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Principal's Corner

How Do We Inspire Students to Learn?

How do we inspire students to learn? That is an ancient question in education. Many teachers will respond and say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!” Others may claim students must find their inspiration from within – that a desire to learn is innate and cannot be taught. I would like to propose that those who say that are wrong.

Chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam, in his TedTalk entitled 3 Rules to Spark Learning, indicates that inspiration can germinate under the appropriate conditions. Like bacteria in a Petri dish, I believe that students’ desire for learning can grow and blossom if given the right conditions.

What are those conditions? What are those three principles that spark learning? They are the freedom to be curious, the safety to make mistakes, and the time to reflect.

Musallam states, “Curiosity drives us to ask hard questions.” If we never ask hard questions, we are never inspired to seek out answers. We are then resigned to live a passive life, floating along the sea of life like nothing more than a piece of algae. But if we notice the world around us, ask the hard questions, it is then that we strengthen our desire and resolve to know. And we enable ourselves to swim upstream if need be.

Next, Musallam challenges us to “embrace the messy process of trial and error.” It is said that it took Thomas Edison thousands of tries before he finally found a way to make the light bulb shine. When asked he responded with a statement similar to this, “I haven’t failed 763 times. I have merely found 763 things that did not work!” Oh, that we would embrace such a mindset! Failure is not the end! Mistakes don’t define us! Error is merely the indicator that we are on the path! We are going somewhere! If we make a wrong turn, we merely need to turn around and take another turn. Will it be messy? Yes. Will it be time consuming? Yes. But will it be worth it? Absolutely!

Finally, Musallam encourages us to take time to reflect. His idea was that reflection helps us gather information that is necessary to design and revise a plan for success. Think of it like this. If a bird flies into a closed window, it will hit its head on the glass. Without reflection, the bird would continue to fly into the window – never learning that the seemingly invisible glass is an obstacle. But the bat, on the other hand, uses reflective sound to discover obstacles. The bat “learns” to avoid potential hazards because it is equipped with the ability to reflect sound. We, too, are equipped with the ability of reflection. If we continue to make the same mistakes and do not take time to reflect on the process, we are no better off than that poor bird. But if we will take time to reflect, learn from our mistakes, we will indeed find a way around or through or over our challenges and continue on until we accomplish our goals.

I encourage our teachers at CCMS to foster such places in our classrooms. I encourage our parents to foster such environments in you homes. It is my sincerest hope that our students, wherever they are, will find themselves in a place that fosters curiosity, that is safe to make mistakes, and that offers a time for reflection. It is then that we will see our children truly learn.

For the full TedTalk from Ramsey Musallam, visit: