I found myself, along with my family, sightseeing through the mountains of North Carolina last fall. We stopped and wandered into a local art store. With 150 artists represented inside, I looked around and thought to myself, “A better name for this place would be, ‘Hell, I Could Make That!’” My only interest there was to get some ideas that I might use to build into a classroom lesson sometime. To my surprise, though, I encountered a small, sand-filled barrel with ceramic stars on sticks arranged like a flowers. They were, “magic wands,” and the stars that stood out to me were the ones that said, “Poof! You’re a Genius!”
Without hesitation, I knew I was willing to pay the $20+ price tag for one of the magic wands, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. I knew there was something about it I needed to explore beyond the little ceramic heart attached to the bottom end of the stick. With the magic wand inside a fancy bag in my hand, I queried myself about the relevance of my purchase as we returned to the car and continued to drive the mountain roads.
At first I thought I landed a joke, which I am confident was the artist’s intent. To extend the joke I was going to make a Plexiglas-fronted box to place in a strategic place in my classroom with the wand visible and the words, “Brake glass in case of emergency.” We have all harbored the notion that if we had at least a little more brain power we could solve our problems. So I planned the construction of the box.
Later, I got to thinking more about my plan. I began to consider the implications of the joke. Suppose a student in class makes a mistake. I might pull out the magic wand and affectionately tap the student on the head and say, “Poof! You’re a Genius! Go and do better.” We would laugh together, I am sure, but what message would I be sending? The joke sends a message to the heart that I do not believe I am willing to express. The joke is that the person is not good enough in a way that only magic can change. Since it is a joke, we both would know the magic would not work. So with a tap I would have told the student that he or she was not good enough simply for the sake of a laugh. The real message would be that there is nothing the student could do in difficult situations. I was beginning to regret my purchase.
But there was still something about the wand that attracted me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was underestimating the pervasive wish we all have to be endowed with better brains, and that is what I could use to send a different message. I found the relevance of the “Magic Wand!”
Now, I keep the wand in my top file drawer. When things get tough in class and the students feel trapped, unable to successfully solve a problem, I pull the wand out and ask them, “What are the two great things we need to remember about this Magic Wand?” Since they have all seen the wand before, they quickly respond, in chorus with renewed enthusiasm, “It doesn’t work, and we don’t need to be a genius!” Then they go and do better.