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How to Encourage BIG THINKING in the Classroom

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Are you an educator who encourages big thinking in the classroom?  If not, but you have an interest in learning how to encourage big thinking in the classroom, then you’ve stumbled on to the correct post.  I am writing this post because I have a conviction that our youth is in serious need of more exposure to higher order perspectives and out-of-the-box big thinking. My conviction stems from individual experiences I had with teaching, in addition to observations made while working closely with my wife who was a full-time teacher.

The Rarity of Students Being Challenged to Dream

Reflecting back on my primary and secondary school days, which was years and years ago, I could not recall a time when an educator challenged me to think big.  Yes, there were times when my teachers recommended that I look at the “big picture”, but I was never encouraged to imagine the possibilities of my being able to do something great.  I never had a teacher stand before the class and ask, “what are some extraordinary things you would like to achieve in this life, for this country, or for the world?”   The guidance received on our future seemed to never go beyond the popular career options of the day that one should aspire to.  Nor did they ever convey how what we were learning in class could/would help us someday do something wonderfully unimaginable.

Years ago, I also had the rare opportunity to work closely with my wife at a K-8 school in Arizona.  My wife was a teacher and I was a substitute teacher testing the educational waters at the time.  During this brief experience, I observed by and large a complete lack of encouragement by educators to inspire big thinking, possibility thinking.  Perhaps this wasn’t happening because it was not important for meeting the school district’s educational goals, and by extension,  it was not important to the teachers at this school. I am not sure what it was, but what I do know is this, students were rarely being challenged to dream big.  The order of the day was to stay on track with the curriculum at all costs, keep students as docile as possible so as to not over-excite them, and to keep away from any major deviations from the teaching of the primary lessons.

I am not implying that the lack of encouragement I experienced in my youth, and what I observed later from the standpoint of an educator, is something that is occurring everywhere; however, I would contend that it is happening at one too many schools across the country.

Students are Not a Cog in the Wheel

Granted, it is important for students to receive a sound education where all of the core subjects are mastered in preparation for college.  I also believe students need a sound education in preparation for their inevitable entry into the workforce, and so they can become good, socialized citizens capable of positive contributions to the community.  But, I don’t think that this is where education has to stop.  Education can be so much more.  If education is in its strictest sense, a form of learning in which the knowledge and skills of a society are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, doesn’t it seem important to ensure that all students are being exposed to ideas and ways of thinking that don’t just limit them to being another “cog in the wheel” of our societal system?

What You Teach in the Classroom Matters

I believe the purpose of education is to prepare students to be resourceful, self-reliant, strong contributing members of society, in addition to conscious creators of it.  I am not convinced that students are graduating from high school with this type perspective of themselves. If students aren’t being challenged to think big, then we can expect their futures to be anything but.  Similarly, the less we encourage students to think big, the more we end up limiting our collective possibilities as a society.  Positive societal changes, life changing inventions, and creative works of art all come from big ideas, and big ideas come from big thinking.  Teachers, you have the power to ensure big thinking is encouraged in your classroom, and the influence to inspire your students to become perpetual big thinkers long after graduation.  Obvious, but always worth repeating, this means, that what you do in the classroom with your students, truly matters to the world.  I am not one to quote a movie to make a point, but there is a great quote that I think would be more than okay to use and adapt, as it most certainly applies to educators yesterday, today, and in the future.   “What we do in [the classroom] echoes across eternity” – Maximus, Gladiator.  I believe it’s true, so should you.

Four Effective Ways to Encourage BIG THINKING in Class

As an educator who is interested in inspiring the next Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, or Oprah Winfrey, here are a few great ideas to help you get started towards encouraging your students to think big.

1) Get interactive.  One video I highly recommend teachers watch and then take a few minutes to share with their students, is called Paper Airplanes.  Many others videos like this one can be found here on Simpletruths.com.  Why not show one of these videos every couple of days to your class.  They only take a few minutes but can really get your students thinking differently.  After watching the video, have a quick Q&A session to ensure the correct message was received and to ensure the students are truly thinking and considering the topic of the video.

2) Get real. Provide as many real life examples of people(old and contemporary alike) who started with nothing but a lofty goal, and through perseverance,  dedication, hard work, and a belief that it could be done, achieved it.  Finding and relating one real world role model/achiever per week is a great place to start.  Apex Striving offers a free resource that provides such examples along with journal prompts, to really get students to create the habit of thinking big.

3) Get in their heads.  Put posters up in and around your classroom with words, slogans, and short stories that encourage excellence and inspire possibility thinking.   Having these types of posters up is one of the best ways to implant strong ideas and principles into their heads.  It is such a phenomenal way to passively remind your students that they can do big things, and a great place to get some of these posters is from Successories.com.

4) Get personal.  Make the time to have a few one-on-one’s with your students.  Use this one-on-one time you created with your students to ask them to share their dreams with you.  If the student is open with you, you can encourage their dream, and you can also take it a step further, by finding and conveying any real life samples of people who have done what they are trying to do, so as to instill  in them a belief  in the real possibility of their big ideas coming to pass.

Here you have it, four effective ways to encourage big thinking in the classroom.  Do you have any suggestions on how to encourage big thinking in the classroom?

by Nathan Lee

Nathan holds an MBA, has blogged on entrepreneurship, leadership, and business for the past decade, has served in a leadership role for one of the largest Non-Profit Organizations within the Financial Education Industry, and has a sincere passion for education and inspiring potential.

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