|...to Be Stupid!
|After 20 years of teaching and working with people, what is the one lesson I have learned?
Stupid works for two reasons.
First, it gets people's attention. Whether it is a test question that is written with humor or
just wearing a funny hat, being stupid will get the attention of your students.
Second, and most importantly, stupid works in helping you create new and innovative ways to
teach. The best lesson plans for my classroom have come when I was being stupid. It is only
when you don't worry about being stupid, do you let yourself go and really create the
innovative class plans you need.
So, remember, when in doubt, Don't Be Afraid to Be Stupid.
2007 has been designated the Year of "Don't Be Afraid.."
To celebrate I will be posting a monthly column on how to celebrate this wonderful year.
Feel free to send me any of your ideas of how not to be afraid.
In keeping with the theme of March Madness, I have from the college basketball world,
possibly the best Don’t Be Afraid to Be Stupid story ever. In fact, it would be the best DBA story
except for one thing, which I won’t tell you about until the end.
Many of you may have seen the seen the pictures last month, of the Tennessee basketball
coach during the Volunteer’s big game at home against number one Duke. Now this may
confuse some of you, because the Duke men’s team hasn’t been number one this year. But I am
not talking about men’s basketball, I’m talking about women’s basketball. In February, the
Tennessee women’s team hosted the unanimous number one Duke women’s team in a big
game shown on ESPN. The Duke team was undefeated and with the Tennessee women’s team
winning tradition, they pulled out all the stops to try to beat the Blue Devils.
This brings me back to the Tennessee basketball coach, and I am not talking about the
women’s coach, but instead the men’s coach. In a show of support, the Tennessee men’s coach
sat down front in order to cheer on the Lady Volunteers. Now, what was stupid about that? Well,
he did in the style of the a normal male college student. That’s right, he was shirtless, his chest
painted Volunteer orange and with a large silver V, and headband in his hair. It was easily one
of the funniest, and stupidest thing I have ever seen.
What Coach Pearl had done for me with this simple stupid act, was to remind me that sports
are supposed to be fun. This was a big, serious game, but in the end it supposed to be about
fun for the fans.
It got me thinking, how many other things in our life are supposed to be fun and we take
them too seriously? Teaching? Definitely. Yes, it is hard work, but it is supposed to be fun. We
have chosen to work with children, and it better be fun or we need to get out. So, in March I
challenge you to take a look at your life and see if there is any place you can bring a little fun.
When you do, don’t be afraid to do something stupid. However, if you paint your body orange,
don’t send me a picture.
Oh yeah. Why isn’t this the best DBA story? Duke scored the first 19 points of the game and
ended up beating Tennessee easily. Oh well, all that orange paint for nothing.
|March 2007 - Don't Be Afraid to Be Stupid - The Revenge
Because I was presenting at the North Carolina Middle School Conference this past Sunday
through Tuesday (and thanks to all the great people who I got to talk to at the conference), all of
this newsletter was written last week and originally, this was a different article. That was until a
little basketball game late Tuesday night.
On that night, the Tennessee men’s team played the #4 and defending national champion
Florida Gators at home and before the game, they had the Revenge of Don’t Be Afraid to Be
Stupid. This time it was the women’s coach’s turn to not be afraid. No, she didn’t come to the
floor, shirtless. Instead, Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt came to the playing floor that is named
for her, dressed as a Tennessee cheerleader. She led the crowd in cheers, was the top of a
cheerleader pyramid and sang a beautifully, horrendous version of the state song “Rocky Top”.
So Coach Pearl’s “stupid” act last month moved Coach Summitt to move past her comfort zone
and be “stupid” too.
And this time it worked. Tennessee led by as much as 27 and upset Florida 86-76.
As I mentioned in the January FingerPoints, Don’t Be Afraid to Be Stupid is my theme for
2007. So many times in life, we worry about what the proper thing to do is. We worry about what
other people will think. We worry about worrying about what other people will think. However,
rarely does any of this lead to laughter. That is why I say, Don’t Be Afraid to Be Stupid.
Go out and do something stupid. (Notice I said stupid, not dangerous.) It will help your soul.
If you are in an area that has snow, go sledding. Yes, if you look at it as an adult, sledding is
stupid, but is also fun. If you live in an area like me where it is cold but no snow, celebrate
Tropical Shirt Week (5-9) and Tropical Shirt Day (9th). We started this at my school two years
ago as a stupid way to break up the monotony of winter. People thought we were crazy, but it
caught on. At the beginning of the school year, this year, the first questions I was asked was
were we going to have Tropical Shirt Week again this year. (By the way, if you live somewhere
where the weather is warm enough to already be wearing a tropical shirt, try making snowballs.)
