Ready for an EDrenaline Rush?

Photo of an African Grey parrot reading EDrenaline Rush
33-year old Toby gives EDrenaline Rush 5 Beaks!

Some caveats. I only “know” John Meehan from Twitter. I bought my copy of his book, EDrenaline Rush. And I have this hypothesis:  Meehan was one of those students who drove his teachers crazy with his energy and creativity.  Fortunately, he retained his enthusiasm and love of learning when other students in such situations don’t. (Remember that Harry Chapin song? Flowers are Red.)

Here’s a man who, as I write this, has taken up the challenge of doing 100 burpees a day for 30 days. If you don’t know the history of burpees, read it here. Meehan likes to run through mud. He consumes World Wrestling. In short, he is alive, present and soaking up life everyday–and that’s just what I see via his Tweets!

In 2016, Meehan was recognized by the Arlington (VA) Leadership Center for Excellence as one of its “40 Under 40” honorees. And in a metropolitan area as large as Washington, DC that’s an amazing recognition.

And, I can unequivocally write this sentence: John Meehan is a supportive and encouraging teacher for more than just his students. He continually shares and cheers on other educators via multiple platforms: Twitter @MeehanEDU, his blog, and his podcasts called Talk to Meehan in the Car. He makes everything available via his website. He got this Grandma Moses to wrestle with WordPress and to become a Bitmoji!

So what’s an EDrenaline Rush? Simply put, an adrenaline rush triggers the human body’s fight or flight mechanism; an EDrenaline Rush encourages teachers to create lessons which kick students out of the snooze and cruise method of learning. And I imagine even Dr. Royal H. Burpee would enjoy EDrenaline Rush because Burpee raised the bar on physical education in schools with his eponymous exercise!

Honestly, it didn’t long for me to know my philosophy of teaching aligned with Meehan’s. Actually, that aha moment came on page xxiv of the section titled Origin Stories. Meehan wrote: The big secret of all teaching boils down to this: We don’t teach content. We use course content to teach people.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I guess I resonated so well with that statement because three different times while teaching college writing classes, I upset the academic apple cart. The first time, I gave students a piece of origami paper telling them if they would trust me, by the end of a few simple instructions they could drink water from that piece of paper. That was also the year I wore my jester hat in the library because–insert gasp here–I actually took students to the library to teach them how to dig for information. The hat allowed them to find me quickly. The head of the English department was not amused; she also found a comma splice in my syllabus. That was the end of that stint.

The second scolding came when I was teaching a reporting class at Syracuse University. I wanted to give students the feel of a breaking news story. They needed to be caught off guard; to see how fast a reporter had to react in order to collect details. Fortunately, one of my former ABC News colleagues was doing grad work at SU. He kidnapped me from class. Then he returned as the public information officer to answer reporter questions. The dean of the program was none too happy. The conversation went something like: You either have to teach or be an academic. You can’t do both. You can’t have yourself kidnapped from class. He also didn’t like the fact that when SU’s athletic program was sanctioned, I had my students on the street reporting. He wanted them using the new computers. I noted students needed something to write about in order to use the new computers!

And the last instance happened as I was being evaluated by an tenured English professor. I have this game I play with students: Say What You Mean; Mean What You Say. So I take off my sneakers and tell the class they can only use words to get the sneakers back on my feet. The first direction is usually: Put your sneaker on your foot. I finished the lesson and the observer asked: Were you a drama major in college? I told him no, I had an undergraduate degree in education. He looked at me and said: I just stand at the lectern and talk.

Photo of sneaker on a foot.
One way to put a sneaker on a foot.

Oh, the trouble John Meehan and I could get into if we were colleagues in the same building!

Know that Meehan loves a mouse. Well, not a mouse, rather The Mouse, as in Mickey. And Meehan adopts the magic of the Kingdom by taking the reader through his self-created Educational Disney World. He analyzes the perks of visiting his favorite theme park and then applies them to his lessons.

For example, Meehan teaches the reader about weenies.

Borrowing from his experience working in film and television, Walt Disney was a big believer in using oversized visual aids to draw an audience’s attention to specific items and things to look for. Walter called these world-building tools “weenies”–named after the hot dog treats that were often used on Hollywood movie sets to get canine actors to perform on cue. All of those spooky props outside of the The Haunted Mansion? Weenies.”

Edrenaline Rush, p. 29

Just that lesson alone could make a bulletin board a portal into an educational fantasy world.

Meehan also understands why Disney World is so successful. He writes of a conversation with a colleague who noted students have such a strong sense of belonging to the fantasy world of a theme park that they genuinely feel the need to own a piece of it. (p. 45) Think about those t-shirts and Mouse Ears!

Meehan helps his students belong by giving them ownership of their learning. And Meehan extends learning ownership to teachers too. His book details his brain-children: educational games and fantasies which engage students in content. He argues teachers should take the role of guide on the side. The lessons he created are clearly designed to unleash the power of learning through exploration and thinking. As Meehan noted: Aristotle reminded us that “all men by nature desire to know.” (p. 13)

While I cannot test drive Meehan’s lessons, I see the movement he has sparked as other teachers share on Twitter how they have applied his ideas. And what he offers seems to be easily transferable to remote learning–a plus at the moment.

I close with two points Meehan makes which teachers should take to heart.

First, he acknowledges his lessons take time to prepare and deliver.

No matter how you approach your practice, teaching demands an incredible amount of work. Would you rather . . .

Put in the time creating, engaging and inspiring?


Put in the time managing, correcting and punishing?

EDrenaline Rush, p. 17

And Meehan gives you the answer. It’s be creative, engaging and inspiring.

He writes about a lesson connected to the book Animal Farm. As he started upending his room and installing weenies. The adults in the building found out what he was doing; they wanted in. That one little spark, he wrote, led to an amazing moment.

On that day–even if only for a few brief moments–we ceased being mere “teachers,” “security guards,” “students,” and “administrators.” Instead, we came together as cooperative learners on a common journey, bound together by mutual admiration, imagination, and respect. While the activity was extreme, it helped students see just how far I was willing to go on their behalf, and they immediately extended to me their full confidence in return.

EDrenaline Rush, p. 24

I know that confidence. Hand students a sheet of paper; fold it with them; send them to the water fountain to fill it with water. The expression is priceless. The cooperative learning, the give and take, tells students we’re all in this together. As your teacher, I don’t know all the answers, but I know how to help you think about them, and to find the ideas of others. It’s intergenerational learning; and Meehan will tell you Disney World is a lot more fun as a family.

So get your EDrenaline Rush going. Keep @MeehanEDU posted!

Bitmoji of author.
Bitmoji Me!

UPDATE May 29, 2020.

This morning I sat in on a presentation John did for teachers. He shared his thoughts, his reasoning, his inspirations. I love how he works with students to improve their writing skills. Should I ever teach a writing class in the future, I would surely use this approach.

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