Missed Opportunities

“Hey, Charlotte! What’s your plan over there?”


Charlotte is 4, maybe 3 feet tall, maybe 25 pounds soaking wet. She’s dragging a fallen pine tree, just thicker than what I can get my hand around, maybe 20 feet long, and long since stripped of any of its branches and roots.

“I want to make this stick back up.”


My wheels start turning. I’m weighing the risks of this tiny person trying to lift this giant tree, with lots of other tiny people running around, against the benefits of what could come out of this, this child-generated opportunity for inquiry-driven learning. This is a moment where I have to move fully into a “yes” kind of attitude: yes we can stick this tree back up, yes we should stick this tree back up, yes we should try glue sticks, and also tape and rolled up paper to simulate roots “because roots make trees stand up” (!).

I must do everything I can to make “yes” possible, because the risks associated with trying to stick this tree back up are potential, and can be mitigated. But the risks of saying no are certain: a missed opportunity to show Charlotte (and the rest of the gaggle who gathered, like moths to a flame, to this irresistible project) that their ideas are worth pursuing.

Missed opportunity to bolster their ability to problem-solve, to keep trying, to think of other alternatives, when first the glue sticks and then the tape and then the paper “roots” didn’t work.

Missed opportunity to hone the social skills of asking for and accepting help, disagreeing without alienating someone, managing excitement so that you can participate without needing to push everyone else out of the way!

Missed opportunity to practice the sophisticated oral language skills of explaining what you’re trying to do, what your idea is, and why something isn’t (or is!) working.

Missed opportunity to take pleasure in the process of trial and error (3-2-1 TIMMMMMBEEERRRRRRR!) (Missed opportunity to co-manage the risk of 3-2-1 TIMMMBBEERRRRRR! and to show care and concern for our peers to make sure they wouldn’t get hit by falling tree experiments!)

Missed opportunity to feel the tremendous sense of accomplishment, and the accompanying boost in self-esteem, when we do, in fact, manage to get that tree to stick back up by digging a hole – deeper and deeper – and packing it with snow to “make it more stable”, and it was all their idea.

We’ve been talking here recently about what “Inquiry-driven learning” means, what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, and about missed opportunities. Today it looked like trying to stick a dead tree back up for the better part of an hour, and ultimately, succeeding.


Join the discussion One Comment

  • Angie Lambert says:

    I loved reading this. It is so true. I have learned that along the way. As you step back and give them the lead and have that faith in your students. They far exceed my expectations and they truly proud. It builds so much in them in such a small about of time. Skills, confidence, pride, accomplishment, teamwork, communication, problem-solving. So many wonderful things come out of these amazing moments.

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