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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  • Traci Ferris says:

    This movie reminds me of how my dyslexia students feel everyday. These are students with amazing talenin music, art, 3 dinensial thinking, and so much more….but never get to spend time on these strengths or to explore what strengths they have! School for them , is a confidence drainer. Teaching them to have grit and to have perseverance would be so much easier if they also got to explore what their strengths are and have time to develop them in school.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      You are so right Traci. We can’t let school be a confidence drainer, instead it should be the opposite. A place of hope and inspiration!

  • Jane says:

    Spot on! This video is a must-watch for teachers. We -without ever intending to- can easily deflate our students’ creativity and their love of learning. However, we also have the ability to inspire and guide. It’s a choice that requires our creativity and commitment to personal/professional growth so we become facilitators of learning and dream builders for ourselves and our precious children.

  • Leslie says:

    Tears of sadness and then tears of joy! I am so saddened by the homogeneous nature of education as I watch it suck the love of learning out of so many children. I believe if we are not very intentional about creating environments that are innovative thinking tanks, we’re all contributing to our childrens’ roles as pawns in the “game of school”.

    On the flip side, I am fortunate enough to work in an incredibly rare (sadly) educational environment (aka “school”) that understands that every child has a unique learning map and by following this map, skills necessary for both survival in the future world and, more importantly, a love of learning is fostered. The process of learning and understanding yourself as a learner is far more important than content. Knowledge is not how much a student knows. Knowledge is knowing how to use what you have learned to want to learn more, to be helpful, to find meaningful connections, to be happy.

    When my team of teachers and I support authentic learning by setting high expectations and encourage risk-taking, students develop a trust to take on challenges that lead to true academic and personal success.

    I only hope that change in education can happen faster than it typically does so that more students can experience true success.

    My other soapbox: Creativity

  • Lou says:

    I just see a black box where the video should be…. is there another place I can access the video?

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Lou, you can find it on Vimeo as well (titled “Alike”). Although that may be blocked on your device too. Have you tried using your mobile device?

  • Angela Nelson says:

    What a great reminder to remember why we teach and how we learn! Passion and engagement drive learning! As teachers it is our job to help students explore, wonder, and question in order to learn.

  • Amy says:

    Beautiful video! My first thought was to show this to all teachers in the beginning of the year, however, I think it applicable to any time of year. Some teachers dismiss kids who don’t fit the mold, or who learn differently before really giving them the opportunity to grow as a learner. Schools need to build kids up, not tear them down! Thank you for sharing!

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Yea I think it could be shared at any time of the year. Sometimes it is better to space out when we share these types of things, because often the motivational videos etc come at the beginning of the year when we need reminders throughout!

  • I have so much to say about this video, I don’t even know where to begin. Thank you for sharing it! I’ll be ruminating and writing about it soon. I will also be sharing it with my middle school students when we return from spring break. THANK YOU!

  • Rayma Farlow says:

    Wow! What an amazing little movie. I agree totally with the sentiment presented. I truly wish that EVERY school could be a place of discovery, invention, and creativity. However, when you realize that a class of 6th grade students cannot/will not/do not want to complete a short explanation of their passion project subject, “because I’m asking them to write too much”, that SOMETHING has been missed along the way. I have beaten myself up all morning because maybe I need to have them write MORE. (I teach computers/technology and art as an enrichment course). I WANT to allow more free thought and creativity but from what I have seen this morning, my classes can’t handle even the basics of communication. I can’t redesign the wheel every time I start a lesson. This short movie is beautiful. Sadly, it makes me think I need to be in a different profession. 🙁

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Every school can be a place of discovery! We just need to work on it 1% every day and know that progress will not be made overnight to change the game of school.

    • David Hardt says:

      Hmm. I want to think that perhaps “not writing” (or not writing about it just yet) is not necessarily a discouraging thing. Here’s a thought or two:

      1. Were all the students engaged already in something that they were deeply fascinated by, intensely curious about, or cared about? If not, they wouldn’t be ready to write anything yet. As a teacher with a rich inner life of curiosity and fascination (developed over years of given or stolen freedom to think and explore), I could fall into the trap of thinking that all I need is to give my students a couple of sessions of class time to tease out their areas of passion. But by 6th grade most of these students could already have paved over their senses of passion with the world’s grey parking lot. It If this is the case, then before writing the students could need lots of support and scaffolding for re-opening their senses of self. It might take a lot of subtle encouragement over time before they feel like their own ideas have a safe and valued place.