Being stupid can also help you in your classroom. How’s this for a project? Get 300 sixth
graders to do between 650 and 700 fraction multiplication problems over two weeks. Does that
sound fun? (I won’t ask if it sounds stupid, because I know it does.) But that was our task last
January. Try to find a way to get our entire 6th grade to practice fraction multiplication. To do it,
we went to stupid. We put together the Super Bowl of Fractions. Now this had nothing to do with
football, but we played it up like it did. We put the students into teams, had them pick their
football team names, and put the students through pre-season conditioning. When it came time
to the games, I was dressed in a referee’s uniform, with a whistle, a scoreboard clock, and a
yellow flag for penalties. We even had a half time show (with no wardrobe malfunctions) and
presented trophies. It was totally stupid, and it worked. We had students begging to continue
multiplying fractions when the final whistle blew. I worked so well that we are doing it again this
year. That’s right, the Super Bowl of Fractions II.
A little stupid is good. It can be good for you and it can be good for your students. Set a goal
to be intentionally stupid at least once in the month of February.
|January 2007 - Don't Be Afraid to Be Stupid, A Lifestyle Choice
This phrase, Don’t Be Afraid to Be Stupid, has been hanging around my head for the past
month or so. I don’t why I thought of it, or if I heard it somewhere, but I do know that it is stuck
like a bad Duran Duran song (Hungry like the wolf...Hungry like the wolf.) Okay, so what about
it? Well, after much thought I have adopted Don’t Be Afraid to Be Stupid as my lifestyle choice
for 2007, and I suggest you do the same.
Why this phrase as a lifestyle? Because we spend too time not doing things because we are
afraid of looking stupid. Think back to being in school, most of us at one time or another chose
not to do something because we thought we would look stupid. Is that really a reason? Maybe
when we were young it was, when we were unsure of ourselves, but is it really a reason now,
when we’re older. No, who cares if we look stupid.
Actually, in some instances being stupid can lead us to places we would have never
dreamed. For example, on Good Morning America on 12/29 they had a woman from Tulsa, OK
on the show who could whistle with her toes. Yes, you read that right, with her toes. They had
her live in the studio, and she proceeded to bring her presumably clean foot to her mouth and
whistle Auld Lang Syne with her 2nd and 3rd toes. It was easily one of the stupidest things I
have ever seen. When the hosts asked her how she started this, she said that a friend was
trying to teach her how to whistle the regular way, when she noticed that the woman’s toes were
bent in a perfect way to whistle and suggested she should try it. She did, and the rest was
history (or hysterical.)
Now here is about as stupid of an act as possible, but because the woman wasn’t afraid to
be stupid at first, look what she got. An expenses paid trip to New York City to be on national TV
and to spend New Year’s weekend in the Big Apple. I’d spit milk through my nose for that.
(Actually, I spit milk through my nose when I saw her whistle with her toes.)
Alright, the toe whistling lady is a funny story, but how does being stupid help teaching. It helps
in at least three ways that I talk about in Teaching Is Too Important to Take Seriously! First, it
helps to let students understand that you don’t know everything and that is okay. I work a lot with
math students on open ended problem solving, and one of the things I instruct students to do, is
to make sure that their solutions can be understood by a complete idiot like Mr. Endres. This
does two things. One it forces students to be very detailed in their answers and two, it takes me
as the “know it all answer giver” out of the equation. Instead of relying on me to be the one to
determine whether something is right or to save them when they are stuck, they start to rely on
Second, not being afraid to be stupid allows us to continue to breakdown the walls between
us and our students. As I talk in the book and presentation, students often see us as alien
beings, that are perfect and therefore have no connection to their lives. Letting students see us
being stupid, and making mistakes, helps to break down those walls, and allows students to see
us as people they something in common, being stupid. Third, quickly, being stupid is where I
have gotten some of my best ideas for my classroom over the years. When I let my guard down,
and don’t worry about being stupid, I have come up with my most effective classroom activities.
So go ahead, be stupid. Make mistakes. Look silly. Because when you come right down to it, the
best reason for being stupid is because it is just fun. And we could all use a little more fun in our
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|2007 - The Year of "Don't Be Afraid..."
Stupid is community. Let me explain. I just got back from my son’s school, where they had a
March Madness assembly. Along with giving out some awards, they also played a game called
Knock Out, where all the staff shot baskets to try to win for their class. What made this stupid
was that no one, and I mean no one, had any basketball talent. However, as I watched the
students I could see, as I have seen dozens of times before, that this was a unifying event for
the students. It tapped into the students’ energy and allowed them to be a part of the school
I have been stupid about events like this for years. Whether is was the silly olympics that I
organized for years at a school, where the entire staff made fools of ourselves, or whether it was
at the high school where I was told that it was stupid to try to get students involved in a huge
food drive (35,000 cans by the way), I have understood that the one thing in common with every
student is that they want to belong. They want to be a part of a community and if we don’t
provide it for them, they will find it somewhere, like with gangs.
