Learning with the Lion King

lion-kingI’ve written before about seeing the world though the eyes of the opportunist super learner.

Simply put, this is about having your learning goggles on all the time as life inevitably throws up ideas and opportunities to learn and reflect on our teaching and the learning of our students.

Sure, the holidays are time for relaxing and “switching off” there is no doubt. Re-charging batteries and taking time out of the emotional toll of the classroom is very important.

The only problem is that the opportunist super learner can never entirely switch off, neither would they want to. That would be to blatantly ignore valuable information or experiences that present themselves to help us get better at what we do.

You can’t choose when, and when not, to put on the learning goggles, they are a part of us as teachers and learners. Subconsciously, the radar is always ‘up’ to find connections between things in this world.  It happens naturally. And sometimes they come from strange and wonderful places.

As a kick off to our summer honeymoon trip in the UK, my wife and I went to The Lion King in London’s west end.  A musical theatre lover as a child (and still now I suppose) the west end has always been a magical place for me, where wonderful stories meet song and dance.

I have seen the Lion King movie many times but last evening as I watched the live performance, I made so many connections to our work as educators.

As our year 6s graduated recently, it forced me to reflect on what legacy or impressions we had left for them to take forward to high school.  The Circle of Life in a school is no more prominent than when you say goodbye to a cohort and, almost as quickly, say hello to a new group of students. This is a responsibility that is shared amongst teachers, but I bare my share of it and I certainly feel the responsibility. What impact have we had by the time they leave?

Perhaps it was serendipitous timing then as I watched Simba grow into the King of the Pride Lands and to follow the legacy of his father Mufasa.

Here are some of my reflections with which I hope YOU may connect;

Early in the story Simba is told he will inherit “all the land the light touches” when he is crowned king. But he is told never to visit the land beyond the horizon (the elephants graveyard).  Of course, his curiosity and courage get the better of him and his adventures there end in a confrontation with the hyenas. Musfasa arrives just in time to save him from harm.

thehyenas
While Simba may have been misguided, Mufasa comments later “I don’t want to stifle his curiosity”. How many times have we felt that? Asking students to be courageous while trying to protect them from failure, from being wrong, from giving them misguided ambitions. The important connection I made was that we, like Mufasa, must encourage this bravery and simply have to be there to ‘save them from harm’ in their learning. Our students thrive in an environment where being courageous enough to make mistakes is valued as long as they know we are there and we care.

simba_and_nala
The friendship between Nala and Simba, which develops into a beautiful love story reminded me of the importance of friendship as our students grow.  Recently at a graduation dinner, one of our year 6 students thanked our Deputy Principal for helping to “Create friendships where they don’t exist and mend friendships when they are broken”. It was a very touching sentiment offered by this student.  After 7 years at school this was one of the things she valued most to take forward into high school, friendship. I think we have to actively foster this in our classes and create opportunities for our students to really value each other, and what they all have to offer as class mates, as friends and as young adults.

One of the best parts about the Lion king musical is how the cast sing and dance in the aisles and bring the show “out” to the audience.  Most shows I’ve gone to are confined to the stage where performers stand and deliver, but the lion king performance made you feel like you were right there in the Pride Lands of Africa.

lion king aisles (10)
It makes me wonder how much of our teaching looks like a stand and deliver performance, I bet the students in our schools would say lots of it looks and feels like this.

Teaching is not something that happens in front of you, it happens around you.  It feels like a warm hug rather than a talking too.

How do we bring the learning OUT TO and AROUND the students and not simply something that happens in from of them or AT them? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

The part of the story that had the most profound impact (and my favourite part) is when Rafiki meets the now care-free Simba at the pond an encourages him to remember the legacy left to him by Mufasa.  Here Simba is visited by the ghost of Mufasa in the sky, who tells him that he must take his rightful place as the true king of the Pride Lands. Simba then realizes that he can no longer run from his past and goes back home.

The message in the song “He Lives in You” is magical and inspiring and was easily the highlight of the story.

Every day students are having these coming of age moments as they grow, we may just not see them as clearly as we do in this story. What legacy are we leaving them to follow? Is our role modeling having the impact that Mustafa did on Simba? Or are we more like Scar? (Yikes).  Sure, we have no desire to churn out mini versions of ourselves, absolutely not.  Neither do we want to control the decisions they make.  But we must guide them with love and care the way Mustafa does for Simba.

In some small way, when we are no longer standing in front of them, will we “live in them?”

I hope you can connect with some of my reflections on an amazing story.  It certainly has encouraged me to look differently at the human side of ‘growing up’ of which all our students are experiencing in front of our very eyes.

For the moment I shall try to get on with the holidays with more of a “Hakuna Matata” approach to life!

Thanks for reading and I’d love you to share your comments below.

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One thought on “Learning with the Lion King

  1. Hi Ross, a very reflective pre-Christmas blog and one that I found easy to connect with. I too recently took my family to see the Lion King in the West End and can relate to a number of things that you have mentioned while also drawing my own conclusions from the show…which I will also share. Two ideas really struck me from your reflection. The first was the idea of bringing learning out to the kids. To me this revolves around the approach to learning that you take. If, as educators, we remain happy and content in the role of “sage on the stage” then the learning (like the performance) will be something that is delivered to our audience. By getting in among the learning (and becoming the guide from the side) and by exposing ourselves and our limited knowledge (after all Siedentop did describe teachers as specialists in generalism i.e. we have to know something about so many things that we aren’t able to have specialist knowledge in very many aspects of the curriculum) then we can make learning a co-constructed process. This leads into your second point – allowing kids to be curious while protecting them from harm. If we are prepared to expose ourselves as teachers and take risks then our charges will too. The problem is we often aren’t and we remain cautious. This in turn makes our students cautious. Being wrong and failing is a good thing. Think about what Michael Jordan said “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Exposing Simba to his curiosity was a risk for Mustafa, and he nearly came unstuck, and this is a lesson for teachers. In taking risks we expose our students but in doing so, I believe, we make them stronger.

    Now on to my own reflections on the Lion King. I was impressed with the huge professionalism of the whole experience. The chorography of the show. The entrances and exits of the actors and the wholeness and completeness of everything. Nothing looked out of place. As an educator and public speaker this is something that I could learn from. Nothing was left to chance and yet on occasion the busyness of my life in and out of work mean that I am not as prepared as I would like to be. Good teaching isn’t spontaneous but is the culmination of preparation and rehearsal and in that, I believe, there is always room for improvement. There may have been mistakes in the lion king but I didn’t see any. Similarly there are mistakes in my teaching. Just because the audience might not see this (in either case) doesn’t mean that both the cast and I don’t need to keep preparing and rehearsing so that the experience for the audience just gets better and better.

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to reflect Ross and have a great holiday. Ash

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