Teaching & Learning



My family recently came back from Disneyworld.  As annual pass holders – a requisite bribe for my daughter upon arriving here 9 months ago – we have tried to get over to the mouse as often as we can.  In fact, we’ve actually been at Disney for 3 of my daughter’s 8 birthdays already.  But now, we’re Floridians to boot.

That brings me to today.  We celebrated my daughter’s 8th birthday at Disney (albeit a week early as she had a friend in town).  She wore the birthday button, got the birthday surprises, and even had a Princess dinner.  (More on that in just a bit.)

ExpectationMy little girl, who needed Keena and I to fulfill her every need just a few short years ago is no longer a baby, nor a toddler – she’s now a kid.  Over time, she’s been called by many monikers: Peanut, Sugar Plum Fairy, Monkey, Addie Girl, Ads, A to the B, Munchkin, Girlie, and Cutie – I’m sure there were more, but my memory is already fading (sigh).

But Disney specifically brought back a really important lesson to me.  Something I vowed to remember and hate to admit I quickly forgot.  It’s something I desperately wanted to bring to Saint Leo and so it was a good visit for a reminder.  But it all has to do with expectations.

When Addie turned 4, we found ourselves, for the first time, at the Magic Kingdom.  She took it all in.  Autographs from every princess, rides on the coasters, and foods that tickled her palette – all of it was a birthday extravaganza.  So, when we (teasingly) asked her upon waking up in Orlando, “What’s your birthday wish Ads?” she responded quickly, “I can’t tell you or it won’t come true.”

Fair enough.  That is how wishes work after all.  So we loaded up and headed to the Kingdom.

After a day of fun and sun – Orlando in July isn’t exactly the best weather for merriment – we were beat.  So we started the usual back and forth about the fireworks.  Should we stay or go?  My wife and I talked under our breaths in code, trying to figure out if we could get Addie on the tram without seeing (quite honestly) the best fireworks display anywhere.  But as we walked by the castle, trying to escape, we stumbled onto a new activity for Disney.  They had begun a light show that literally transforms the castle, using lasers and colors.  We found ourselves on a flanking bridge, what turned out to be a perfect spot to watch, as the castle transformed from princess story to princess story.  It became Merida’s castle, then Auroras, etc.

It wasn’t until the accompanying music turned to Rapunzel though, that our breath was taken away.  Not by the show, but by Addie.

If you have a child who watches any kind of tv or movies, you know that they will gladly watch the same show over and over again.  There is something to this from a neural networking perspective – they are training their brains to a degree.  The known loads them up with dopamine.  And Addie was no different.  But at that point in time, she had been on a binge of Rapunzel.  We needed to get her autograph, we found a doll of her lizard friend that clung to Addie’s backpack, and she wore purple and gold the whole day.  But when that light show transformed the castle into Rapunzel’s home, something that will still bring me to tears happened.  It started with a single lantern in the middle of the castle.  That lantern, true to the story, floated upwards to the tippy top of the structure.  Then a second lantern came from the bottom, followed by another.  Soon, the entire castle was covered with floating lanterns shooting up to the night sky.  And that was when my little girl clutched her hands over her heart and said, very much to nobody and/or everybody, “My wish…my wish came true!”

Excuse me while I blow my nose.

RapunzelLanternsSee, my daughter fully expected the lanterns to show up at some point.  She had wished it after all.  And Disney wishes – princess wishes – always come true.

Fast forward four years.  My easy-to-carry munchkin is now a tall, sassy eight year old.  She has thoughts and opinions of her own and is willing to fight hard for all of them, good or bad, right or wrong.  But she’s also very sweet, loving, and caring for other people, all creatures, and especially her family.

So once again, we went back to the Magic Kingdom.  We got reservations for Addie and a friend who shares a birthday week to dine at Cinderella’s castle.  It may be the single finest dining experience any little girl could ever have.  Every food they might desire is procured and served.  Every princess they want to meet spends time at their table, signing books and taking photos, in full character and chatting it up, princess to princess.  It’s amazing.  So, when Addie proclaimed it was the best meal of her life, we slapped our parent-of-the-year faces on and asked, “So, did your wish come true this year?”

She paused only a moment when she responded.  She wasn’t sad or melancholy, just matter-of-fact.  “No Dad, my wish could never come true.  It’s too hard.”  Wait, what?  In the midst of the laughter and smiling and singing and dancing, she explained a truth to me that was bittersweet.  On the one hand it meant she is growing up even faster than I’d thought.  But on the other hand…

And it all came flooding back.  When does life ‘kick’ the wishes out of us?  When are expectations dashed and replaced with something else?  I guess between 7 and 8, if my little girl is any indication.  No longer is there an expectation for wishes to come true.  No longer is there an expectation of good things to happen.  Reality has set in.

But the lesson matters.  Because I know better, don’t you?  I’ve seen every person I know get up their expectations and wishes in various contexts throughout life.  Ever talk to an engaged person?  What are their expectationsWe’re not going to fight.  (Yes, you are.)  We’re in love and that will never fade.  (Yes, it will.)  We’ll have everything we ever need if we’re together.  (No, you won’t.) 

Don’t we all start upping our expectations with major life transitions?  New job – new expectations. New car – new expectations.  New house – new expectations.  So what about college?

Don’t our students have expectations coming into the University?  Of course they do.  And what are those expectations?  There are likely a lot of them:

GroupProjectsExpectationsTo meet amazing friends – to find amazing professors who will inspire and care deeply for their well being – to learn the skills and gain the understanding it will take to be successful in life, however they might define it – to tie education to life / career – and so on.

So, how soon before we ‘kick’ those expectations out of them?  How quickly do college students feel alone, uninspired, disparaged, or even like they are just wasting time?

But it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?  Studies show that a truly amazing professor or advisor can change a perspective for a student up to 6 terms AFTER an experience.  Wow. Imagine what might happen with TWO amazing people at a college.  Or what about THREE?  Imagine a student feeling like their expectations were actually met.  Imagine walking across that stage on graduation night proclaiming much like my four year old, “My wish came true…”

Now stop imagining it and make it happen.  That’s my goal and I EXPECT to make it happen at Saint Leo.  How about you?

Good luck and good learning.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer

(Happy Birthday Addie Girl)

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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