An Edgile Practice

Bill talked to me about the importance of including uplift in our EDgility practices for a long time before I got it. At least, I reach my own understanding of uplift. Bill tells me that my interpretation is quite different from his. We’ll leave that for Bill to explain in a future blog. For now, here’s my interpretation of uplift and its importance, even as I continue to learn what it means for me, for teaching and learning, and for education.

Uplift? My experience with federal programs for school improvement, which I administered through the Minnesota Department of Education, didn’t talk much about uplift. Our focus was test scores, annual improvement, value add, and on and on. My experience at the Minnesota Center for Reading Research didn’t focus on uplift either, at least not directly. There we talked some about motivation (which requires some uplifting), but mostly about strategies, scores, teaching practices, response to intervention … all the things you’d expect out of a research center working on improved instruction.

Uplift might have been implied. But uplift is so squishy, so soft. Education back at the State and the university wasn’t in the business of uplift as much as, say, rigor. Rigor sounds tough, definitely not soft. Rigor is something you can say in a meeting to school administrators with your head held high. Pushing for uplift might be too easily confused with being nice, being that teacher who tries too hard to be a friend of the students, being easy so that nobody’s feelings are hurt. But maybe this isn’t what uplift was - and when I began to see that, I began to understand Bill, at least a little.

To help understand uplift, let’s consider the opposite. I’ll coin a term for the opposite of uplift by turning both syllables 180 degrees. That gives us downpush, a word I’ve never thought of before, but a generative way of using language that I feel justified to do, since I suffered through several Chomskyan linguistics classes back in graduate school. Downpush just doesn’t do much for student motivation. We certainly don’t aspire to downpush. We may accidently practice it, perhaps, but it is hopefully never our goal.

Downpush certainly isn’t the same as rigor - so the opposite of uplift is not rigor. This gives me hope. Can we be both uplifting and rigorous at the same time?

Sure we can. Doing rigorous work is in itself uplifting - or at least it can be, especially if there are successes along the way. You put in the time and effort, you experience what many call productive struggle, and the outcome can be very satisfying, very uplifting. So rigor can be downpush or uplift, or a mixture of both. Rigor is a separate construct.

Uplift is actually a condition - an important one - that allows and breeds rigor, curiosity, confidence, and enthusiasm to learn. Without uplift, rigor is harder to come by and can quickly turn into downpush, that condition we don’t aspire to, but may accidentally practice, if you see what I mean, in the name of rigor.

That is one way that I’ve come to understand how uplift is one of the most important practices of EDgility.

The other way is this: in our world, whether the education world or your personal life or your work life or your community or chunks of society, whatever - in our world there is plenty of need for uplift, for feeling raised up, for feeling able, competent, and yes, at the risk of soundy soft and squishy, loved.

Education, in so far that is preparing the next generation for living together on our one and only great blue ball, should absolutely start with uplift so that rigor is not only enabled, but so that rigor is even worth the effort. For rigor without uplift may bring more knowledge than wisdom, and more cynism than collaboration.

Paul Magnuson
Paul Magnuson
Educational Thought Leader

We can do school better by supporting authentic learning.