Sunday, July 28, 2013

Use What You Have, Take What You're Given

My son, now 19, has been studying martial arts since he was in middle school and I have learned a great deal about teaching and learning while observing his TaeKwondo, Aikido and Eskrima classes over the years. One of the best takeaways, thus far, is something Guru Edie (Eskrima: weapons-based fighting of the Philippines) says: "Use what you have, take what you're given." That motto encapsulates ideas and practices that form my own philosophy on teaching, learning and serving which had, until recently, been somewhat amorphous.

Use What You Have
For Guru Edie, "use what you have" means you use everything at your disposal when facing an opponent. Her students call upon every bit of knowledge, skill, and experience, as well as any weapons that may be handy. Parallels can be found in education:
  • Knowledge: As educators, college preparatory programs give us our start but we don't stop there. There are so many opportunities to learn - formally and informally, in person and online, individually and in community with others. Two of the things I love best about EdTechies are their love of learning and their penchant for sharing what they know with others.
  • Skill: Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. Skill will grow but it takes time and we must be intentional about developing the skills we desire.
  • Experience: During Eskrima instruction, my son is encouraged to call on his experience in other martial arts. As educators, we are more than "just" music teachers, science teachers, 3rd grade teachers, or coaches, and we have a wealth of experience - inside and outside the classroom - to help us meet challenges.
  • Weapons: Yes, I know we can't call them weapons. Let's just say "tools". With the Internet at our fingertips, the challenge is not so much finding tools, but finding the best tool for the job. One of my favorite resources for tech tools is Richard Byrne's freetech4teachers.
Take What You're Given
For Guru Edie, "take what you're given" means you quickly, but thoughtfully, analyze what you see coming your way so that you can use those strategies, techniques, and tools that will be most effective. In Eskrima, timely analysis of your opponent and sparring environment means you decrease the chances of getting hit with a really big stick. While it's not quite so cut-and-dried in education, a clear understanding of ever-changing student needs (take what you're given) will compound the positive impact of the knowledge, skill, experience, and tools (use what you have) we have to offer our students.

So why spend time writing about things we, as educators, know already? When I put ideas into words, it helps keep those ideas fresh in my mind. Also, putting big ideas into small packages - like "use what you have, take what you're given" - means that I have an easy-to-remember way to keep those ideas in the forefront of my mind when details of day-to-day instruction threaten to overwhelm. Thank you, Guru Edie, for helping give shape to my thoughts.

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