Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lessons About Learning from Shakira

I went to see Zootopia with my family a few weeks ago, and the movie certainly didn’t disappoint. It had all of the magic, high-quality storytelling, and engaging characters that I’ve come to expect from a Disney animated feature.

I was particularly struck with the portrayal of the main character, Lt. Judy Hopps, a rabbit who aspires to be a police officer in a world in which larger predators usually fill that role. Disney seems to be continuing down a path in which they are redefining what it means to be a female character in a Disney film, and I was pleased that Judy Hopps grew into a powerful character in her own right without making an issue of her gender.

In fact, the film’s creators did a nice job of playing with some tough themes related to stereotypes without reducing the exploration to cliches. I would recommend the film based on this alone, but my biggest reason for recommending the film is the song that plays at various points throughout.

Shakira’s “Try Everything” echoes the attitude of Judy Hopps and reminds us that her greatest strength is that she is a learner who has a growth mindset to match her determination to reach her goals. In the film, the song is performed by a Zootopian pop star named Gazelle. You can check out the video below:

I encourage you to check out the lyrics of this song because they could easily be an anthem for the way we should view teaching and learning today. They are certainly the type of message I would want my own children to internalize about learning.

I’ll focus on just a few specific lines, but the song as a whole has a lot more to offer.

The first line I want to point out comes just before the chorus. Shakira sings, “Nobody learns without getting it wrong.” I like this because I think we often send the opposite message to kids. We often imply that learning is something that we can do in such a systematic way that if they just follow directions, they will learn easily.

Perhaps there are some things that can be learned easily through a regimen of prescribed activities, but if there are, I would suggest that they are either not worth learning, or they are so basic that internalizing them hardly represents the type of learning that one calls to mind when we celebrate learning.
If it’s true then that NOBODY learns without getting it wrong, we can take comfort in the fact that learning not only leaves room for failure, it requires it.

Another set of lines that I like is the chorus:

I won't give up, no I won't give in

'Til I reach the end and then I'll start again
No I won't leave, I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail.

This expands on the notion that failure is essential to learning, but it also calls the notion of grit into play. The singer is determined to learn, and in fact to repeat the act of learning, despite the challenges she may face. AND once her learning is concluded, she will “start again.”
Her desire to “try everything” calls to mind Edison’s claim that after he had failed to find success inventing the lightbulb, he hadn’t actually failed, he had discovered many ways that wouldn’t work. It also reminds us that our students can be voracious learners who want to experience everything that the world has to offer.

I wonder how often we shortchange our students by helping them move too quickly to a right answer, a best practice, or a tried and true experience instead of letting them develop the courage and fortitude to own their learning.

The third set of lines I would like to attend to is the last set of lines before the fade out. Shakira sings, “I’ll keep on making those new mistakes. I’ll keep on making them everyday. Those new mistakes.” These lines are sung with a definite sense of pride, even joy.
What an amazing mantra for learning- to definitively state that I will learn on my own terms but in new ways every day of my life. Imagine if, as educators, we succeeded in helping our learners internalize this one message. I can only imagine the positive effect it would have on our world.

I believe that great educators work hard to teach this lesson, to engender this passion for true learning. I also believe that this work is difficult and complex, and we keep on making our own new mistakes everyday. Luckily we are invited to start again, and as the models to our learners, I hope we do.

About Me

I am an Innovation, Curriculum and Technology Specialist. Frenetic Change-Agent. Playground Advocate. Learning Sherpa. Formidable and Renowned Swashbuckling Educational Subversive.

I work with educators at all levels to re-imagine teaching and learning in the Digital Age.

I blog at and tweet as @twilhelmus.