      2. Do the students have to write about what they are doing? Some might rather speak about it, or video about it, or draw and display about it. My wife paints, and even though her aim of selling her art requires her to do some writing, she doesn’t really want to write about her art. However, she will readily talk about it, and she will take a picture of her art sometimes and post about what she is doing online. If the students do have passion, but simply don’t want to write about it (or write about it just yet), then what do they want to communicate about it, and what is the better way for them to do that at the moment? That is to say, if we want to give the students (20%?) time to explore anything they desire, then shouldn’t they have a bit of choice and freedom in how they communicate that excitement with me and with other people?

      Altogether, I do understand that making a connection with our grade-level standards might require some very specific form of communication product, and since our overarching goal is creating a safe and welcoming environment for their choice, our choosing the right time for that required part is important. What do you all think?

      • Karen A Kraeger says:

        Excellent points here! I agree that finding the right way for students to communicate their thoughts can make all the difference in the quality of their response. You are so right that this opens the door to increased student voice and better demonstration of mastery of concepts. I also think offering a choice of response formats gives our introverted students time to choose their best method and, more importantly, the time they need to formulate the in-depth response they would like to share.

  • Kim Maratto says:

    I absolutely loved this video. It also made me very sad. My daughter came home from 2nd grade yesterday and was very sad. She told me she had gotten a 2 on a project that she had done. She lamented about how hard she had worked on it and didn’t understand why she got a 2. Now that I see the effect that grades have had on her and her spirit, it makes me rethink how I grade my own students. Thank you so much for sharing this. I may share with my students at school and see what they can infer from watching it.

  • Windy Byrd says:

    What a telling video! What a great way to visualize what we see everyday. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Lynn Cashell says:

    Years ago there was a series of commercials touting “Art for Arts Sake.” We have gone so far afield from creative practices and simply having fun in our classrooms due to the pressures of high stakes tests and unrealistic standards that are not developmentally appropriate for our kids.

    I attempt to infuse creativity into lessons, and not just with technology. I’m hoping that ITA will help me learn how to be more innovative so we are not sucking the life out of our kids and their learning.

  • Anita Paul says:

    It depicts a true picture of schools at large. Sad but true.

  • Natalie says:

    The color in our world is camouflaged by demands, time constraints, testing…our children suffer so much. Let’s add the color into our schools so our future leaders will know the value themselves.

  • Kim Crotty says:

    An excellent reminder of what we “need” to do and “not” do as educators and parents! Loved it! Thanks for sharing!

  • Catherine says:

    I feel sad because as a teacher we are increasingly pushed to make school this grey world where kids learn to fit inside the box… some manage to thrive, despite us, some just hit despair. As a parent I am also sad, because our resident teenager has learned despair. There is little to no joy in learning, just the pit of unimaginable grind. As an adult I am sad, because I (although not easily) learned the game and now feel trapped inside my own ‘success’. Oh, that we could all play the violin. I’m searching for one for my young adult…

  • This made me cry because this is exactly what happened to my oldest daughter. She did well in school until 10th grade and then everything went downhill. Her creative nature was thwarted and the desire to be educated disappeared. Her high school teachers bored her to death and she considered dropping out several times. As a result, she doesn’t see the value of education and I can’t really blame her. Teachers need to understand the consequences of their actions in a classroom. As an educator and mom my heart breaks.

  • Kristin Beeler says:

    Great video. It is definitely a challenge to develop our own and our students passions at school today. We need to take time to foster a culture where passions can be cultivated.

  • Julie says:

    I think there are two big reasons by kids are becoming more and more disengaged from their learning in school. One is that most of the emphasis is on math and reading & writing at the expense of all other subjects in school. Students who struggle with one or both of these subjects feel like failures because other subjects where they might excel –
    like music, art, physical education, computers, foreign language – are either nonexistent at their schools or not valued. In addition, at least at my school, teachers of these other classes have been pressured to add writing assignments into their curriculum. So, students who struggle with writing but are awesome artists now have to write in art class. So what was a favorite class is now just another class where they struggle. I think we can all agree that math and English language arts are important subjects, but they are not the “be all end all” and should not be the exclusive focus of public schools. Other academic fields are also important, foster creativity and critical thinking, and lead to amazing careers. Most teachers would agree with this statement; however, the “powers that be” whether in local administrative positions or higher up the totem pole keep enacting policies that are draining the life out of education and teachers are caught in the middle having to follow the policies even while believing they are not in the best interests of their students.

