Originally Published: 6 January 2017.
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it…Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee
Water sustains, refreshes and challenges us. Being the primary element of our minds and bodies, water shapes every aspect of our existence. Without it, we shrivel and perish. With too much, our homes are flooded, our foundations are eroded, our lungs are filled, and water destroys us. Nevertheless, when soiled and sullied, we bathe in water, allow it to envelop us, and we are reborn.
Teaching is water.
Outstanding teachers, like water, adapt themselves to the circumstances and sustain, refresh and challenge their learners. These teachers identify their aims and the path of least resistance, a path that varies from moment to moment and day to day because it is based upon the needs of learners. When required, great teachers offer refreshment, in the form of food, jokes or kind words to sustain their learners and open the door for their learning. When necessary, great teachers crash like a tidal wave, washing away inappropriate and hurtful behaviors or circumstances, cleaning the slate for new growth to occur.
Water simply shifts its shape and continues on its path, achieving its aims regardless of our response. If required, great teachers recognize and work their way through the cracks in learners resistance to learning, building relationships and creating enthusiasm for learning where resistance and obstacles once stood.
Water does not ask for a reward, and neither do I. Instead, I find joy in sustaining others and helping them grow. The warmth of others warms me, and the great rewards in teaching have nothing to do with awards and honors and everything to do with the hard-won smiles, laughter, and success of learners. The reward in teaching is the joy of knowing that the people I work with have the skills and support that they need to discover and share joy and success of their own.
In all aspects of my teaching, I try to be like water, and that is what makes me an outstanding teacher. I begin by individually greeting, welcoming and inquiring about each learner, probing for open channels and identifying potential obstacles to find a way around or through them. In addition to providing me with information about the current mental state of each learner, this greeting helps to build strong relationships with my learners. By taking this time to inquire about each learner individually, I communicate that I genuinely care about each of them, thereby reducing stress and creating an environment in which they can prosper.
After greeting my learners, I present them with lessons and challenges that are connected to their personal interests, skill levels, and individual goals. As the world that we and our learners inhabit progressively demands more and more interaction with technology, these lessons often involve the use of educational technology and online resources. However, when this technology creates too many barriers for learners, a pen, a piece of paper, printed material, markers, crayons or other materials will serve. There are infinite paths to demonstrating our knowledge and mastery of skills.
Despite my best efforts, some of my learners struggle to connect my lessons to their own experience, and they sometimes rage against me and the challenges that I present them. It is often easier to create a confrontation or distraction than it is to perform tasks that have little meaning for you and that you struggle with because you lack many of the skills and experiences required to complete them. These conflicts often sadden or anger me, but ultimately the learner’s failure is also mine. So, like water, I change my shape, transform my hurt and anger into action, seek another point of entry into my learner’s world, and adapt or dismiss learning tasks as necessary to reach the ultimate goal of improving my learners’ knowledge and skills.
Some say that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. If you spend enough time in teachers’ lounges, you are certain to hear a variant of this belief, the belief that you can lead a learner to knowledge, but you cannot make him think.
I refuse to accept those statements.
Be water, my friend, and all living things will seek you out for sustenance, rejuvenation, and inspiration.
Photo Credit: Featured Photo from Flickr user likeablerodent. Used under a Creative Commons license. You can access the original image here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/likeablerodent/5896226033.