"Hey Chris, want a boat?' asked my brother-in-law Joe. "Now that I closed on my house in Maine I don't need it any more. Would you like to use it for the summer and see what you think?"
Living on a lake usually means you get a boat, but my idea of boating is a quiet ride on a kayak. I really never saw myself owning a boat... with a motor... that needs gas... that requires maintenance...that means $$$. So when Joe asked me to take his boat I certainly had a lot to think about.
With the gentle encouragement of my kids I decided to try it out for the summer. Last weekend Joe took me out for a spin on the lake and to get my first lesson. He spoke about watching the trim, taking care not to cover the vents from the fumes of the out-board motor, and making sure that I turn on the fan prior to starting the engine. He shared that I might have to add another cleat to the dock and that on sunny or even rainy days I could put up the Bimini top. Many of these words I had heard before but not in terms of marine craft. It was like he was speaking a new language to me. I just smiled and went along for the ride.
When I got off the boat I realized that I had so much to learn. While my kids were calling me Captain Bebe (my name for grandma) I judged I was Captain Flounder, struggling to take it all in and beginning to feel overwhelmed. It took some effort on my part not to drown (pun intended) in all the new information but rather remember that I needed to slow down and take the learning step by step. I take consolation in knowing that I am fortunate to have so many people around me that can teach me the ropes and I need to look to them to gently guide me to success because I can't do it on my own. All of this new information required me to be patient and allow myself some scheduled time to practice with my teachers at the ready. I can't do this on my own, I need the help of the experienced boaters by my side until I have mastered driving the boat, or at least feel confident enough to have a go at it on my own. I am not there yet by any means, but I am charting the course with the help of my great teaching friends.
I couldn't help but think of the parallels to my students and how they learn. I wonder: Do I sound as if I am talking in another language when I am teaching a new skill or strategy? Do I drown them in vocabulary? Do I leave them to sink or swim? Do I patiently let go or hang on too tight? My experience learning to drive a boat reminded me that I will be more cautious when I release the independence over to my students. I think about the need for more check-ins, either through observations or questioning to ensure that they are ready to take the next steps. I need to make sure I explain the new strategies and skills in a way that makes sense to them, and break down the steps into manageable pieces so as not to overwhelm them. All this while carefully thinking about the balance of letting the students do the work so they can experience the success and not me.
Like me, most children want to feel successful. They want to speed through the waters and reach their goal. Sometimes this will take some hand holding and small steps and other times our students will simply take off quickly and surprise us all. Each of us are individuals with differing needs and backgrounds. Knowing those needs is part of the challenge of teaching. For me, when it comes to boating it will be slow and steady wins the race!