When I got married, my aunt and uncle gave us a Weber kettle grill as a wedding gift. It was new and shiny, and I had absolutely no idea what to do with it other than dump in some charcoal, squeeze on a bottle of charcoal starter and light it up.
This made perfect sense because as a non-adult I had never had reason to pay attention when either of my parents grilled. All I know was to stick chicken directly over high heat and take it off when the outside was charred correctly.
In actuality, that made no sense. Much like putting someone into a classroom without proper training makes no sense. Oh, they know how to unlock the door, and they can mimic the way they were taught in school, but they really don’t know the art of teaching – good or otherwise.
I spent years flailing around, doing my best but not knowing where to turn for help or guidance. All of my known relatives had come of age in the 1960s and 70s where large fire and quick cook resulted in many hockey puck burgers and inedible chickens.
We can hit the fast forward button here, because I spent nearly 20 years making the same BBQ mistakes and not learning from them at all.
One day while teaching my Written Communication class for the umpteenth time, I grew discouraged by the number of students who simply went to the Tires Plus Website and copied instructions for how to change a tire. In my despair, I found inspiration and decided to learn how to do something on my own and outside my comfort zone. I’d learn how to build and use a 55-gallon steel drum smoker – something that would stretch someone who had not taken a shop class since 7th grade.
After weeks of reading and learning, I bought my first barrel, drilled some holes, found some pallets for burnout, and set it all on fire. The result doesn’t look like much, but it was a thing of beauty to me.
And the first thing I ever cooked on the smoker was this:
A bacon-wrapped, pork sausage roll known in the BBQ world as a “fatty.” I though it was the best thing I had ever tasted. My wife did not agree. In hind sight, she was probably right. In my excitement to cook something, I did not wait for the smoker to come to high enough temperature to turn billowing white smoke into thin blue smoke. And so, it probably did taste like an ash tray, but it was an ash tray I made on a smoker I made with my own hands.
I share this lackluster beginning because it fits nicely with education on several fronts:
- If I wanted my students to stop copying directions for the web, I had to show them a different way. Plus, once I learned how to make better food, I actually brought the smoker into school and gave a hands-on demonstration and fed them.
- If I wanted my students to take risks and actually learn, I had to take a risk and actually learn.
- And – maybe most importantly – I learned the importance of failure. After that first, terrible dish, I gradually got better. I think I only made one other item that tasted too much of acrid smoke. Caught in that area of “flow” in learning, I did not have enough skill – but I wanted that skill – so I kept learning. This hands-on experience helped me to truly understand Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.
My next post will show you some meals I made, places where I learned and how that learning impacted me as a cook, learner, and educator.
Reflection: Until next time, what is something you learned that was completely outside your comfort zone or skill set, and how did that experience help you as a learner, educator, and/or leader?