It has almost been a week since I dipped my bike tires into the Mississippi as I completed (well, 6 of 7 days so mostly completed) another Ragbrai. Ragbrai is a bike ride across Iowa which this year’s route meant over 400 miles with a difficult last day due to the biggest hills I have ever biked. You have a lot of time to think while biking across a state and there are a lot of ideas that popped into my head in regards to teaching and learning.
There are a lot of different people, of all shapes and sizes, that take part in this moving carnival. While there are definitely a large number of very fit people who are taking part in this ride, there are many who you may not expect to see biking over 400 miles in a week. There are people who are very well into their retirement, people who are using the ride to lose weight, and people who are missing body parts, all riding across the state. They are able to do this successfully because they are using right tools and the right mindset.
There was this one guy that I saw early in the ride and kept seeing as the week went on and he amazed me. He was missing both feet and had prosthetics that allowed him to clip into his pedals. I was amazed by his tenacity as he passed me multiple times throughout the week but I am sure this was not something grand to him, he was prepared for this and was not going to let anything stand between him and the tire dip at the end of the ride. He is one of many who complete this ride thanks to special equipment or bikes that allow them to do the best they can. They make great use of the equipment available to them and have the mindset that keeps them pedaling.
This is what we need to ensure is happening in our classrooms. We have many students who have physical or cognitive issues that do not allow them to learn in the same ways as their peers. With the correct use of the tools available to use and the right mindset, there is nothing that these students can’t do. We have more tools available to use today in our classrooms than at any time before but we may not be making full use of them. Education is not about giving everyone the same exact learning environment because not everyone is going to be successful when facing the same variables. A one size fits all approach does not help all, only some. We can use the tools available to us to help our students learn the best they can by focusing on how we can make them successful. We have to pay attention to their needs and figure out the different ways that we can help them learn.
We do not need to teach 30 different ways in a single classroom but we should never teach just 1 way. We need to teach our students how to use the tools available to them and allow them to use the tools that best help them learn. It took help from others and a lot of practice for me to learn how to best use the tools (road bike, clip in pedals, …) I needed to be successful at Ragbrai. The feeling I have when I dip my tires in the river after traversing the state is the same feeling we should want our students to have when they are in our classroom.