Teaching Fish to Climb Trees

4887724254_ea7967acf7_oThere is a famous quote from Albert Einstein that many teachers like to quote: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Most often I see this quote associated with the high-stakes testing movement, and other forms of education reform. I actually used to nod my head when I read this quote, silently saying “Yep, that’s right. You can’t force a student to be something they aren’t.” Shame on me. Agreeing with this quote is giving in to the notion that kids have limitations they can’t overcome. And that’s not right.

Instead, my motto this year is focusing on “teaching fish how to climb trees”. Crazy? I don’t think so.

The mudskippers are probably the best land-adapted of contemporary fish and are able to spend days moving about out of water and can even climb mangroves.

Yep, that’s right. The ol’ mudskipper fish can climb a tree. I’m sure all it’s fish friends and teachers probably told him it was “impossible” or that he’d be “stupid” to try it. But he went with it anyway, and eventually joined the ranks of flying and jumping fish as geniuses.

As a teacher, I realize that my students may come into class with varying levels of skills and talents. I see the same thing as a coach. But it would be foolish for me to pidgeon-hole any of my students or players into a “role” or “category”. Usually, it’s those students who overcome obstacles and the “impossible” that end up being remarkable. And that’s what I want all of my students and players to be: remarkable.

Here are just a few examples of student’s “climbing trees”:

  • Nick D’Alosio started his company “Summly” at age 15. At age 17 he sold it to Yahoo! for $30 million. Nick said in a Business Insider interview: “When I founded Summly at 15, I would have never imagined being in this position so suddenly. I’d personally like to thank Li Ka-Shing and Horizons Ventures for having the foresight to back a teenager pursuing his dream. Without you all, this never would have been possible. I’d also like to thank my family, friends and school for supporting me.”
  • Katie Davis left over Christmas break of her senior year for a short mission trip to Uganda and her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people of Uganda and the needs she saw that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. Katie, a charismatic and articulate young woman, is in the process of adopting thirteen children in Uganda and has established a ministry, Amazima, that feeds and sends hundreds more to school. You can read about her story in Kisses From Katie.
  • When 12-year-old Steven Gonzalez Jr. was diagnosed Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, a rare form of cancer, doctors said that he had a 2% chance to live. But he beat the odds and survived, though his weak immune system forced him into isolation for 100 days. He credits video games for helping him through the rough experience. Gonzalez wanted to help other cancer patients his age, and so he created a video game, Play Against Cancer, in which players destroy cancer cells illustrated as green ghosts. He also developed The Survivor Games, a social network and online community for teen cancer patients.
  • 5-year-old Phoebe Russell needed to complete a community service project before she could graduate from kindergarten. Uninterested in a lemonade stand, she saw a homeless man begging for food and decided to raise $1,000 for the San Francisco Food Bank. Her teacher tried to lower expectations to something more reasonable, but Phoebe’s heartwarming appeal to leave soda cans and donations at the school snowballed. Before she knew it, Phoebe had raised $3,736.30– the equivalent of 17,800 heated meals. via Listverse
These are just a few of the thousands of stories out there of kids doing the impossible. I’m sure there are many stories of teachers doing the impossible. So go ahead and tell your students to dream big. I’m going to be busy teaching fish how to climb trees. I hope you join me.

AJ Juliani

AJ Juliani is a founder and chief editor of Education Is My Life. AJ works as a K-12 Technology Staff Developer running a 1:1 laptop initiative. AJ also writes, speaks, and presents at various education conferences and is currently working on a new book!

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