It’s Like Riding a Bike

We are in a new world of education, a temporary world, but a world that is creating opportunities for amazing conversations that can lead to lasting changes and lasting learning.

We are asking each other questions like:

How do we decide what is most important to teach?

How do we determine what to grade and what a grade means?

How do we balance making connections with making curriculum meaningful?

In essence, how do we make learning last?

As we look at turning this current obstacle into a powerful opportunity to change our status quo, the answer to how we make learning last may actually be a lot easier to discover than you think. In fact, it may be sitting in your garage right now.

“Once you learn to ride your bike, you never forget.” We have heard this saying countless times, and we all know it to be true.

We can learn to ride a bike, a truly complex skill involving gross motor skills, fine motor skills, dexterity, balance, and coordination, by the time we are five years old, and even without constant practice and “study” we are be able to hop back onto a bike decades later and still be able to ride. Why is that? I mean, some of us (professional educators) struggle to teach students in our classrooms a skill on Monday that they will still remember five days later, yet children can go out onto the sidewalks of their neighborhood and learn an extremely complex skill that lasts a lifetime. Why?

The answer isn’t because of the complexity or ease of the skill. Riding a bike is actually extremely complex. The answer is because of how we learn. The process we use to learn this skill is actually the same process we can use in our classrooms, whether virtual or face to face.

I spent a decade as a classroom teacher prior to becoming an administrator. When I was a teacher, I thought I was amazing. I thought my students were engaged, compliant, and respectful. The truth is, looking back on it now, although my students were great at playing school, I have real questions about whether I taught them anything that would have lasted beyond my classroom.

As a matter of fact, if teaching my students how to ride a bike would have been a part of my curricular expectations, it probably would have looked something like this…



You see, the real reason kids are able to learn to ride their bikes isn’t because of our ability to deliver high-quality content. It isn’t because we are great speakers, have fancy PowerPoint presentations, or amazing rules and procedures. The only way to learn anything that lasts is to do. Lasting learning comes from doing.

I am the father of four children. I know emphatically that even though I read every parenting book I could find prior to the birth of my oldest child, I didn’t really learn how to be a parent until I became a parent.

As a beginning teacher two decades ago, I know for a fact that when I entered my first classroom after four and a half years of classes at the university level, I didn’t really learn how to teach until I started teaching.

Lasting Learning comes from doing.

Right now we have an amazing opportunity to recognize this and to capitalize on this. We have an opportunity to focus learning on doing not just hearing. We get the opportunity to have our students applying their knowledge. We get the opportunity to have our students fall down, skin their knees, and get back up. We get the chance to set small goals, to have our students get to the next driveway, then the next, before riding around the block. We get the chance to be cheerleaders running alongside our learners as they embrace new skills. We get the chance to get out of the way and let our kids go and watch them grow.

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