What a dragon taught me about learning

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Have you ever struggled to unleash learning for the people you work with?  If so, I’m going to suggest you find a symbol or theme to help you.

For many years I had been working to find ways to “teach” my students how to navigate the challenges they faced.  I lectured on it.  I brought in guest speakers.  I spoke to students individually to support them when times were tough.

None of it really seemed to work.

One year, instead of repeating my previous strategies, I used “The Hero’s Journey“, the path that s/heroes take to reach success, as a theme for our classroom that year.

Part of that journey involves facing our dragons, the things in our life that scare us, we need to overcome, or we need to face in new ways.

I believed that by placing my learners inside the story of The Hero’s Journey, learning would be unleashed in richer and inspiring ways.

I knew this approach was working when a student came to me during a break.  Without me asking, she began to complain about a teacher. She gave me examples of why this teacher was a problem and why she didn’t like her very much.


Without saying a word, a look came over her face, as if she had heard her own complaints and proclaimed:

“Oh, it’s the dragon I need to face.”

She walked out of our classroom, never complaining about that teacher again.

This experience was pivotal as it reminded me:

That using themes, symbols and stories is a powerful way to help unleash learning. 

Looking back, my students might not have remembered everything we covered, but many of them remembered the dragon, and that made all the difference.

What does this mean for you?

1.  Put your learners inside of a story:  Use a theme or story as a focal point of a term, semester, learning initiative, or community outreach efforts that you are working to convey.

2.  Find your theme:  Use a theme or symbol that meaningfully captures the main ideas of your lesson and use it often. The dragon helped convey an important idea.  Consider the ideas you are working to convey and find a symbol, them or story to represent it.

3.  Let your theme work for you:  Replace PowerPoint slides filled with bullet points with a picture or symbol that captures the meaning of the information. Surround your learners with these pictures and symbols.

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A question for you...

What is your one favorite learning strategy that helps unleash learning for everyone?  Please share your wisdom below.

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