Creating Waves for our Learners

There are many things I like about spending time at Waskesiu, but something I particularly enjoy is when the lake is alive with huge waves. As a young boy I used to love swimming in the waves, diving in head first or swimming underwater experiencing their momentum propelling me towards the shore. One of the unique features at Waskesiu is a large concrete breakwater that is designed to protect the shore line. This huge wall juts out into the lake, and when the conditions are just right, massive waves smash into the wall sending water high into the air. We used to stand on the breakwater waiting for this to happen and then cheer with glee as we were drenched by the flying water. Something else that was so neat about this was the way the waves interacted with each other as they bounced off the wall. Every so often two waves would be perfectly timed and the crest would be higher than all the others.

In physics, this phenomenon is termed wave interference. Simply put, wave interference occurs when two waves traveling in the opposite direction meet. When you visualize a wave, you may think about the giant rollers that brave men and women surf upon, at least that’s what I think about. I visualize the crest of the wave, the large, ominous wall of water that builds until it falls over on itself creating a white cap. Rarely do I think of the trough, the lowest point, but as a physics teacher (or student for that matter) will tell you, you cannot have a wave without a crest and a trough, they go together (and yes, we could get technical and talk about compressions and rarefactions, but alas, I need to get to the point here).

In our schools we get to have an impact on our learners. Every day we can create ripples through our actions. Just this week I had a conversation with a student about the importance of being on time and the unintended message a student sends when they arrive well after class has commenced. This student was not excited about this conversation, in fact, I could tell he was a little perturbed by it all. Impact. My actions had a ripple effect, and I wonder now if he moved through the next few moments of his day in a trough. He was sent off to work with his teacher and classmates, and those interactions would also send ripples his way. Were there more negative interactions coming his way? Was the trough he was in made deeper?

We do not always know where our learners are on the wave. Are they riding high on the crest or are they in the depths of the trough? This is what has me thinking.

Because we do not always know where someone is on their wave, we need to do our best to send positive wave energy their way.

Look at these two diagrams:

If there is a student who is riding high on their wave, regardless of what got them there, and I am able to add to that, we end up with wave interference and the crest increases. We have amplified that feeling for them. What a wonderful gift we can give our students!

If there is a student who is in the depths of a trough, even if it is not readily apparent, and we are able to send a positive wave their way we see that these waves cancel each other out. We have the potential to take that student out of that funk. What a wonderful gift we can give our students!

I am pretty sure it is obvious by now that I am not a physics teacher, nor was I a strong physics student, but I do think the message is pretty clear.

We get to create ripples every day through our actions, and at times, through our non-actions. When we all seek to create waves that are authentic and positive, we have an opportunity to create interference between these waves and lift our learners up. When we all seek to create waves that are authentic and positive, we have an opportunity to cancel out troughs, and bring our learners back to where they need to be. This way they can be prepared to catch the next crest.

What do YOU think?

  • What are some intentional ways you are creating crests for your students to catch?
  • Do you know the signs of a student caught in a trough?
  • Who creates waves for you, and how are you intentional about surrounding yourself with these types of people?

Thanks for reading, let’s keep the conversation going.

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen

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