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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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Lessons from the Lotus: An Analogy for “Seeing” Students’ Growth

The lotus flower has been a symbol in Buddhism tradition as well as Hinduism and Egyptian culture.  For example, Buddhists have come to associate the flower with beauty and purity and as a symbol of spiritual awakening. The flower is certainly unique. Growing in murky ponds, the lotus rises above the water and mud in all its colorful glory.

Growing up (I’m about to date myself), I loved the television series, Kung Fu, starring David Carradine, who played Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk from China, who wandered the Western frontier fighting bad buys and righting wrongs. The show was ripe with Eastern philosophy. In one episode, Master Po, Caine’s blind teacher, used the lotus to explain the differences in growth and consciousness among individuals. Master Po explained that some lotuses grow high above the water; though their roots remain in the water and mud, they remain “untouched.” Other lotuses grow just to the surface—but no higher. Yet some remain underwater. Master Po asked Caine, “but are they still not all flowers?”

The analogy works wonderfully for the classroom. No matter where or who you teach, there will be some students growing faster than others. Some will be flourishing, others remaining at level, and others who need more help to grow. And their levels of growth might depend on the content or even a specific lesson that day. It’s a fluid process.

But isn’t this a beautiful way to view our students? To see them as flowers, in various levels of development, all with the potential for much growth. Doesn't this inspire more than labeling students as remedial or special education or gifted? We realize that it’s natural to find individuals at all stages of growth—and that it’s unreasonable to expect them to be able to do all the same learning and thinking, just because they might be the same age or in the same classroom.

Yes, this is all very philosophical but you might ask how this applies to teaching? Here are some ideas:

  1. When planning instruction, consider students’ current stage of ability in relationship to the academic standard you are teaching. Are they “above the water,” that are already competent and require additional challenge and rigor to grow even higher. Are some students at level or close to at level? Perhaps they require some reviewing or shorter amounts of instruction. Now, consider the students “under the water.” What must you do to help them rise higher, to master the standards? What sort of accommodations will they need?
  2. Contemplate your students’ current emotional and social development. While this might not be addressed in academic standards, this certainly plays an important role in students’ learning. Are some students more mature than others (most likely) and how does this impact your classroom management, procedures, etc.? Are students in your classroom thriving emotionally? Do they have the supports and structure to feel safe and happy?
  3. Finally, extend this concept of the lotus to yourself and your own teaching practices. Are you growing above the water, merely keeping your head above water, or sinking? What do you need to continue growing? Is it critical reflection, professional development, collaboration with colleagues or joining a professional learning community, reading an inspiring book or watching a motivating TED Talk? Maybe you just need some rest. Think about your own growth since the teacher is the most important component of student learning.   

The lotus has served me well as my own personal symbol as an educator. I have tried to remain focused on my own growth and that of my students and those around me, despite the “muck” that we often find within education. I think this image might also serve you well.