Last week, my husband and I took our two children to see the “Lego Movie.” I can’t praise the movie enough. It was funny for the whole family, clean, very entertaining and it had some great messages. Believe in yourself (and your students); everyone is special; there’s a time to follow the rules and a time to break them.
As I was talking to my Principal, James Cowper, this past Friday about the movie, he told me he was writing a blog post about the movie from a principal's point of view and invited me to write one from a Teacher’s point of view. This blog post could have gone many ways with this movie and as my husband Eric, and I brainstormed all of the themes this movie had that were symbolic to the teaching profession we settled on the following.
In the Lego Movie, there were 3 distinct levels of hierarchy:
|Image from Lego.com|
I believe that the “Man Upstairs” in a building definitely sets the tone of a school and can make or break a staff. Is your principal like Lord Business, where he or she has to be in complete control? Does it need to be their way or the highway? If you push the boundaries will you be Kraglized?
On the other end of the spectrum is “Vitruvius.” In the movie, he is the heroic wizard. He tries to teach Emmet, the main character, that the key to true building is to believe in yourself and follow your own set of instructions inside of your head.
A great leader needs to value the uniqueness of each individual on his staff. A great principal realizes that “everything is awesome when we work as a team” and that everyone on staff can rise up to be a leader. School leaders also need to play an active role in planning and supporting instruction instead of demanding how it needs to look like and sound like. Most of all, great principals need to lead by example.
|Image from Lego.com|
I see these “Micro Managers” as teachers. On the one end of the continuum, you have teachers that micro manage their classrooms and students. These Micro Managers offer no choice, engagement or creativity. The teacher “manual” is the “Bible” and they don’t deviate from it. There are only lectures, worksheets and textbooks to deliver curriculum, and paper- pencil tests to measure student achievement. This is an environment where students do not value the tasks and the only form of feedback is a grade on the top of a paper.
On the other end of the continuum is when teachers are like “Wyldstyle.” Wyldstyle is a free spirit who loves pushing boundaries and being creative. She has a strong, independent streak that makes her question when things are wrong and makes the main character, “Emmet” feel special. She is the encouragement Emmet needs to give him the confidence to stand up to Lord Business.
Innovative teachers are constantly pushing the boundaries in their classrooms; they are creative in their thinking and approach. Great teachers know their students, build trusted relationships with them, and create an environment where their students feel comfortable to take risks. Great teachers are not micro managers; they embrace student curiosity and empower their students to learn about topics that are important to them through inquiry. They also give students choice on how they show and share their learning to the audience of their choice.
|Image from Lego.com|
The “Master Builders” are our children. When children come to us beginning in Kindergarten, they are full of questions, curiosity and excitement. They have the attitude that they can do and be anything that they want. Just ask a kindergarten student what they want to be when they grow up.
We can foster this attitude, by encouraging personal interests through inquiry, letting students follow their passions and teaching them collaboration skills. This way, they can have positive working relationships with their classmates, their community and the world through face to face interactions and through social media. As educators we have a choice to make every child feel that they are the most special person in the world. Or we can stifle them, with rigid routines, boring lessons and isolation from working with others. We can have quiet, neat classrooms that produce robot like children that cannot create any original ideas and cannot think independently.
At the end of the movie, Emmet convinces Lord Business that creativity is not messy or weird, and that it is okay for people to build brand-new ideas from all the things Business himself had made, which makes him special, too.
Hopefully you are part of a school on the winning side of the Lego Continuum. If not, take a stand. It's time for a change at your school. You ARE the “Special One.”
If you would like to see James Cowper's take on the Lego Movie, read it here.