in That Classroom

We sometimes judge or are judged by the amount of noise or lack of it emanating from our classrooms. Learning can be messy, it can be fiercely quiet as students dive into an activity, and it most definitely can be noisy. Students actively collaborating and creating can look like they are having a lot of fun, which they most certainly can be, but the important thing to remember is that learning can also be occurring. It is difficult at times for educators to stretch beyond preconceived notions or traditional thinking when it comes to this. Sometimes fun is occurring without the learning, and we also see learning occur without fun. Let’s work together to build communities in our schools that give each other the benefit of the doubt. If we are concerned that fun is all that is occurring, then instead of being critical, let’s offer support, ideas for learning experiences, and whatever else that teacher needs and will accept. Let’s accept the ideas, support, and whatever else our colleagues offer us. We are educators. Willingness to grow is definitely in our wheelhouse.

To Know I Can Be Me

Make It Obvious: Communication is Key

Start with your why. You, the teacher. may be introducing challenging activities that promote critical thinking, and your students only know that it is fun. When asked, they might say that you aren’t challenging them, but it sure is fun. This is one place where communication is key. Let your students know why you are doing a particular activity. Explain your why. Open up to your students if you haven’t. Let them know you are taking a risk, trying a new thing. Tell them this new thing will require some effort, some creativity, some critical thinking. Let’s go be amazing in these final weeks, and in the process, let’s turn the idea of school on its ear and make it amazing for students. We got this. 

Heading titles are partial lyrics from the song, Can I Play With Madness by Iron Maiden.

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