Learning from TODAY

One of the great blessings of being a teacher is the opportunity to rest, reflect and recharge during the summer. There is time to build relationships with others and make use of good “theta wave” time to plan for the next school year. There is even enough time for a guilty pleasure or two. One of mine is drinking too much coffee and spending a whole morning enjoying the Today Show every now and then. These days, however, I can hardly watch or listen to anything without putting it through the filter of teaching and learning. Below are three scenes from Today that got me curious and thinking about just how disconnected school life is from real life. Because I’ve also been listening to Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast this summer, I’m channeling that style:

“Akimbo is an ancient word, from the bend in the river or the bend in an archer’s bow. It’s become a symbol for strength, a posture of possibility, the idea that when we stand tall, arms bent, looking right at it, we can make a difference.

[Akimbo is] about seeing what’s happening and choosing to do something. The culture is real, but it can be changed. You can bend it.”

Scene 1: Jordan Spieth Interview

If you don’t know Jordan Spieth, he is a prolific young golfer who has won three majors and been atop the world golf rankings more than once. He’s 24. By all accounts Jordan is a stand-up guy and surrounds himself with an equally grounded “entourage” – his ninth-grade science lab partner, a one-time high school basketball team manager, a junior golf nemesis from Kentucky, his sister who has special needs and his caddie who is uniquely qualified by virtue of his previous stint a sixth grade teacher.


Willie Geist’s interview with Jordan got me thinking about “mastery” – how mastering is not an end game but a continual process of learning. When asked about low moments – “melt downs” – on the course, you get the sense that Jordan is well practiced in reflecting on those single outcomes and as “…part of the learning curve.” He goes on to say that reflection has helped him “get back to that 12 year old who fell in love with the game and getting very mastery driven, very focused on the process and getting lost in the practice and competing.”

To unpack that through the lens of school, what do you think drives Jordan and other people to want to master something so badly?

Jordan hinted at his motivation earlier in the interview when he says he “was brought up by parents who preached humility….setting goals …. and being very focused on having fun.”

Scene 2: Flynn McGarry cooking demo

Flynn McGarry first demoed his cooking skills on the Today Show when he was 13. Today he is 19, and has me writing down ingredients for a delicious looking braised pork lettuce wrap. He did not speak or behave like many 19 year olds I know. I suppose that demeanor is earned when you open your own restaurant in NYC at the age of 19 and can fill it while charging $150+ per plate. Wait, what?? I was eager to learn more of the backstory for this “kid”.

One thing that struck me in the attached video is how Flynn describes his creative process. It is less systematic than other chefs. He describes having ideas about an ingredient or two, then spending a whole day experimenting, making a tremendous mess and “not really figuring out a recipe, but figuring out ‘ok, now it just tastes good.’”

As educators, do we really care about the recipe – the process – or is it more relevant to focus on something that “tastes good” – a well crafted product?

On staying motivated and working hard, Flynn attributes his work ethic to “never really being satisfied with himself” and continually trying to get better. In other words, just as Jordan Spieth described, mastery is not achieved after one or two big successes, but is a drive for continual improvement. Kaizen; if you will.

Does an assessment system that grants an “A” inadvertently communicate a student has “arrived” or mastered something?

Finally, in response to critics, Flynn dispels a false narrative around age and mastery (sorry/not sorry for the expletive in that clip). He describes what we all know to be true; age and ability are not mutually exclusive. According to Flynn, at the end of the day “if the food sucks, the food sucks….I don’t think that is an age thing.”

Can grade levels and mastery coexist? Should it matter when mastery is achieved or simply if it is achieved?

Scene 3: Gifford family quits school

Ten years ago Jamie and Behan Griffin quit their high paying jobs and set sail around the world with their three children. That means that the kids – now 10,16 and19 years old – have missed ten years of formal schooling. Can you imagine?!

Are they literate? Do they have friends? Will they get into college?

The short answers are yes, yes, and yes (the interview is worth a watch for the details). In fact, these kids note missing things like bagels and a washer and dryer more than prom or riding the school bus. The oldest, soon heading to Lewis and Clark College (of course!!), remembers life before the boat which he describes as “routine.” Now he has visited places he had previously only read about in books and “it is hard to describe because [visiting] is so much better.” I’m not advocating for doing away with school altogether – of course not – nor am I advocating for this particular example of a rather extreme vagabond lifestyle. However, it did make me honestly reflect on what experiences within school make it worthwhile.

What is school’s – in the generic sense – unique value proposition if the Gifford family have shown alternate (maybe better) experiences for learning, making friends and still moving on to meaningful lives and careers?

I’m fascinated by the day-to-day life for the Giffords. There is lots of play…LOTS of work (spearfishing, grocery shopping, laundry, boat maintenance, etc), AND a field trip of the day. The kids started off with more structured school curriculum, but that evolved into a more experiential learning based on whichever historical or cultural site was nearby to port that day. How can it be that these kids are learning at a presumably reasonable rate, but with only ONE field trip a day?! Compare that to most school days I know that move in and out of 4,5, or even 6 discrete subjects a day.

What might be that ONE field trip a day that teachers could design/host/embark on that would “match up” or exceed current learning expectations?



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