What Julia Child Taught Me About Teaching

Sometimes important lessons are waiting to be learned outside our own professions. Of course, Julia Child was a teacher, but I’d never thought to look to her as a source of inspiration for elementary education or educational leadership. Here’s some of what I found when I did…

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

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Julia embodied joyfully embracing the art and craft of something you love to do, and the learning stance that goes along with that commitment. She was convinced that, in cooking, there was a right and wrong way to do things, and strove to learn effective technique. This commitment to constant improvement of her own practice, of course, was not without risk–or failure. Her approach to making mistakes publicly has been inspirational to me as a teacher, and even more so as an administrator.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

What’s most important to me here, as a teacher, is the demonstration. Julia never just stands there and tells you what to do. She does it, talking her way through the process, explaining her choices and the pitfalls she’s (usually) avoiding. After walking through the process, she always has something already prepared, so we get to see what the finished product should ideally look like. She doesn’t give worksheets.

Live demonstrations are risky. When she flubs the flip, she first says that she lacked courage when she was flipping it. She reflects a little more, and suggests that it should be more browned before flipping. She’s not too flustered, though, and the best part is when she shows us how to accept the mistake, move on, and make something new out of it! As a teacher and a coach, I strive to be just as willing to share the knowledge and expertise I have as well as my desire to learn and try new things–which means I have to be willing to fail, reflect on what happened, and learn from it, and I have to do it publicly.

“Cooking well doesn’t mean cooking fancy.”

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We don’t need more new fancy devices, apps, programs, gizmos, doodads, bells or whistles. If we study, practice, and reflect, we can continue to hone our skills and relish the reward of an increasingly refined technique.

“The main thing is to have a gutsy approach and use your head.”

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Be brave! Trust that you know what you know, and that it’s OK to not know what you don’t know–yet!

Stay tuned for my next installment…What I learned about conferring from Tim Gunn.

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