This past month, I have learned that inspiration for teaching and life can come from many places: a photograph of a curled up Dachshund, a simple quote from Shakespeare, a 2nd grader’s writing assessment, or an educational email with the subject line: Are we preparing students to be chefs or cooks?
This email came from A.J. Juliani, who has written many books about student empowerment, technology, and innovation. He is the Director of Learning and Innovation at Centennial School District in Pennsylvania and also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Juliani believes that teachers and students should approach their work life chefs. He explains it this way:
When my brother passed away a few years ago, my thoughts turned to my own children. How could I help raise them to be chefs? How could I raise them to not follow the recipes of life, but instead make their own recipes for their life? But, it is not just my kids, it is all of our kids.
Juliani’s full article about his brother’s fight with cancer and his resilient approach to life is chronicled here: “Focusing on the Time you Have, Not How Much You Have.”
This is one thing I know for sure: every single one of us is not getting off this planet alive. And since this is the case, I believe we should be kind to ourselves and each other, and always put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Most importantly, we should follow our dreams and play. This is why I’m so glad that my work and my play are the same thing. Maybe I have always approached life like a chef: creating, improvising, putting things together that aren’t normally supposed to go together. To me, it makes life fun and interesting. And it’s worth it, even when I encounter mistakes. Or maybe especially when I encounter my mistakes. The mistakes make me grow and learn and try on new adventures.
This week, I was tasked with reading our students’ writing assessments. Wednesday night after dinner, tired with a cup of tea in my hand, I read this little gem from one of our 2nd graders:
I smiled when I read this passage. This student didn’t want to be pigeon-holed at the tender age of seven about what she would like to be when she grew up, so she created her own role. Nobody told her she couldn’t do that. She invented her own path. I was so pleased to see this, so happy that we were encouraging kids to think outside the box, to go beyond what lies behind them.
Reading about chef-scientists made think about all the times I’ve spent in the kitchen with children creating holiday foods, foods inspired by children’s books, and foods for the fun of it like the time I made hand-cranked watermelon ice with a rambunctious group of four-year-olds that required six cups of sugar. That recipe was the definition of SWEET!
My favorite times in the kitchen with kids were the times we created cakes using no recipes. The students had to create the recipe as we went along. I called this activity Monster Cake. I would put out a bunch of different ingredients and the children would decide which ingredients to use and how much to put in. A number of years ago, one little boy was adamant about putting a ¼ cup of salt into the cake batter. I allowed him to do that because we were making two batches and this way the children could all learn what happens to a cake with ¼ cup of salt in it. It actually was a beautiful cake, but it didn’t taste good. We crumbled it up and put it out for the birds, but even the birds and squirrels didn’t eat it! The other cake had 2 cups of chocolate chips in it and the chips sank to the bottom making a fudge layer. That cake we all ate with gusto!
While searching the web, I found that actually creating food without a recipe is now a cool and trendy thing. Some call it free-style baking. I love this idea. We should make our one trip on this beautiful planet sweet, spicy, comforting, and sometimes a bit surprising! I’m about to enter my kitchen now to make some Blustery Day Oatmeal cookies, a recipe I invented. Try them, if you dare!
Books by AJ Juliani
- The PBL Playbook
Some Inspiration for Creating Like A Chef
No Flour, Eggs, or Butter? No Problem!
Try Guys: Cookies Without a Recipe Video