Children with hands raised

A teacher’s hardest job is to create a classroom culture.

You have between 18-38 individuals within your tiny four walls, and you’re tasked with getting them to pull together heading forward rather than rowing every which way in random.

It’s hard—but it’s also the most fun part of the year. It’s where your values meet the road: what do you think is the most important feeling to have in the classroom?

It’s the biggest, most unquantifiable x you can introduce into the lives of your students. It’s the answer to the question, “Why are we all here (five days/week, 180 days/year)?”

Every teacher, either consciously or unwittingly, creates an answer to this question.

In my classroom the answer is, “Because we are GREEEEEEDY for learning!”

In the first week of school my students learn that we have about 100 billion brain cells.  They learn that new cells are born daily but if these new cells have no task—no mission!—within a week, they die off. It’s a use it or lose it situation, and, they, the students, are in charge. They are the bosses of their own brains, and their task is to find active learning missions for their own neurons. My job is to create engaging learning situations for those neurons to leap into.

Daily, I tell my kids,”Fly your geek flag!”

What this means is raise your hand, high, tall, and proud—whether to ask a question, answer one, add knowledge and insights, disagree, or point the way to a wholly different path.

It’s an emblem of ownership to fly that flag: these are my neurons, and I’m going to deploy them! This is my learning, and I’m going to claim it! These are my ideas, and I’m going to share them! Or—these are my uncertainties, and they, too, have value.

For 9-12 year-olds, it’s hard to stand out (and, of course, that only gets worse as they enter the teen years). Being part of the herd is so much more comfortable. So, it’s my job as the teacher to harness the power of the herd, of peer pressure, towards the expressive rather than the repressive. It’s my job to create an environment where the herd mentality is geek smart rather than blase bored or too cool for school.

Daily, I spend countless minutes on encouraging comments, pats on the back, private motivational conversations, laudatory calls to parents, smiles, shout-outs, hugs, and sometimes sternness, to get kids to the point where they feel comfortable flying their geek flag.

Flying their geek flag means unlocking both the emotional and intellectual resources inside them and directing these treasures towards the problems of the world. It means giving students the permission, confidence, and resources to explore, understand, analyze, and assess—until they see what they need to solve and they know how to let themselves work on solving it.

After all, once they put all of themselves out there—all 100 billion neurons and more—what power will they unleash on our world?

There’s only one answer to that.

The Power of Geek.