My Life as a Hamster

“Teaching, in its truest form, is simply inspiring other people to inspire each other, and to learn and grow together. It is about connection…” –Mary Tarashuk

I keep thinking about why I do what I do. I believe that relationship and connection are the most important parts of teaching, and I want to be the kind of teacher who nurtures children’s creativity. I know there are ways in which I am still holding on to some teaching practices that are not always helping my students to become the kinds of learners I want them to be. With my constant internal critique of the existing school system, I wonder why I’m not more radical! Change is scary and hard and sometimes, as Mary Tarashuk says in her excellent blog post on Teaching by Doing Something Meaningful, we get so caught up in trying to get things done that we lose sight of the great things that we already are doing. During the first term I’d been working hard to get everything done and was feeling a lot like this hamster…

It’s difficult to think about changing what you do when you are caught up in the quotidian. And so we end up pushing our children through the same things that didn’t work for us. Didn’t someone once say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? (This, I believe, is attributed to Albert Einstein, as are so many other quotes that he may or may not have actually said. It’s convenient though, to have someone like him to back you up when you want to make a point! Especially since good old Albert supposedly; had dyslexia and/or a learning disability, failed in school, was bad in math etc.) But back to my point, I know there are things that I keep doing in my classroom that aren’t serving any real purpose. I want to make my students’ learning more authentic. So, my big question remains. How can I do that within the confines of school?

During our design sprint the other day, Celeste challenged me to, “Ban yourself from the classroom for a week.” At first I thought, that’s crazy, but then I thought, well, why not? I keep talking about how I would like my students to learn in the context of real life experiences. What if I took them out in to the world and just stepped back? I imagined that this could possibly devolve into a Lord of the Flies type situation (although, come to think of it, there probably would be a lot of “authentic learning” happening, just maybe not of the kind we would like). It does seem to me though, that when we adults get involved, children’s learning loses something of its “shininess”. It makes me think of this poem by American Poet, Billy Collins.

On Turning 10

Most of the children I teach will turn 10 this year and I don’t want learning to lose it’s shininess for them. I remember my nephew at 2, playing in the backyard and climbing up into what is essentially a largish sort of bush. “I tlimed my first tree!” he kept saying as he sat there on a branch not 2 feet off the ground. He looked around grinning like the Cheshire Cat, “I tlimed my first tree!” That’s how I want my students to feel when they learn to do something, impressed with their own prowess.

So, enough of this blathering, I must take action! I’ve thought a lot about the maker movement and how I could use it to harness my students’ interest and motivation. I’ve thought about how I can combine the maker movement and inquiry and design thinking and meaningful learning and I want to try it all! (I confess I do have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew…).

At our second Face2Face session, after working through the design thinking process and helped by discussion with Celeste, I came up with the question, “How might we harness students’ natural curiosity (talents, interests, etc.), so that they feel good about their learning and about coming to school each day.” And, after getting some valuable feedback, I began to design this possible solution.


Who knows what else will happen? This is a great place to rest for a while. Now I feel more like this hamster…

Merry Christmas, one and all!


6 thoughts on “My Life as a Hamster

  1. Love your open reflection here. I would agree that I too often feel like I am on a hamster wheel in education. It’s a good analogy but Cohort 21 and the design movement allows for the hamster to be freed and to choose a new path of discovery. The maker movement is certainly a great way to inspire inquiry and I think you have asked an excellent question to steer your action plan this year.

    Check in with @crussell ( and @ksolowey ( as they too are looking at inquiry and design/makerspaces in their classrooms.

    I hope you have an excellent holiday.


    1. Thank you Tim! I’m really looking forward to checking in with others at our next F2F session and hearing what everyone else is doing. Now that I’m back to work, I’m determined not to get on that hamster wheel again! Hope you have a great first week back.

  2. I’d be interested in hearing more at our next F2F about your criticisms of the existing school system (so fun!). Your motivations are inspirational, and I think we would all like to get off that high-speed hamster wheel and enjoy the process of student learning rather than just keep up with the paperwork. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

    1. Thank you! I’d love to chat with you, Ruth and to hear what you are doing in your teaching practice. I find I often get inspiration from other teachers. See you soon!

  3. Great Post Miriam!
    I love your willingness to toss it aside and jump into something new! You should check out @jenbibby and her genius hour work! It allows students to explore what interests them and then present on their learning.

    As you wade out into complete student agency – embrace the loud and frenetic place that learning can be. Be beware of what I call Learning Fracking – it’s when 20 students are exploring different things and you’re trying to keep everything in check… it can be quite overwhelming! @timrollwagen did some great stuff with PBL last year, so connecting with him is also a great option – which you’ve already done! here’s a blog post on his experience

    Good luck with your new journey – I’m looking forward to reading about it!

  4. Great analogy. I am so excited to hear all about where this takes you.
    I too would love to chat about how you are keeping the “shininess” within and outside of the confines of the school.

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