In his book, “The Little Book of Leadership,” sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer says leaders embrace change. “Change is certain. Followers tend to resist change. It is the mark of a leader to embrace change and take advantage of the opportunity it presents” (p.68).

Education is all about change. When a student walks out of a classroom (or away from their computer today), if their mind hasn’t been touched by some new information, a new insight, or a moment of what I like to call “epiphanicity” (aka, the “aha” moment), then the student has wasted his or her time there. Why? Not because “that’s the way students are today,” as I’ve heard some teachers say, but perhaps because they simply weren’t paying attention, or weren’t engaged in the learning experience. The process of learning is predicated upon the assumption that something within the learner’s mindset will be changed. Today, if the teacher also learns something new, that’s a good thing too, since we should all be life-long learners, where the educational experience (and not just the classroom) becomes a learning environment for all involved – students, teachers, administrators, and parents of current as well as future students.

Good…no, excellent…teachers set ambitious goals for their students, because teachers are leaders with passion. However, when they’re evaluated by the progress their students have made, that’s where the education system begins to break down.

Everyone is different, and therefore everyone learns differently. Everyone has their own preferred learning style, just as teachers have their preferred teaching style. A teacher can prepare a lesson based on the different learning styles that exist in their audience, and assess the learning in a way where each learner can demonstrate his or her learning appropriately to the individual’s maximum potential…but they need time and space to do it.  It seems we don’t want that, since we as a society crave instantaneous results.

Enter standardized testing.

The sad reality is that successful standardized testing means that everyone gets a “C.”  It establishes a benchmark, or a common denominator (dare I say, “Common Core?”) of the minimally acceptable standard of achievement. “Excellence” and “Minimally Acceptable Standard” are mutually exclusive terms, creating non-intersecting sets.

What standardized testing and common core curriculum fail to realize is that the excellent teacher is also planting the seeds of knowledge, and who knows when they’ll sprout. The key is getting children to WANT to learn. It’s been said that conation is the fourth learning domain. Conation is actually an emergent property of the other three learning domains (cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic) working systemically, and is a priori to significant achievement.  Thinking, feeling, and doing combine into a holistic domain that creates the “want” – and not just “need” – to learn.

Too many times, students ask the question, “Why do I have to know this?” Too many times, the answer is, “You need to know this because it will be on the test.” “Need” is a “logically weighted” response. Common Core Curriculum forces the question even further into the cognitive realm of “expectation.” Note the 5-point “logical-emotional scale” I developed in 2010. The descriptors to the left of the scale indicate cognitive, logical, or left-brain, attributes, while the descriptors to the right of the scale indicate affective, emotional, or right-brain, attributes:

Expectation – Need – Want – Desire – Passion

Since the Conative learning domain sits at the intersection of three elements, it meets two of them at their midpoint, which is “Want.”  Learners must “want” to learn, and its only by taking individual interest in each learner that a teacher can be excellent at their job.  Successful leaders in business must do the same thing today with their employees.  It was always assumed that a raise or a bonus would motivate an employee to do a “better” job, whereas business always tied raises and bonuses to evaluations.  Therefore, such compensation is viewed as a “reward” rather than as an “incentive.”  Incentives are individually focused, and what constitutes a meaningful incentive for one employee may not be an incentive for another.  Excellent teachers know this.  How?  Their students talk about them as mentors, influencers, motivators, and “favorite teachers.”

By focusing on what makes a student “want” to learn, a teacher doesn’t have to worry about minimum benchmarks – they’re way beyond those already.  Their students will look to them to lead, rather than just teach.  After all, today’s students “want” a teacher to lead them, since, particularly at this point in history, as we have experienced this year, they have the opportunity to learn by simply connecting their computer or tablet to the Internet.  An excellent mentor?  Now that’s an invaluable experience.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2021