Learning via the “Gentle Nudge”

As I perused parent and student surveys to help me create content for the upcoming year, I came across a comment from a parent, put into words so perfectly what I saw live and in action last week, a “gentle nudge”.

As many of you know, we interact with the community. It’s a big part of the mission of Indi-ED. As many of you may not know, even our littlest, 7 ,8 and 9 year olds, interact with professionals in our community. And by interacting, I mean that they are able to eloquently (for the most part) express their ideas and answer questions that adults would be asked in real life. I don’t even know that I could get through what they did, as smoothly as they did, being an almost 46 year old person. 

We typically engage out in our community, but this year, we have started holding Community Connections where we invite community members in. Professionals from our local community have come to engage with our students about their inquiry projects, a large part of our project based learning (PBL) model. For the first 2 months, our older students (4th-8th) rocked it! They came dressed professionally, used confident body language, eloquently communicated and impressed these adults that certainly may not have expected such poise from young people. 

Then came my cohort’s turn. Mine are merely babies. Early elementary students. I have a lot of faith in my students but I think, because interviews make most adults nervous, that I saw this as a huge leap. A leap yes, but one they cleared! Since I’ve been teaching half of them for almost two years, I like to think I know them very well. I know that they are capable, creative and smart, but the amount of growth and maturity I witnessed, blew me away.  

To prepare, we talked about how body language can say so much.  We practiced shaking hands; the appropriate amount of force, the appropriate amount of eye contact, the right amount of time to hold before release…that was a really fun and silly activity that had us all laughing hysterically. As goofy as this sounds, it was so helpful and the kids surpassed my expectations in this situation, ten fold. I was more than impressed. They were given both positive and negative feedback after their interviews, from adult professionals, and they took both with dignity and grace. They reflected, as we do after most anything, and used the feedback to alter their projects and presentations that they have been working on.

As I reflect right now, I am so glad to have eased them into this situation. A high pressure situation that many adults can’t handle. The point is, that it’s not about the fake confidence or the hard push to achieve that is present in today’s traditional education model and also just the American way that I see making the most impact. It’s the gentle nudge that is a big part of building confidence in these kids. But confidence in ourselves is the foundation to so much.

Gently nudging our kids with enthusiasm and support is where it’s at. Presenting hard or challenging situations (we don’t force) that the students may or may not ‘think’ they are mentally ready for, is the sweet spot. We don’t demand and push farther than appropriate, we don’t force, but we know what these kids are developmentally ready for and we gently nudge them in the right direction. Their transformation after these experiences is truly a beautiful thing to witness.