  • Karen A Kraeger says:

    This short video spoke volumes about creativity, joy, and love of learning! I’m sharing this with the teachers at my school, especially as we begin End of Grade Testing next week. I hope this will rekindle their passion for teaching and learning and encourage them to make room for the creative, divergent, student-directed learning that is vitally important to our kids! As a gifted specialist, I consider it my privilege and duty to discover and develop talents in my students. Giving them time and space to be themselves, drive their own learning, and express their creativity is so important for them and for me! Perhaps if we had more of this in the adult world, it would be easier to offer it to our students!

  • Katrina says:

    What a great piece. Thanks for sharing! It really hits the mark with what we (myself included) are often unintentionally doing in our classes. But change is possible (1% at a time!) and videos like this can help raise awareness and spread the message.

  • Helen says:

    Wow! What a powerful, moving and timely message. I want to show it to parents at our school’s open night to explain our passion to get back to the love of learning and the freedom to create and express. Sadly, this is often a message that is hard to ‘sell’ to communities. There’s pressure from families for high academic outcomes, lots of homework, continual testing and for their children to experience the same kind of education they did (even though not many of us survived unscathed!) Schools that diverge from that norm are often seen as having low expectations. For the sake of future generations, though, we’re willing to take that risk. Hope others will also.

  • Margie Sorley says:

    Oh my!! So true, in today’s educational climate. Teachers feel so overwhelmed by all the “must dos” that they often lose their spontaneity of “living in the moment”. Whether it is a joyful discovery by their students or their own kids there seems to often be this heavy cloudof imposed requirements that threatens to bring them down, if they let it.
    Through it all, we as educators need to remember why we wanted to teach and/or why we wanted to become parents. Seeing things from a child’s perspective can break us out of our stale routines, take us into foreign but exciting worlds, and help us see the limitless possibilities of our own creative thinking for exploring dreams still unfulfilled.
    I will definitely share this with our staff. Thank you

  • […] the other day, I read A.J. Juliani’s post, “The Game of School vs the Game of Life,” and like so many others (check out the comments at the bottom of his post), I found the topic […]

  • I have to agree with everyone who has commented. I find myself falling into this “trap”. I try to make a conscious effort in allowing the creativity to flow but there are times the pressure from other people that push me right back to the mundane classroom. I also find some students similar to the ones in the movie. They sometimes lack that creativity, and it’s not their fault. During our Genius Hour project I had a bunch of students unable to think up a topic. They didn’t know what they would like to do for the project. No fault of their own, this was probably the first time anyone asked them “what do you want to do for a project?”. Great movie and thank you for sharing.

  • […] Source: The Game of School vs. The Game of Life – A.J. JULIANI […]

  • H. Hewitson says:

    I also love the messages in this poignant little video. Twenty-two years ago when I took my B.Ed. I was lucky to go to an innovative programme where we had to choose a current (1995) trend or pedagogy in education. I stumbled on Gardiner’s multiple intelligences and bought in 100%. Every year I begin the year with my students finding out in what way they are Smart! We graph it and look at the make up if the class. I try to build the results into daily options for sharing their learning through their strengths. To this very day I love my job!
    I am not a Pollyanna or blind to my surroundings and the politics of education today. I am a realist though and know that I can only convince so many people to value all the differences in children. Often I can see that the world does not really want the flexible, creative, questioning people we are so often told will be needed in the future. I think I am one of those people and I know that my questioning, or sharing of my ideas or resources are seldom welcome. If you question the way things are done or ask why it must be thus you labelled “not a team player”, or a “shit disturber.”
    So, I go in my classroom and do my thing and take the accolades from where they really count the most…from my kids! I believe in them and they in turn believe in me. Many come back to visit or message me on their accomplishments and they tell me that they remember enjoying coming to school and that I made a difference. What more can you really ask for than that?

