The Game of School vs. The Game of Life

By AJ Juliani, 38 comments

Quote from A.J. Juliani in Learning By Choice

My daughter is in 2nd grade. She loves learning (seriously, she comes home every day excited about Flat Stanley, moving to multiplication, a piece of art she made, or something she learned while in school). Her teacher is fantastic, and I hope in some miracle world she gets to teach my daughter again in 3rd grade. She has a great class with good friends and a safe place to learn, imagine, create, and explore.

Her teacher is fantastic, and I hope in some miracle world she gets to teach my daughter again in 3rd grade. She has a great class with good friends and a safe place to learn, imagine, create, and explore.

I know that we are lucky and she is lucky to have this learning experience.

Yet, in a conversation with my daughter at the end of last year, I realized something.

She was already playing the game of school.

And, at 7 years old, she knew the rules.

She mentioned to me that her teacher was excited to share all the great work she was doing in our parent-teacher conferences. And after the conference, my daughter grilled my wife and me to see if we had heard all of the good (and just to make sure there was nothing bad that may have been said about her).

That was when she was already playing the game, and even though her interpretation of the rules was basic, it still was the game of school.

The Game of School Rules: Make the adults at school happy, and the adults at home will be happy.

It should have come as no surprise to me that she was already playing the game of school, but it actually shocked me a bit. You see, for years (like many teachers who I know) I taught students that had figured out the game of school. I also taught students who had given up on the game of school. Even some that hated the game of school.

It became my mission as a teacher to give students opportunities to learn for learning sake, to create because they wanted to make something, and to do work in school that is meaningful, relevant, fun, and challenging.

I’m still on that mission, but I spend more time working with adults now than students as a school leader, and there is something eerily similar going on.

Most of the adults I know are playing a game as well…

The Game of School vs. The Game of Life

Oliver Emberton puts the Game of Life perfectly in his article, Life is a Game. This is Your Strategy Guide:

“You might not realize, but real life is a game of strategy. There are some fun mini-games – like dancing, driving, running, and love – but the key to winning is simply managing your resources.

Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things.”

If you are anything like me, you often wish that school wasn’t a game. That the grades, the year-by-year system of steps, the achievement measures, and all of the rest of the pieces of school that make up this “game” would go away and the focus would go back to what is best for each learner in that moment.

However, I’m often blind to the fact that our students are not only playing this game of school, but they are watching the adults in their life play a game as well.

My daughter is always watching me, and looking up to me, not for advice, but to see what I’m doing and how I’m living my day-to-day life.

My actions and attitude towards my work, and towards my learning, have a direct impact on her view of the world and learning. I can’t forget that.

Diego Téllez shared a video that struck me to the core (and brought me to tears) this week inside the Innovative Teaching Academy. I couldn’t help but think how alike the game of school and game of life can be if we let them overtake our dreams. More importantly, however, is how much of an impact we can have by changing the rules up, and living with purpose and passion, instead of wanting to play the game the way it’s always been played.

Watch this short film, and let me know what you think in the comments. It is definitely worth the eight minutes!

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