Feet to the Fire

Part of what makes my Studio classroom unique from many is that I will always contend with students and parents alike that, although guided, there is room for error, exploration, and re-mastery. What makes this possible is a mind set me and colleagues have fondly coined putting our students ‘feet to the fire’. The idea here is that our students will really only learn what it takes to deliver a great product is if you take the time to learn many points of emphasis on their own. By points of emphasis I mean developing a new technology skill or developing better researching skills. The truth is my colleagues and I don’t have all the answers in terms of how to make a certain product or how to even use certain computer apps. (That’s not to say we don’t know how to use many of them, but there are times we want our students to try something new even if we don’t know how it works.) Most students take on these challenges proudly, and it sets in motion a level of motivation you rarely see in lecture-based classrooms; however, like with all parts of life, there are those few who see the challenge and shy away from it for fear of failure. We’ve built up an education system that deems failure as an insurmountable mistake. This is especially true in high school when everything begins to ‘count’. The reality we all know we live in is that mistakes happen, failure in many cases is eminent, but without those failures, we never see the solution.

The fine line between learning from one’s mistakes and being a fool is a thin one, but one that can still be clearly defined. We encourage students to make mistakes, reflect on them, change the pattern of behavior, and move on. Students only become self-depleting vessels of their own self-destruction when they refuse to learn from a mistake and continue a malfuctionary set action. (Yes, I made up the word malfunctionary, but it works and I’m claiming Shakespeare as my inspiration.) Students must make mistakes, sometimes big ones, in order to succeed in our class and by doing so, we hope we are setting them up for greater success well beyond high school.

The caveat to our ‘feet to the fire’ policy is that it can isolate a student quickly. You have to be observant at all times of a student’s struggles; otherwise, you may be faced with a student who never sees anything but frustration and failure. They will feel unsupported and quickly disconnect from the class. We encourage self-advocacy with our students, but it is still my responsibility to notice when a student is struggling and unwilling to admit it.

So what does ‘feet to the fire’ look like for us? Well this year it means generating infographics using summer research while constructing an argumentative essay or even a multimedia timeline that spans from 8,000 BCE to modern day all in a matter of just a few project planning and execution days. (Roughly a week.) Scary, right? Sure, but students have to learn to trust themselves and we have to learn to in turn trust them because we never know what any of us are truly capable of until we set our feet to the fire**.


** – To clarify, I’m a big fan of archetypes. Here think about fire’s ability to destroy, but also bring about renewal and new life.

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