The Power of a Wave

25 07 2011

While traveling to Alberta to a family reunion last week, my wife and I noticed on our long drive that all motorcyclists wave to each other in a unique way. It’s not actually a wave as much as a quasi-open-palmed, “low-5” gesture – but without the contact. The hand never extends above the handlebar plane. And more than that, hog riders don’t seem to exert any extra energy beyond their left arms – no eye contact, no neck movement . . . well maybe a smile, but ultimately the hand disengages from the handlebar in a lazy cadence, the low wave gesture is made and then returned again in a smooth motion like nothing ever happened. These guys and girls are the ultimate in cool and I’ve noticed that the peculiar greeting is reserved only for others in the bike fraternity.

I should know. I tried to wave back at them in this way from the confines of my vehicle, but to no avail.

How come no one told me of this style of greeting for 2-wheelers before? Do truck drivers and scooter riders have such a deep affinity for one another that they too have a common acknowledgement? And why do we even wave anyway? Who invented that?

My curiosity led me to uncover that in ancient times, people would wave to each other to show the one they are greeting that their hands are free from weaponry. These days, it’s a universal peaceful greeting and a gesture of friendliness. On the rest of our trip, I deliberately began noticing how people wave to each other, I took stock of the types of waves that I’ve seen (and given) and with the help of some others, came up with a few other reasons for waving:

a) the “Your Welcome” wave you give when you let someone merge in front of you. The mystery driver is grateful to you and they give you highway payment because they know that you’ll be arriving at your destination one car length later because you let them in.

b) the “Red Light Squeeze” wave. This one needs a bit of explanation, but we’ve all been on the receiving end of this scenario: You pull up to a red light and the guy in front of you squeezes into the intersection an inch at a time so that you can make your right turn faster. Pure joy. As you pull up to make your move, it’s time to thank that special someone¬† for shaving 2o seconds off your travel time.

c) the “Pre-wave” as in, I’m thanking you because the front of my mini van is already pointed into your traffic-jammed lane and I know that you see me so please just let me in. Sure, you can try to avoid eye-contact, but that wouldn’t be friendly at all. Besides, I’m determined to Pre-wave you to build up some motorist goodwill.

d) the “Apology” wave. Although this looks similar to the Thank-You wave, don’t be fooled. The Apology wave is usually accompanied by a big grimmace instead of an eyebrow raise. So the next time you almost sideswipe a fellow traveler because your attention was diverted trying to recover a french fry that fell into your lap, be sure to offer a heartfelt Apology wave.

e) And finally, the “Go-Ahead” wave – my absolute favorite. You know the one. You roll up to a four-way stop at exactly the same time as another car and you (in your state of motorist generosity) decide to let them proceed first. Maybe it’s a sweet old lady barely peeking over the wheel or maybe you just want to avoid the world’s slowest car accident. Either way, you give them the most pleasant, open-palmed Go-Ahead wave, which is sort of how the pretty ladies on The Price Is Right unveil a new washer and dryer set.

I’ve noticed that proper courtesy-wave etiquette keeps the non-verbal, two-way talking alive on our streets and highways and prevents mayhem from ruling the motorways. So when you do something generous, keep watch for a wave and when your needing a highway favour, be sure to give the acceptable hand gesture – in the form of an appropriate wave.


The futility of trying to teach everything of importance . . .

1 07 2011

It’s July 1. The school year is officially over, my keys have been handed back to the drawer where they came from, and the pile in a corner of my garage has grown considerably. I’m fairly new to the profession and I’m discovering that I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to educational materials. I don’t want to throw out the meaningful stuff and in doing so, I run the risk of not having a warm place to park my car in the winter. ¬† Even though I should be making the transition to summer holidays, there are too many post-it notes on my brain to enjoy the long-awaited break.

I’ve been the recipient of much encouragement over the last week or so as staff and students have affirmed my role as an educator. I’m taking a course of my own right now and have been reading a lot on the theme of assessment of late. I’m finding that there are fundamental questions that I continue to ask long after I’ve said goodbye to my students:

“How do I really know if they learned (insert subject or concept here)?

“How much of what I taught did others before me cover? How much will be repeated with the next teacher?”

“Are there significant gaps that my students will have in their learning because I can rationalize that I didn’t have time to get to it all?” and finally,

“Who am I to decide what the essential elements in my student’s curriculum are when it is apparent that the school year is too short to possibly cover it all?”

I struggle with this last one as I know I did my best with the circumstances I was given (walking in to a new class on April 11), but I continue to wrestle with the mandate B.C. teachers are given to teach all of the Learning Outcomes the provincial Ministry of Education provides. Does anyone actually get to all of it? Does anyone else struggle with the almost unbearable burden of responsibility to get to all of it?

I’m taking solace in an article written by Grant Stiggins where he writes, “Students cannot possibly learn everything of value by the time they leave school, but we can instill in them the desire to keep questioning throughout their lives.” He feels that the goals of education are not to eliminate ignorance. Furthermore, it is his opinion that “the view that everything of importance can be thoughtfully learned by Grade 12 is an illusion.” An authentic education will therefore consist of “developing habits of mind and high standards of craftsmanship” necessary to learn. If this is true, then why don’t I feel better?

Stiggins goes on to explain that since it is impossible to teach everything we know to be of value, then our primary mandate must be to equip students with the ability to keep questioning. If I follow this idea through, the role of the teacher then should be one where we act as more of a concierge at a hotel and less as a distributor of knowledge. A concierge directs the curious in the right direction, (e.g. “Where can I get my suit drycleaned?” or “Where’s the best family restaurant within walking distance?”) without taking ownership of the request itself. What a privilege it would be to engage students so thoroughly that they learn to take pleasure in seeking important things on their own!¬† There is satisfaction in the ability to steer without having control of the gas pedal, don’t you think?

The essentials, I’ve come to realize, are not necessarily the basics when it comes to education. The laws of physics, the rules of grammar, the concepts of geometry, determining the difference between fact and opinion, and knowing when to speak up and when to listen, are not skills learned in isolation all within a school year. They represent embedded and persistent problems within organized knowledge that should appear and reappear in different ways and levels of ability within the student’s entire realm of formal education and beyond.

In realizing this, I suppose I can breathe easier as I approach the summer season. Learning for students of all ages should never end as I’ve come to realize that important questions don’t always need to be answered within the boundaries of the school day. Simply put, there is too much for any one educator to know, never mind teach to dozens of students in a crowded day or busy season. Wisdom therefore, should matter more than the accumulation of knowledge. (A common theme of King Solomon’s in Ecclesiastes, but I’m not sure how that can be explained to curriculum deciders though!)

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’m going to look forward to September – I get the opportunity to start the process all over again with the new wisdom I have gained. And for this, I’m psyched to be a teacher.