Happy Birthday, Baby O.

Watching our son Andrew’s developmental process has been fascinating!! Often I join in and play along on our living room floor; sometimes I just sit with him and observe. Lately I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons that our happy, healthy 11-month old boy can teach my high school students and me. And so, in honor of Andrew’s FIRST birthday, following are a few observations from our afternoons together:

1. Be Relentless. I’ve watched Andrew work toward several developmental milestones in his first year: rolling over, crawling, and standing up. At the moment, he’s working to hold a spoon and feed himself and find his balance to walk. For each, I’ve watched Andrew struggle and fail… for weeks and even months. At times it’s difficult for me to escape making comparisons to so many of my students: I would LOVE to see students engage more often in a similar sort of long-term struggle to reach important goals. Andrew’s response to adversity is humbling for me, too: he keeps trying over and over and over again. What an extraordinary example of perseverance; it’s the sort of effort that is a prerequisite for greatness!

And also, as I watched Andrew struggle to roll over, I could see “the answer”: just scoop him up and flip him over to his tummy. I have to check myself, step back, and allow him to work through each step his inquiry process. I’ve got to resist the urge to “help” students in similar ways – redirecting students is easier when I think about my experiences with Andrew. I won’t be doing my son or my students a service in the long run if I enable skipping steps in the learning process by doing things for them that they must learn to do themselves… even though observing the pain of their struggles is hard!

2. Identify (and resist!) the “fake cry.” Lately my wife and I have noticed that Andrew cries sometimes when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it: he’ll lift his arms and cry to be picked up, for example. What’s curious is that this type of cry has a different sound – we’ve begun to identify it as the “fake cry” and try to resist our parental urge to soothe him until he quiets himself. To some extent, the “fake cry” has become part of Andrew’s mealtime routine. He want to eat right now; we want to encourage him to begin feeding himself: tilt his bottle/cup, hold his spoon, pick up pieces of food and pop them in his mouth. In the short run, this approach takes longer, and it’s messy. In the long run, I’m convinced it’s best for our son.

I’m beginning to identify some students’ complaints as a version of the “fake cry” – when we challenge students to think critically, collaborate purposefully, and create meaningfully, they sometimes respond with a “fake cry” that says ‘feed me’ now. I think I’ve learned from Andrew that this “fake cry” is a perfectly normal initial response. Our challenge as teachers is to RESIST spoon-feeding our students – even though it’s quick and easy; instead, we have to see the value in striving for something more over the long haul –  put the pieces of banana on the table and encourage students to reach a little further than they thought they could. In the long-run, they’ll appreciate having learned to feed themselves!

3. Encourage Curiosity. One of Andrew’s most endearing traits is that he’s mischievous – it’s been a race in our house to baby-proof each room before he discovers all the possibilities in it. He loves to open cabinets and drawers, pull books and magazines off their shelves, and pull up to windows and look out. I enjoy observing and encouraging his curiosity!!  As I think about the on-going process of professional growth in my teaching practice, one of my major challenges is to develop curriculum and pedagogical approaches that stimulate my students’ curiosity, too.

4. My son has been engaged in authentic, problem-based learning (learning to roll over, to crawl, to stand, to feed himself) throughout his first year. As his teacher, I’ve been encouraging his curiosity, allowing him the freedom to fail – safely – and learn from his mistakes, directing his inquiry, and choosing to prioritize the “messy” long-run over the temptation to quickly and cleanly ‘solve’ problems for him.

Happy Birthday, Andrew.

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About Dr. Ostroff

Head of Upper School at The Emery/Weiner School in Houston, TX
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