Are we teaching the “love of” the the, or just the “the”?

In my office, on a small desk covered with Star Wars minifigures, a rubics cube and some Hot Wheels cars you will also find my 4th grade class photo. I’m the smallish blonde boy in the middle row, fourth from the left. At the other end of the row is Mrs Paterson. She is the reason the photo sits on my desk thirty-six years later.

I don’t really remember much about what I learned in fourth grade. As an elementary teacher of many years myself I can guess what was covered, and while it might be interesting, it’s not important. What I can remember is the way Mrs Paterson made me feel about being in her class.

She had high standards. She challenged me. She believed that I could do it.

At a recent conference I sat and listened to Sir John Jones talk about the way schools should be. Amongst his humour were some truisms that all educators need to be thinking deeply about. One was, “Google can teach you history. Only teachers can teach you the LOVE of history!”

Like most other schools around the world, I urge my teachers to “address the standards” when they teach. “Follow UbD when you plan,” I say. “Start with the standards. Design the assessment. Build the plan.”


But in my fifteen years of co-planning with teachers, I have never come across a standard addressing teaching the “love” of something. I’ve never asked a teacher to add a row in a rubric to read,”demonstrates a love of calculus”, or writing, or painting or long division. And as I ponder this, I am wondering how to address this absence.

If the role of a teacher is to teach a “love of” something, be it physics or reading or history or simply (but not so simply) learning, where do we start? Where do we put all the effort in and how to we know if we’ve accomplished it? Can we use the final grade as a measure? Or is it less quantitative and more qualitative? Is it the number of students who choose to follow that subject as a career path? Is it the number of smiles on faces I see in classrooms as I walk through the building? Or is it the waiting list of students eager to get into a particular class with a particular teacher?

Mrs Paterson was my fourth-grade teacher and she is the one who taught me a “love of” something. She did it by challenging me, expecting I was able and caring for me as I made my attempts and failed.

Maybe it is that simple. Maybe it is that and a bit more. Maybe what was right for Mrs Paterson is different for you and I. Who knows?

As a school administrator, I don’t have the answer. I know when a teacher has it and I can see when a teacher doesn’t. I can give examples of it. I can attest to the importance of it. I can urge those without it to develop it.

If you are a teacher, how are you developing in students the “Love Of” your subject?



Do you know what your students are learning?

Once again prompted to the pen by the ponderings of others ( I wonder if we really know what our students are learning! We may be able to answer with some conviction the question, “What are your students studying?” but I am beginning to wonder if we should expect the answer to both questions to be the same? Do we ask our students to communicate their understanding of what they have studied or do we ask our students to communicate what they have learned? Is this one and the same? Should we ask our students both questions and expect different answers?When does learning occur? Most would agree with David Warlick’s suggestions that when there is value in what is occurring, when there is a sense of accomplishment, when there is a sense of discovery and when there is an opportunity to do something with what has been learned that there is a good chance that learning will occur. But how often do we structure our lessons to allow for curiosity, collaboration, a real audience, failure, discovery and questioning? How often do we blame the scarcity of time, resources or energy to return to our textbooks, forgoing the challenge of student-led discovery and question for the comfort of teacher-led revelation and direction?

As we find our days filled more and more with the demands of this programme and that curriculum, preparing for this exam and that standardised test we need to make room for those things that allow students to really learn, to allow room for our students to be learners and to allow ourselves the chance to find out what our students really are learning.

Bruce Knox

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