The world’s tallest tree, a redwood right here in Northern California, was recently discovered to be the world’s tallest tree. Robert Krulwich, one of my favorite commentators, wrote a must-read article about it at NPR this morning and included this video:

What can we learn about education from the world’s tallest tree?

It’s a redwood, and these trees can grow pretty tall on their own. However, when they are on their own, they don’t approach the heights of trees that you find in a grove (that’s where this tallest tree and its many “colleagues” were found) and they are more likely to be knocked down by winds and storms. Trees in groves tower above everything else because their interlocking roots underground provide the support necessary for them all to reach great heights and provide mutual support during bad weather.

It’s a metaphor for many aspects of education. For our students, it’s a reminder that we should emphasize ways to build a “community of learners” and not just a “classroom of [individual]students” (cooperative learning is one way to accomplish that).

It’s also a reminder to use tech to strengthen face-to-face relationships and not just one with a computer screen. Whether it’s working in groups to research or create a tech project, pairing up for friendly competition against each other on Internet word or math games, taking notes on projects that their classmates have created online and then discussing them in small groups back at the classroom, or having English Language Learners work in pairs playing online video games with one of them reading off instructions on how to win, there are many opportunities to help our students get beyond being mesmerized by the screen.

It’s a reminder that top-down “school reform” schemes like merit pay and punitively designed teacher evaluation plans that isolate teachers further are not going to generate high-quality teaching for the long or short-haul. Perhaps helping teachers develop a support structure, including making time for collaboration, might be a way to strengthen those “roots.”

And I’d suggest it’s a pretty good argument for why we teachers need to support our unions, too.

What can you learn from the world’s tallest tree?