They set a goal of moving their horse to the fence. Clear, specific, and measurable. All the indicators of a solid working objective – and now to work. They had earlier made the discovery that the placement of a halter over the horses head allowed them to exercise some control over the horse’s movement. With a lead rope attached, they headed out as a group to the fence. As the slack in the lead rope played out, their progress quickly came to a stop. They pulled. They tugged. They asked nicely. The horse resolutely stood there, remaining fixed at that spot. He wasn’t going anywhere. Not knowing what else to do, Jim came back and kindly and affectionately brushed the side of the horse’s head. They tried it again. The rest of the team went forward thinking the horse would follow. At his end of the rope, Jim stopped, faced the horse, and pulled. Nothing happened. He went back and once again offered encouraging words while gently brushing the horse’s neck – with no success.
The facilitation team watched this scenario play itself out again and again. Lynn told me how surprised she was. This particular horse, Rebel, was the leader of the herd, but generally cooperative when asked to follow. She finally approached the student team to ask a few questions. What direction are you facing when you are trying to move the horse? What direction do you want to go? Are they the same? What message are you giving the horse when you go back to brush his neck and talk so nicely? after he has refused to go with you? Light bulbs went off. The next time they tried, they all faced the fence, gave Rebel a tug, and off they went. They were so pleased with themselves, they repeated it, each student getting a chance to walk alongside Rebel toward the common goal.
Two ideas became clear as we explored the metaphors. 1) We teach best if we share a clear vision, point the way, and stand alongside our students. With their teacher by their side, students are better able to confidently move forward toward a common goal. 2) We often reinforce the wrong thing and are surprised by the outcome. We need to know the benchmarks our students will traverse on their way toward mastery. Our praise is directed at those points. It is clear, specific, and reinforces the work. Together, with productive feedback, learning happens