Engagement, yet again

Wow, so long since I have posted, and “contributed” as I said I wanted to do, versus always being in consumption mode….well, I was busy…no excuse, I know…kitchen reno…(did I mention I hate renovating?)  I do not even want to think about blogging about renovating as I will use all my storage space in one blog…but I digress.

I have posted before about travelling with my own family, as well as with students.  I have just returned from London and Paris with a small group of kids.  Excursions included Stonehenge and Bath, as well as Versailles outside of Paris.  What does this have to do with engagement, you ask?  Let me continue.

This one is short, but it once again highlights my own personal struggle to engage young minds in the things my old mind is engaged in, and things I think they need to be engaged in (which is rather patronizing of me, I know.)  One of my students on my trip was a typical 17 year old girl.  Young and not overly versed in much outside of her own personal world and what has been taught in school.  My own children are the same.  

However, we were in Chateau Versailles and we toured the living quarters of the kings and queens, the Hall of Mirrors, etc.  On a few occasions during our time in Paris, Napoleon was mentioned and he seemed to pique the students’ curiosity a wee bit.  We saw the two versions of the “Coronation of Napoleon”, painted by Jacques Louis David, which hang in the Louvre, and surprisingly enough, in Versailles.  

I say surprisingly because on several occasions it was noted by various tour guides that Napoleon did not appreciate Versailles, saw it as the ultimate representation of the Ancien Regime and never spent a single night in the opulent and glorious building.  However, During a restoration of the Monarchy under Louis Philippe, a room in Versailles was dedicated to the memory and history of Napoleon, so he shares space with the likes of Louis XV, the ill-fated Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  

So, we were on the bus leaving Versailles heading back to the commercial streets of St. Michel and downtown Paris and this same young lady, who I would not call an avid lover of history, wanted to know why Louis Philippe would dedicate a room to Napoleon in Versailles.  A good question.  One of the simple answers is Louis had turned Versailles into a French Military Museum of sorts, as well as a cultural museum, but alas that explanation is inadequate and does not really get into the reasons.  I do not know them.  I am not a French historian and my knowledge of French history is sketchy at best and features bits and pieces here and there.

However, I did know some stuff about Napoleon, in terms of general context, general French Revolution history, the response from the conservative monarchies of Europe, etc.  I begin to lose interest in about the 1830’s as history winds its way towards the revolutions of 1848 that ultimately restored conservative power bases all over Europe.

But the ultimate point was, a student who is not a student of history, who has probably never read a book about Napoleon or the French Revolution or the Revolutions of 1848 had her curiosity piqued and began asking questions.  That is the important point of it all.  Something clicked.  Furthermore, as I was explaining some historical details, others chimed in, asking questions, that lead to other paths, etc.  I even had some kids from the other tour groups (both from Texas) get involved.

So, now I ask, how do we recreate these conditions in our classrooms?  As much as I would love to be able to travel the world with kids for months at a time, learning about the world right in the midst of it, it will not happen, will it?  So, how do we structure our classrooms, our schools, our boards and most importantly, our provincial education system, to capture our students’ interests?  None of my students on that trip will become history professors, or at least I do not think they will.  However, along with the sights of Piccadilly Circus, Camden Town, Central London, Versailles, Paris, Montmartres and everything in between, some curiosity to know more was ignited.  Will it last?  I do not know?  Will they go deeper and further?  I have no idea.  However, they were engaged in learning something they wanted to know about.  

Above all else in my days as an administrator, above the reports, and the discipline and the parent calls, and SO business, there is nothing more important than student engagement.  As a matter of fact, successfully engaging students will ensure that I have few reports to complete, no discipline to worry about, few parent calls, and wonderful discussions with SO’s.  So, how do we do it?

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