I didn’t grow up with any pets. My dad always said, “We’ll get a dog when we have a barn.” I guess I showed him, because now I have a barn and I’m on my third dog. I also have a horse, chickens and cats. In all honesty, I never imagined this would be my life. Life just put me here. I’m enjoying almost every minute of it. There are some days when it just seems like a little too much. Like this week. What started as a simple water test, turned into the complete collapse of our well. While it’s bad enough to be without water, it’s a whole different story when you have animals. Usually, it takes me about 10 minutes to fill up the water trough for the horses. Without water, I had to dig around for every available bucket, load up the truck, drive over to the neighbors, fill up the buckets, slowly drive back, and move the buckets to a wagon. Then, take one trip to the barn and empty the buckets. Take another trip to the barn and empty the buckets. About 2 hours later, I had completed my chores and had delivered water. I’m pretty sure by that point, the only one that was thirsty, was me.
This whole experience reminded me of a presentation I heard several year ago by Manny Scott. Manny was one of the original Freedom Writers. The Freedom Writers was a name given to a group of students who wrote a book, The Freedom Writers Diary (1), with the guidance of their teacher, Erin Gruwell. This later became the name of a film starring Hilary Swank who played Gruwell, the tough inner-city teacher who made a difference by believing in her students and going the extra mile. Manny Scott shared a powerful story of how Ms. Gruwell changed his trajectory in life and how he used what he learned to build the life of his dreams. He also talked about how good teachers make students thirsty.
He referenced the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” He added, “But you can make them thirsty!” As a horse owner now, I completely understand that statement. My horse typically does not drink a lot of water. I can lead him right too it and he will not take a drink, even though sometimes I know he needs it. So, I put out salt licks to make him thirsty. One or two licks of the salt and he goes right to the water bucket.
It's the same thing with teaching. You can have the best lesson or the most important learning objectives, but if the students aren’t thirsty for the learning, you have nothing. There are many ways to make students thirsty for learning. Usually, teachers try to add excitement or interest to their lessons. You might start with an experiment or reading that presents a different outcome than one they are expecting. Another technique is to do a high interest activity or connect what you are doing with a real-world application. These are both good techniques for adding salt to a lesson and making students thirsty for learning. But one of the best things a teacher or parent can do to make a student thirsty for learning is to focus on the student and the relationship. Looking students in the eye, really listening to what they are saying and trying to understand their perspective, asking for their input and allowing choice in how they learn and showcase their learning are all ways to engage students and make them thirsty for learning.
1 Gruwell, E., & Filipović, Z. (2019). The Freedom Writers Diary: How a teacher and 150 teens used writing to change themselves and the world around them. Broadway Books.