A Thought on Perspective – The Fish Tank

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I sat there watching the fish swim in place, barely noticing Augustine’s excited screams.  Amazing that a 19th month old toddler pointing, yelling, and even wanting so badly to hit the glass did not shake the fish.  They barely moved.  And Augustine stood in total awe, oblivious to the world around her.

The fish seemed content.  They had clean water, a few rocks, a few fish friends and obviously enough to eat.  And yet, they were clearly too large for their tank.  There was nowhere to hide, no trees except for the fake ones painted on the back wall.  No places to go except hovering right in the middle staring out at a retirement homes’ front entrance.  A completely average life for most goldfish I presume.

What if our classrooms are much like that fish tank?

What if that is how we teach out students?

What if we give them enough to just thrive, to be complacent, to be just fine?  What if we provide our students with just the necessities in our curriculum and care?  We will surely see them grow.  They will not wither away.  But will we notice when they become too large for our tanks?  When they long for more than the artificial experiences we are providing for them?  Will we notice when their dreams outgrow the space that we share, the needs we fulfill?  And not only will we notice, but what will we do with that knowledge?  What will we do to tear down a wall?  Give them the world so that the very tanks we keep them in don’t set them on a path toward creativity suffocation?

Sometimes I think that I am doing a just fine job, and I don’t take the time to step away from our room, from the tank to speak, and look at it from an outsiders perspective.  It is hard to do when you are the caretaker of a classroom community because you think that you are doing everything you should be doing.  Yet the dreams of our students are sometimes so big that we have to unleash them on the world, because if we don’t the dreams will die.  We have to be able to create spaces where our students can continue to thrive, not just survive, not just hovering in the middle of the only space they have.

What of our students don’t know that there is more to the world than what we offer them?  Then how can we ever expect them to want to change the world?

Who ever thought a too large goldfish would remind me of that?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.  

3 thoughts on “A Thought on Perspective – The Fish Tank

  1. Great post. I learned this as well. I started allowing students more ownership opportunities to the point that they then ran my classroom. It was the best decision I ever made. Allowing them to showcase their talents and interests will ensure they achieve those big dreams. Thanks for sharing the visual of the fish tank- I will always remember this principle now!

  2. The fish tank metaphor is a powerful one here as is the question, “Will we notice if the fish become too big for the tank?” Providing alternatives for students who need a greater challenge is just as important as providing scaffolding to students who need more support. I often see my daughter who is capable of so much, being asked to wait for the rest of the class (only on Chapter 5) to catch up before she can move on to read the rest of a book. She is not being given choices to demonstrate her learning that excite her or challenge her. What would it take for a teacher to find five other books that have a similar theme and suggest them as alternatives or encourage her to create a book talk while the rest of the class catches up? I’ve seen her play the game of school and swim in circles around the tank for far too long and I wonder at what point will she get “ick” and stop thriving. Thank you for the reminder that the world is so much more open to our students today and we really need to offer it to them and for a very powerful metaphor.

  3. Deep thoughts… As a gifted teacher, I hope that I can give my students more than they are getting in the general education classroom. This is a good metaphor for me to keep in mind. I always enjoy your posts.

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