Learning is NOT a lightbulb moment. Embrace, encourage, and challenge the process.

You are smart. You are kind. You are beautiful. You are “at-risk”. You are slow. You are fast. You are trouble.

Labels, labels, labels. I am sick of them. Why can’t kids just be kids anymore? Why can’t we celebrate that we are all growing and improving every day? Why do we feel the need to identify people based on snapshot judgments and change destinies as a result?

I am a firm believer that kids will always live up to our expectations when they know what those expectations are. As a former director and teacher for a gifted and talented department, I saw first-hand how a label of “gifted” impacted a child to succeed…or fall apart the first time he failed. As a classroom teacher, I  saw first hand how a child would with a designation as “special” began to believe that he just wasn’t a “reader”. As a school administrator, I have seen how students without a label begin to believe they will always be mediocre with no real identity. I have seen how labels impact those who “earn” them and those who don’t. Somehow we have strayed from a desire to constantly measure progress to instead measuring once and labeling forever.

Back in the 1920s cartoons began to really come into vogue in America. As a means to not only entertain but also educate society, characters were created that would shape the beliefs of generations of Americans. Mighty Mouse made us believe that even the smallest could be brave. Popeye encouraged us to always stand up to the bully. And light-bulbs illuminating next to the heads of countless characters made us believe that thoughts and learning were moments in time, moments that often dismissed the process of learning and made us all begin to believe that learning was not acquired, but instead, it was received in an instant or missed and never gained.


Learning is NOT a light-bulb moment. Learning is always a process.  In my presentations, I often ask participants to describe the MOMENT they fell in love, the MOMENT they learned to swim, or the MOMENT they learned to read. What participants quickly discover is that to describe any of these “MOMENTS” requires a story, a description of a process, and a progression. A progression that we are all still on. No matter what we know, what we believe, or what we feel, we are always on a journey for more. We can always learn more, feel more, and believe more. When we mistakenly try to label a person by a moment in time, we alter the course of their journey and change the direction of their process. Let’s make it a point to remember that we are all on a learning progression and we all have the potential to learn more. Where we are now is not where we were and it is not where we will be. Placing a label on anyone because of what we see today can only hurt where they are tomorrow.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask your kids? Don’t know which ones to talk to, just pull up your roster. The kids with the designations and labels next to their names are a great place to start. Next fall, make it a point to get to know your kids before you get to know their label. Knowing who a person is is more important than knowing what their label defines.

Check out more of Dave’s thoughts at https://schmittou.net

Want practical guidance on how to embrace the process of learning? Check out Dave’s book: It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime.

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