Sunday, November 26, 2017

Information Without Emotion Is Rarely Retained

In 1993, famed college basketball coach Jim Valvano gave an inspiring and hopeful message at the ESPY awards. Valvano was fighting terminal cancer that would soon cut short his remarkable life. I occasionally watch the speech over again. It reminds me of what's most important.

During his passionate speech, Valvano helped put everything in perspective:
"If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. And if you do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."
I invite you to take a few seconds to listen to Jimmy V speak these words in the video below.

So how can this apply to what we do as educators? Well, I think a great day at school includes the same things. We should laugh, we should certainly think, and we should also cry. 

I'm guessing that crying is harder for most of us to think about. We tend to think of some emotions as good or bad. We tend to hide those emotions that are sad or might be considered weak.

But emotions are an important way for us to connect. It's how we better understand ourselves and others. Emotions help us to reach the heart and not just the mind.

We know that stories are powerful for learning. I think that's because of how stories connect to emotions. You can talk about ideas all day, and I might be interested and even learn something. But if you connect those ideas with a story, and you touch my emotions, I may never forget what I've learned.

I remember one day years ago I was teaching freshmen English. It was one of those days when for whatever reason, I had a class period that was ahead of the others, and I needed to fill some time.

I decided to read a short story, The Scarlet Ibis, to the class. It was the first time I'd ever read the story myself, so I didn't know exactly what to expect.

But as I read, I was drawn into the story in a powerful way. No doubt the class could sense my quivering voice, my efforts to fight back tears, and my unsettled body language. As they saw how the story was connecting with my heart, they too were drawn in. You could've heard a pin drop.

The story is about two brothers. The younger brother is born with health problems, and he was never able to keep up with his athletic older brother. At times, the older brother is cruel and ashamed of his handicapped sibling. At one point, he even thinks of smothering the little brother with a pillow.

But he also demonstrates his love for him. He nicknames the younger brother Doodle and decides to teach him the things he will need to be ready for school, how to run, swim, climb trees, and fight. You know, the important stuff.

But the Saturday before school starts, the older brother pushes Doodle to physical exhaustion while rowing a boat. And then a storm blows in suddenly. The older brother runs ahead angry with Doodle for not keeping up so they can get out of the rain.

But when the older brother's anger calms, he notices Doodle is missing. He goes looking for him and finds him curled up under a bush with his head on his knees. He is bleeding from his mouth. He is dead.

It's a tragic ending.

I remember talking with the class about how the two boys reminded me of my own sons. Both of my boys are perfectly healthy. But there was something about the way the brothers interacted that reminded me of my own sons.

I also remember talking to them about empathy and cruelty. How most of us have it in us to be cruel. How we can fail to understand what someone else is going through. How selfish we can be.

I know without a doubt, even many years later, during that class period, there was laughter, there was thinking, and there were definitely tears. I think every student in the class felt something special that day.

So what does a perfect day in the classroom look like? 100% mastery of the objective for the day?

For me, I think a great day is when students are learning the objective, and the learning is also connecting with the heart. I'm not sure who said it, but I believe it's true, "Information without emotion is rarely retained." The lessons that stay with us the longest connect to our emotions.

Are you teaching with heart? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook

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