Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Meeting of the Minds

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In Chapter 1 of Understanding Youth, Michael Nakkula and Eric Toshalis argue that adolescents are in a constant state of “constructing their lives”(5) and “creating development itself”(5).  While the authors ultimately feel that an adolescent’s development is solely based on his/her own interpretations of the world, they also acknowledge that the adults in these adolescents lives “may have an enormous impact on those interpretations”(5).  Therefore, as teachers, we certainly don’t construct an adolescent’s development, but we do play a large role in developing the “theme of education”(5) which is essential to teens’ developing life stories.  

As I was reading Chapter 1, the phrase “Meeting of the Minds” really stuck in my head.  Nakkula and Toshalis believe that, “there must be a meeting of the minds if educators are to play an influential role in the development of their adolescent students.  This meeting can occur around formal academic content as well as less formal social interactions”(8).  We must, as educators, attempt to read the minds of our students in order to be able to connect with them and “meaningfully coauthor students’ educational self-stories”(9). This struck me as weird.  How would I ever be able to read a student’s mind?  I’m not a clairvoyant!  But then I really started thinking about the concept.  OK...I can try to figure out what’s going on in the minds of my students, and, yes, I might be wrong...but without the attempt, I will have no chance of learning how my students think and share my own thinking with them.  So, thank you Mr. Nakkula and Mr. Toshalis.  I’m certainly going to give this Meeting of the Minds a try because the the authors (and I agree) contend that my teaching is high stakes, but not in the traditional way we think about the term.  It is high stakes in terms of my relationship with my students.  Nakkula and Toshalis write, “To promote the development of one’s students and safeguard the development of one’s own craft as an educator demands that we stay connected to the ways in which adolescents are interpreting and constructing their lives, and, in turn, ours”(15).  Wow...sort of heavy stuff...this teaching thing is a lot of responsibility!

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William Ayers talks about the difference between good and great teachers.  He uses the analogy of actors to showcase these differences, and he contends that great acting (and great teaching) can be explained by three principles: 1.) Engagement, Interacting, and Drawing Energy 2.) Learning a part anew each time and 3.) Finding Authenticity (Ayers 96).  I think that Ayers, Nakkula and Toshalis would all be on the same page with this idea of teacher greatness, and I suggest that Ayers also feels that greatness has something to do with self-awareness and the ability of great teachers to be aware of their own educational self-stories (Nakkula and Toshalis 9).  Ayers alludes to this similar perspective: “Greatness in teaching, too, requires a serious encounter with autobiography.  Who are you?  How did you come to take on your views and outlooks?  What was it like for you to be 6?  Where are you heading?  Of all the knowledge teachers need to draw on, self-knowledge is most important”(97).  So...yes...understanding ourselves as human beings is crucial to getting to know and understand the unique complex human beings sitting in our classrooms each and every day.  And if we are more aware of ourselves, maybe we will be better at knowing our students and maybe, just maybe we will be able to advance to a Meeting of the Minds with them.

Something just reminded me of this song as I was writing...One of my favorites and I think fitting :-)


  1. Melissa, I love the way you connected the Nakkula and Toshalis's "meeting of the minds" and Ayers ideas about the importance of teachers' self-knowledge. I feel like students' own self-knowledge is important in this too. Just as we need to know ourselves, they need to be aware of their own self-story too. When we provide opportunities for students to reflect on their own life experiences (which we get to do a lot as English teachers especially!) they are authoring their life story and deciding which pieces "become internal guideposts for ongoing decisionmaking, everyday behavior, and self-understanding" (5). They need to know that they have control over that narrative. The key to reaching a goal or enacting change in one's own life is to know that you are the one in charge of your story. Without this awareness, others are controlling what you do and who you become - which is a dangerous and disappointing way to live. As Quinn said at the commencement, "You can change your life and together we can change the world!" (122).

  2. Yes to all of the above, Melissa (and Brittany)! I really appreciate the way you unpacked this "meeting of the minds" here, and related it to both self-knowledge and knowledge of our students. Out of the three principles of great acting (and great teaching), I think the third one is the most powerful...our students know when we are being authentic, and that's when we provide them opportunities to connect with us and grow and look inside themselves as learners and as people.

  3. Melissa,
    I like that you focused on the Nakkula reading first. I think in doing so, you supported the Ayers piece that much more. I too found this week's reading "heavy stuff" and the idea of reciprocal co-authoring to be seriously grounding. We are not just influencing students, they are influencing us, and they are the proof in the work that we do. These ideas certainly add a component of working more to get to know each other much more purposefully. If we don't stay connected, we lose our cultural capital, something Ms. Peterson is dangerously close to with Antwon. What is scary is how quickly that one student can influence others, as often times cultural capital becomes shared memory, and before you know it, you feel disconnected to the majority of the student population. That is why we need to keep pushing ourselves out of our own comfort zones, and stay connected, especially when it is difficult. I feel these lessons seeping into my classroom even now, and I kind of like it...