When I step into a classroom, I find my mind imagining that I am stepping into a petri dish. It’s a mental image that makes sense to me, because for many years of my life I stood at a laboratory bench and inoculated thousands of petri dishes. After a 24 hour incubation period, each dish would be pulled from an incubator to display an amazing concoction of growth, or sometimes not. Depending on which media or agar (nutrient source) the results varied. Incubation temperature also varied the results. Room temperature during inoculation may have also been a factor in the outcome. Certainly, cleanliness of equipment influenced the outcome too. In other words, while as researchers we did everything we could to control the environment and the outcome, the reality is that “biology happens” despite our control efforts.
Can you see the connection to the classroom? The classroom, or physical container, is the petri dish. The teacher might be the agar, or the substance providing the nutrition or the academic content for the day. The kids are the bacteria, each a different species, each having a desire for nutrients and growth. Perhaps the administration and education system is the researcher, working diligently to control the many aspects associated with education.
Despite the controls in place, the reality is there is little we can control. Who knows what the specimens, teachers and students alike, are showing up with…no breakfast, too much breakfast, not enough sleep, too much sleep, a family fight, the wrong jeans being clean, the right shirt but wrong socks, running late, an embarrassing goodbye at the crosswalk, sick grandma, recovered grandpa, sick sister, healthy brother, testosterone release, estrogen absorption, oh my, the variables are endless. Biology is happening in real time in every classroom!
In a petri dish, and in life, it is really all about survival, and to survive bacteria and children must grow. Growth requires the availability of the right nutrients, in the right quantity. In a classroom, Benny needs visual clues, Sammy needs audio clues, and Lenny needs to move around to connect what he is hearing. Carrie needs quiet, Larry needs music to focus. Sunny likes it hot, Stormie likes it cold. Tommy needs to hear it once, Katy needs to see it eight times. The needs are immense, intense, and so varied. One petri dish, a single temperature, and one incubation time cannot serve all bacteria, likewise, one strategy, one expectation, one testing methodology cannot serve all students.
As we continue to evolve education to best-fit 21st Century students, we are really opening up to, and accepting, all this variety. It is exciting to explore new and innovative ways to lessen control while maximizing absorption in students. It brings me great joy when growth in both teachers and students is observed; when needs are met, miraculous growth can occur.