Clock Builders

August 26, 2022

Recently I was listening to an audiobook from one of my favourite authors, Jim Collins, who wrote “Good to Great” and “Built to Last”. Jim Collins spoke about the importance of visionary organisations not just aiming for quick gains, but building on organisational culture that will last the test of time. As I reflected on what he said, I could see some applications to CAIS and education.

We have all heard the saying, “if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” I think an improvement on that saying would be “if you teach a man to fish, you feed him and others for a lifetime.” The heart of this saying is that it is more worthwhile to teach someone to do something (for themselves and others) than to do it for them. Jim Collins gives an analogy of “time telling compared to building clocks”. We would be amazed and delighted with people who could just look at the sun or stars and tell us the exact time of day. But how much more beneficial it would be for us if those talented people built a clock that could continuously tell the time, even after they were long gone.

It struck me that education is like that too. One approach to education is just to “spoon feed” students, tell them what they need to know, even without them necessarily understanding what they were learning. That approach is not only deficient, but it creates “dependent” students, students who depend on their teacher for knowledge or who depend on parents to do their homework. The focus of that educational philosophy is only to tell students “WHAT” they need to know.

At CAIS, our teachers know “what” students must learn, but their approach is to teach students the “why and how”. Why this knowledge or skill is important, and how they can learn and understand it. Teachers are not “time-tellers” but “clock builders.” They are building and cultivating your children to grow into independent learners with a thirst for learning.

In Proverbs 22:6 we read “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Here we see a focus on “training” which implies on-going instruction and work. While the parent is the coach, it is the child doing the work! As parents, we can like teachers, quickly defaulting to telling our children “what” they need to know or do. We say, “look both ways before you cross the road” or “you must always speak the truth”. This approach is quick and easy but it creates dependency, your child waits to be told what to do. A better way is to take the time to explain to your child “why” looking both ways before crossing the street is important, and “how” they do this before watching your child try it on their own. Explaining to your child why telling the truth is important and how to do it, especially if there might be a consequence to telling the truth, is a far better way to build character that lasts for a lifetime. This approach gives parents confidence that when they are not present, their child still knows what to do.

May I encourage parents to be clock builders not time tellers!

Mr. Richard Vanderpyl
Head of School