As I was driving the other day, I noticed a billboard advertising a school. The largest word on the ad was the word performance. It struck me how much our culture takes for granted that the highest goal of school is performance. For whom are our students performing? Who judges a good or bad performance?
It can be true that even the youngest children in our country spend the majority of their days “performing”. Sometimes they know what they are supposed to perform; most times it’s an amorphous pressure that they spend their days guessing about. Many children simply give up and internalize the story that they aren’t “good” performers and carry that through their lives.
What would school look like if performance were not the focus? We certainly have “performances” at Living Wisdom School – dance and music and drama. However, the focus of our school is relationship based – “education centered in the heart”. In the book I Love You Rituals, Becky Bailey speaks of the power of giving our children unconditional attention. They can get the message that they don’t have to perform (or fail) in order to get our attention, but that simply being who they are is worthy of attention.
When we create a classroom space where students feel accepted just as they are, they feel safe to be their true selves. Curiosity, followed by learning, naturally arises in these circumstances. The motivation to ask questions and learn flows naturally from the inside of children (and from us all!).
In this space of unconditional attention, the teacher’s goal can be to create a safe container in which students could express their true selves, rather than just asking them to perform. The teacher’s goal can be to see and acknowledge students, encourage them to ask questions and to support them as they move to their next step of growth and learning.