  • Nancy Bonn-Winkler says:

    Yikes, that was me as a child and all the way through my undergraduate degree! Hard to watch and remember the painful experiences and the messages I received/learned through them. They did impact me. Now, as a gifted program counselor, I am in a great place to help my kiddos understand themselves and the world around them while honoring who they are now, while on their journey to “becoming.” I advocate and educate whenever and where ever I can!

  • […] group in early April.  Shortly afterwards, A.J. Jullianni thankfully shared his own reflection here because otherwise I may have missed this tiny […]

  • Kali Kurdy says:

    Thanks for introducing me to this video. I have often said that teachers, as well as students, see school as a check off list. I am going to use this in a teacher PD I am doing on innovation and creativity.

  • I loved this video. It’s tough because I work with people who want school to be exactly the same way as it’s always been. I get soundbites from my colleagues such as “the tests and exams we do here are supposed to be based on content recall” and “I’m just not sure this new exam is a good idea because it’s new, and we’ve never done it like this before, the exams we’ve used for the last twenty years are tried and true.”

    I spent six years as the teacher in a developmental disabilities program (DDP), and I had to change my entire paradigm of what I thought teaching and learning was and was supposed to be. Now that I’ve moved back into the “mainstream”, I want to bring the skills I learned and developed in the DDP into my new job. But there is so much resistance because “it’s just not the way we do things here.”

    In the DDP we work on focusing on strengths and developing weaknesses, and since there is no curriculum, we don’t move on until the student has proved that they are competent in the area in which we are focusing at the time, be it social skills, or transit training, or kitchen skills, etc. Now, in the “mainstream,” we are expected to focus on getting the students ready for what comes next, which really means, getting them ready for the “Real world” or for university (because college isn’t as prestigious in their minds). There seems to be very little emphasis on honouring the students where they are at the time we see them (which changes day to day).

    I could go on for days about how frustrated I am, but I do have to say that I am lucky enough to be working with a principal who is supportive of my teaching philosophy. It’s just some of my colleagues who are steeped in tradition and instead of just letting me be me, they take every chance they get to tell me why my approach to teaching and learning isn’t really going to get my students ready for next year in grade 10 or grade 11 or grade 12 or first year university, etc. I’m going to keep on keeping on, but I’m very thankful for blogs/websites/teachers like this because it is a reminder that I’m on the right path. I just have to keep playing the game…so that I can change the rules.

  • This should be every schools required reading and launch video for the new school year, both speak to me at such a gut level. I think of my son so much watching this, he is a very talented musician today and leading a productive life. In school, his ADHD made hand written assignments so difficult. No matter the great content, his mark was always substantially lower than his peers. I will never forget, he had to create an invention and do a tri-board. He came up with a fingerprint opening door knob – pretty genius I though for 1998. He took the door knob off his closet, insisted that he write all text on his board, even though I tried hard to convince him to let me print them off my HP Inkjet. I took him to school and as he carried his tri-board into the school, I thought how smart and talented he was, and praying that the teacher could see past the messy handwriting in puffy paints. That afternoon parents were able to see all of their projects in the media center, and it was a grand gallery of the parent’s work with all the fancy charts and printing. My son’s project stood alone, messy, genius, all in one. I was ready to fight to the death if I had to on this one, and worked so hard, he deserved a good grade. I spoke with his teacher, the same one that gave him many low scores for his hand-writing, and she shared that of all the projects, my son’s was everyone’s favorite. She didn’t count off for handwriting, and we had a once in a blue moon win that day. Thankfully today we have many options for allowing students to represent what they now, from no-low-high tech options, given choices, students can feel a sense of success in the work that they produce. If, and a big if, teachers will give them options. I pray they will.

  • Amber Ogle says:

    As a coach who works with early childhood educators this video really struck a chord with me. So many preschool teachers and beyond are stressed and laser focused on getting their students “ready for kindergarten”, that they don’t feel that they have enough time in the day to teach all that is required. A child’s first experience in a school setting sets the stage for the rest of their educational life. It is important to make it a positive experience where they can play, explore and create rather than drill and kill activities. It is not a preschool teachers job to get a child ready for kindergarten, kindergarten should be ready for the child.

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