October 18, 2013

Hula-Hoops and Education

I was presented with an unusual challenge this week. Every Monday I attend a fitness class with a personal trainer at a local gym. The class is generally a circuit training type of experience where we change stations every minute. There are usually about a dozen of us that attend each week. Like any good teacher, the trainer mixes things up from class to class. She says it is to keep us from getting exercise fatigue; personally I think she enjoys abusing us. This week she had a new piece of equipment, a weighted hula-hoop. We were expected to rotate the hoop, using our hips, for an entire minute. Sadly, I am one of those people who has NEVER been able to hula-hoop. Since I have been working out with this same group of people for several months, there is a deep level of trust and camaraderie amongst us – after all, we’ve seen each other without make-up. So, without reservation or embarrassment, I immediately let everyone know that I can’t hula-hoop. Like a good teacher though, the trainer wasn’t willing to let my past failures get me out of a learning (sweating) opportunity.

A few days before my hula-hoop encounter I had read an interesting article, “Entrepreneurial education must learn from start-up culture.” In this article, Afraj Gill makes the case that our educational system punishes failure, “…inhibits creativity and stifles ingenuity.” Gill talks to several diverse leaders who are known for innovation in their field and inquires how they are able to create such dynamic innovations and change in their industries. The recurring theme is that they are not afraid to take risks and are willing to accept failure as part of the change process. He then contrasts this culture of innovation to the traditional model of education where there is a consequence for failure and a general aversion to risk-taking.

Yong Zhao calls for the development of an “entrepreneurial spirit” in education in his book, World Class Learners. Zhao quotes the World Economic Forum (2011) and asserts “[i]t is not enough to add entrepreneurship on the perimeter – it needs to be at the core of the way the education operates.” Entrepreneurs look for creative solutions to problems and some even look for new problems to solve. Entrepreneurs often have more failures than successes, but they are defined by their successes. All too often in education, we allow the failures to define students and teachers. We punish the risk-takers and reward those that follow the rules. This isn’t an educational model that we can afford to maintain. As administrators we need to encourage and support teachers who are willing to adopt blended learning strategies to challenge and personalize learning for students. As teachers, we need to recognize the student who needs more time to master a concept and find ways to guide that student along the path to mastery. As educators, we need to accept that failure is a normal and vital part of the cycle of creativity and innovation.

Gill notes that in the Silicon Valley culture “failure is success deferred, not the end of it all.” All my life I believed that I was a hula-hoop failure, a big fat “F”. But this week, because I had a trainer (teacher) willing to stand by me and support me, fellow gym rats (classmates) whom I trusted and were willing to cheer me on, and, quite honestly, nothing to lose (no grades), I went for it. I dropped the hoop immediately on my first attempt. On my second attempt I kept it up for two twirls. By the fifth attempt I was able to twirl that baby for the whole minute. I was NEVER a hula-hoop failure, I was always a hula-hooper in progress; I just needed more time to get to mastery than others. Wonder how long it will take me to become a hula-hoop dancer?

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