George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Are You a Chaser of Crows?: Using a Different Approach to Enlighten Students

November 27, 2006

We recently lost a great dog to illness. Pip came to us a little over nine years ago, a mixed breed, kind and gentle, and way too smart for his own good. Man, what a guy he was.

I was more than a tad humbled when it took me years to figure out how to lock Pip out of the trash can in the kitchen. And sometime, when you have a minute, ask me to tell you about the time he started the grease fire in the kitchen while working to get at some bacon fat in a pan pushed way back on the gas stove after we had all gone to bed.

But it is not Pip's often weasel-like behaviors in the kitchen I want to talk about here, but rather one of his favorite outdoor activities. Pip, you see, was a chaser of crows. It didn't matter whether we were on a walk in the woods or on a country road. We could be on the front lawn or in the backyard, raking leaves with him sitting guard duty, but if one or more specimens of Corvus brachyrhynchos were to fly overhead, he was gone. Off into the woods or down the road, his head up, eyes fixed on the prize, he became a dog possessed.

In a few minutes he would be back, and never with any signs of success. There would be no feathers in his mouth or even peck marks around his snout as evidence of a tussle with one of his quarries, but somehow he always seemed calmer upon his return. I came to understand that all that really mattered was the process; the result was unimportant. It was a good day if he had chased another crow, a good day if he had been given the chance to do his doggy duty.

So I ask you to consider whether you are, on occasion, a chaser of crows. Are there things you do, activities that you engage in with kids that are not specifically and directly focused on "raising student achievement" or "improving teaching and learning for all students?" Are there some things you do with kids that you do simply because these are the things good teachers, good adult role models, good people do? Do you ask riddles or pose problems that are not connected to your curriculum but provide opportunities to make students think in new ways or even to laugh? Are there activities you engage in even though you know you will never "win" anything by so doing? Are there places or times in your life where you act on a firm belief that the greatest gain is in the chase, and not the capture?

In memory of Pip, I urge us all, from time to time, to be chasers of crows, and in those times to revel in the process, not the product. Let me know what you think.

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