by Ana K. Crow
That sweet Disney film that made the Dorys and Nemos of aquariums everywhere famous, can also make you famous, or at least your teaching ethic, that is. The simplicity is beautiful; here are three of the best lessons you’ll ever learn from the film:
1.) “Just Keep Swimming”
I know you remember this line from the film where Marlin, Nemo’s father, finds himself in a state of defeat over losing his son. With a pinch of humor and love, Dory, his newfound friend, reminds him to “just keep swimming.” The sing-song phrase sticks with Marlin as the search for Nemo continues. Much like Marlin’s feelings, defeat is a notion that will, if rarely, still occur during an awful day of teaching. Choose to “just keep swimming” and keep your momentum up. As educators Harry K. Wong and Rosemary Tripi Wong mention in The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (2004), “…teachers can acquire ineffective teaching attitudes…and these become crystallized into their permanent teaching repertoire” (p.23). What the Wongs are alluding to is the idea that teaching should be more than simply “survival” (p.23). In your classroom, it benefits both you and your students to just brush off those bad days. Modeling an optimistic, resilient attitude for students teaches them to “just keep swimming”, too. In the same way, allow the resiliency of your students to influence you in an encouraging way. When you find yourself feeling mentally exhausted (and there will be days like this), recall when one of your students was also feeling that way and the effort that carried him or her through to meeting his or her goals. The right attitude will never fail you or your students.
2.) “Speak Whale”
During one of the last scenes in the film, Finding Nemo, Marlin and Dory notice a whale in their vicinity. Marlin, being wary of the unknown, does not wish to approach the whale. Dory, on the other hand, recognizes the need to “speak whale” and reaches out vocally, as if speaking to a friend. Finally, being the helpful creature that he apparently is, the whale swims over to help them on their quest to find Nemo. Following this example from the film, it can be inferred that there are different ways to approach your students. Much more can be gleaned about student needs when you build a positive, open teacher-student relationship. Akin to this are educator Carol Tomlinson’s ideas from her book, The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (1999). Referring to those teachers who create a world of differentiated instruction, she states that they, “…become partners with their students to see that both what is learned and the learning environment are shaped to the learner” (p. 2). Essentially, this strategy focuses on students as individuals and enhances the educator’s role as it supports the student’s learning on their own terms. Students who are inspired by clear communication will flourish and your classroom could be the safe space in a possibly tumultuous sea of learning.
3.) “My Bubbles”
Before he is reunited with his father in Finding Nemo, Nemo is placed inside an aquarium at a dental office. At first, he struggles to fit in and accept this as his new home. Gill, the leader of the aquarium group, points out that they are all struggling with something. During this exchange, Nemo notices Bubbles; a fish whose love of bubbles has become central to his routine as he exclaims, “My bubbles!” at various intervals of his aquatic day. Despite this seemingly odd, albeit humorous behavior, Gill’s tone is one of empathy and understanding about where Bubbles is coming from. Embracing the charms and multifaceted dimensions of school life and visualizing them as parts of an aquarium make it easy to create a welcome cove for those like Bubbles. Quite often, acceptance, empathy and understanding can help a student reach their full potential. Anyone who teaches will readily see that their classrooms are filled with diverse personalities and characters. This sea of diversity is bound to motivate teaching professionals to create the perfect environment for students through their own positive relations with each other as well. It was a small aquarium, but Bubbles’ friends accepted and understood him. Could you?
Finally, navigating the reefs of the educational world will most certainly require a positive attitude and mode of thinking throughout. Within all phases of school involvement, opportunities will present themselves that will require educators to connect and relate to students with humility and sincerity. Use these lessons from Finding Nemo to be a mentor students can trust and count on.
Stanton, A., Unkrich, L., Walters, G., Lasseter, J., Peterson, B., Reynolds, D., Brooks, A., Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Firm). (2003). Finding Nemo. Burbank, CA: Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Wong, H. K. (2004). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.