So, if you want to give your students a community to belong to, do something stupid.
Last year, in this space I pushed everyone to do something that many people consider
stupid; don’t talk about teaching. That’s right, don’t talk about teaching and that is why I have
declared July, Take a Break From Education Month.
Several years ago, I took the month of July off from talking about anything that had to do with
school. Several of my friends thought I was joking (I wasn’t), and I’m sure some of them thought I
was crazy, but it was one of the best things I ever did. It allowed me to get away from school.
Most of us think school 24/7 (or at least 23/6), and by taking a break, it allows us to reset our
Now, I know that for a lot of us, teaching has become a year round profession, but I
encourage you to celebrate Take a Break From Education Month as best you can. Commit
yourself to not talking about school. Do it before you really have to be committed.
Beginning in January, I declared 2007 the Year to Don’t Be Afraid to Be Stupid. To some of
you this seemed like a stupid thing to do, but actually it is a very smart thing to do. From 20+
years of teaching experience I can tell you that stupid works.
Stupid is those things we do in teaching that aren’t in any textbook, for example games.
When you were going through education classes, how many classes did you have about
creating games and using them as teaching tools in your classrooms? I’ll bet very few. However,
recent research is showing that game playing in our classrooms can increase student motivation
and therefore comprehension in all academic subjects.
To promote this, I have spent a lot of time this summer working with teachers and showing
them that games are not scary and are a great way to connect to students. Mostly we are
worried that games are too hard to make, and will cause chaos in the classroom. However, we
are able to show in the workshops, that with a consistent classroom management plan, no chaos
will happen , and that you can create a simple game as quickly as 5 minutes. So go out this year
and do something stupid, and let the games begin.
One thing I can’t stand is a person who preaches one thing and then does another. You
know the type of people I’m talking about, the ones that tell their child that McDonald’s isn’t good
for you, but will sneak a Big Mac when their child is away. Oh, wait a minute, that’s me. Well,
anyway, after the first full week at my school, you can’t accuse me of being that type of person
with Don’t Be Afraid to Be Stupid.
Here’s the story. About a half an hour before the end of the last work day before students
showed up to school, my assistant principal asked a favor. She said that since we wouldn’t have
our normal morning announcement program for a few weeks, could I put something together to
teach the students about the four points we were trying promote in the school. A few years ago
we had put together 4 points that we felt signified what it meant to Be a Steamer (our nickname-
don’t ask.) The 4 points are Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be a Peace Builder, and Be
Committed to Excellence. She was concerned that we hadn’t promoted them well over the past
two years, and she wanted to stress that from the very beginning of the year. Considering I was
one of the people that put this together, I agreed that we needed to do this, and was happy to
help. However, she asked for one more thing. Make the announcements funny.
How in the world could I make this stuff funny? I mean what is a steamer? And what is funny
being a peace builder? Well, after talking about it with my 7 year old son (for the best advice, go
to a 7 year old), and thinking about what I have been preaching with DBA, I decided to be stupid.
We, my son and I, put together a series of fake news reports where I was an undercover
reporter Howie Duin, who spent the week trying to find out what the 4 parts of being a steamer
were. In this series, I was as stupid as I have been. In fact, there was one day that I really wasn’t
sure it wasn’t going to work, nor was I sure I could do it. I kept telling people, this segment was
either going to be hilarious, or I was going to get fired. Well, I’m still employed, and it went great.
The next day when our segment started on the announcements, you could here students
applauding for the spot.
Well, so what. Alright, I made a fool of myself in front of the whole school, but did it make
any difference? Simply, yes. I had teachers telling me that it was the most they had ever seen
their students pay attention to the announcements, and that they had students telling other
students to be quiet, so they could hear. In addition, I had several teachers tell me that they
quizzed their students later about the 4 parts, and that a majority could name them. This
definitely hadn’t happened before.
The moral of the story. If you want students to listen to the announcements, don’t be afraid
to be stupid. And if you want an idea of how to be stupid on the announcements, take a look at
the article below.
Second Annual “Talk Like a Pirate Day” Challenge
Let’s make this simple. September 19th is Talk Like a Pirate Day and the challenge is on.
Last year I challenged everyone to try to convince their administrative staff to do the
announcements in pirate talk that day, and even though I really said it for fun, several people
emailed me that they did it. So this year, let’s sweep the nation with Talk Like a Pirate
Announcments. If you need any motivation to do it, see the DBA article above, and if you need
details go to www.talklikeapirate.com . Oh, yeah...ARRRRGGGHHH!!!