Tips For Imaginative Educators #8: Identify The Heroic

The world is full of heroes.

Some of our heroes are peoplethat exemplify qualities such as ingenuity, flexibility, agility, determination, or reliability. For example, we are impressed bytheextraordinary speed and strength of basketball playerLebron James, or theextraordinary agility and accuracy of soccer player LionelMessi. We are awestruck by the perceptiveness and intelligenceof scientist Marie Curie. We admire thebravery of Rosa Parks or Amelia Earhart. We note theselflessnessof Mother Theresa. These people all possess transcendent human qualities that we also possess. The difference, often, is that we hold the same qualities to a lesser degree. Sometimes the people we consider “heroes” are those that demonstrate in large measurequalities that we feel we lack.

But humans are not our only heroes.Wealso emotionally connect withinstitutions (the United Nations) or concepts (democracy) that exemplify values we believe in: justice, equality, freedom. We may admire the incredible abilities of differentanimal species as well. Soby “hero” I am not refering to a testosterone-driven male figure but, rather, someone or somethingexemplifying an extraordinary human quality.

The curriculum is also full of heroes; every topic of the curriculum can beseen as heroic in some way.

You’ve probablynoticed that many young people associate with heroes or idols. It is not unusual to see pictures of a rock star, artist, or actor plastered into lockers or onto bedroom walls. Our students can become quite fanatical about learning all there is to know about some athlete, actor, author, songwriter, or world leader. If our students are associating with heroes constantly in the world around them, shouldn’t we pay attention to this imaginative activity? Imaginative educators do; theybring out the heroic in the curriculum topics theyteach.


How To Evoke Heroic Qualities in Your Curriculum: Take The Challenge

As part of imaginative planning, be sure to identify what is heroic about your topic. By framing your teaching in a way that leaves students feelinghow the topic embodies or displays atranscendent human quality–you evoke your students’ emotions. This is the key to making your teaching unforgettable.

Practice:(To help you, use this resource from the Imaginative Education Research Group:Some-Heroic-qualities.pdf)Take a topic from your curriculum and choose ONE thing from the List of Some Heroic Qualities provided that might convey what is “heroic” about the topic. I call this a “challenge” for good reason–few educatorsare askedin teacher education programs to describe howtopics are “heroic”. I certainly wasn’t! If it helps, you might “personify” the topic and think—what admirable human quality describes this topic or is exemplified by it?

Some Examples:Let’s choose something basic: punctuation. What is heroic about it? What’s its superpower? Well, one possibility is that it offers us a great COURTESY for the clarity it affords language. Punctuation allows us to communicate (semi-)effectively. Acknowledge that courtesy!

What is heroic about different verb tenses? One idea is POSSIBILITY. Verb tenses are ingenious turns of language that allow us to experience and represent history, the future, conditions and whatever we imagine.

Have you ever acknowledged the THRIFT of mathematical symbols or equations? Have you ever acknowledged the TENACITY of the single-celled organism or the PERSISTENCE of water? (No matter how hard you try…you can’t get rid of water).

Courtesy, possibility, thrift, tenacity, persistence–these are all transcendent human qualities students understand because they also feel/experience them. Evoking these–tying these up with the knowledge you are teaching–is a powerful means to emotionally engage your students. You might enjoy this post entitled Calling All Imaginative Math Teachers. Itcontains a great example of how mathematical equations can betaught in a way that evokes the idea of BEAUTY. Mathematicians were asked—which is the most beautiful equation? (Any guess which one won?)

A More DetailedExample: Energy & Matter

Teaching about Energy and Matter? (approx. Grade 4 Science) Here is a super engaging lesson by imaginative educator Leone Payson. She frames her teaching around the idea of energy as IMMORTAL. In this imaginativeactivity students assign each kind of force its own heroic quality:Leone-Payson-ENERGY-Ex.pdf

By the way, this lesson was a huge hit…it was unforgettable for many students. Here’s a comment I received from Leone about the lesson’s effectiveness: “Four months after [learning about forces]I had students explaining that lesson in great detail to their parents during student conferences. I had a lot of positive parent feedback about the lesson as it was something children talked about at home when asked ‘what did you do at schooltoday?’, and resulted in one of my favourite teaching moments. I had a student who didn’t participate in the lesson, but walked around and observed the other students. When creating the superhero, I was scribing for her and she noted that her light energy superhero’s nemesis was water because the deeper you go into the ocean the less light there is. It was the first science fact she had ever shared with me! Woo!”

Here’s a brief YouTube video in which Dr. Kieran Egan and imaginative educator Caitlyn James talk more about the educational power of Heroes & Heroic Qualities.



Imaginative Educators are keenly aware of how their students’ imaginative lives work. In this case, they know that their students are actively identifying with heroes outside of school and they employ that tool for learning inside the classroom. Our literate students are constantly seeking associations with heroes in the world around them. Finding these connections is meaningful to students; identify them in your curriculum.

(Learn more about why we need to evoke students’ emotions in learninghere(“4 Reasons Why “Relevance” Can Limit Student Engagement”) or through the Tools of Imagination Series.

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