An approach to teaching, based on deep understanding of individual strengths, aspirations and goals, is not new to modern pedagogy. It is predicated on creating a custom learning plan and personal milestones. In fact, personal approach in teaching has been known from ancient teachers, who tried to keep their students interested in learning and avoid monotony.

In the Dream Works Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda”, Master ShiFu patiently teaches, trains and reveals his wisdom to Panda Po in the Valley of Peace by using non-standard and sometimes even cunning tricks. The episode with Panda’s training shows us an ideal model of personalized approach.

And here are 5 major lessons of the personalized teaching that I learned from the “Kung Fu Panda” movie, after watching it at English lesson together with my ESL class.

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1. A Child Is Not Your Copy

According to the plot, Panda Po’s father, paradoxally, is not a bear but a Goose. The choice of such contrasting characters to indicate the adult-child relationship symbolizes the fact that the child first and foremost is a unique personality and does not have to be a copy or to copy anybody else.
As it has been said by sociologist and writer W.E. B. Du Bois, “Children learn more from who you are than what you teach”.
Let’s consider another pair in the movie – Master ShiFu and his adopted son Tai Lung. Being a strict teacher, Master ShiFu approached Tai Lung as his student, putting him into frames of the hard training. ShiFu uses notes, directions and evaluation, rejecting to accept any manifestation of “self” in his son and students. Such position is an obstacle to the warm, human relations and further development of a child. As a result, Tai Lung challenges his father and completely ruptures their relations. It was ShiFu’s fault and mistake that he put his pride above Tai Lung’s personality.

As teachers, we should approach our students bearing in mind this simple but important truth and put the students needs above ours. This leads to lesson 2:

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2. Each Has Own Abilities

In a movie we see the Furious Five – a quintet of greatest Kung Fu masters, who have their own fighting styles – Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper and Crane. And we see Po – a clumsy panda, who fails each attempt to repeat moves after the Five. But with his own style, he performs as a great warrior and earns the respect of all the Valley of Peace.
Individual features of any person are the originality of sensation, perception, thinking, memory, imagination, interests, aptitudes, abilities, temperament and character of the person. This causes that not all students are equally successful in mastering the material, acquiring knowledge and learning the necessary skills. With the personal approach, we can uncover the maximum abilities of each student. Here is how.

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3. A Cookie Might Be Better Motivation

Master ShiFu starts Panda Po’s training with learning his behavior. Eventually, he realizes that main motivation for Po is food. His search and love for food are rather protective in nature: Panda always eats when upset, worried or feels rejected. This understanding makes Master ShiFu invent a new way of teaching. He tells Panda:«When you focus on kung fu, when you concentrate…you stink. Perhaps that is my fault. I cannot train you the way I have trained the Five. I now see that the way to get through to you…».
I guess, you get the idea?

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4. You May Wish For an Apple or an Orange, But You Will Get a Peach

In a real life we often see that student of a good teacher isn’t always the best or well-disciplined. But if we look deeper, we will see that child’s behavior is a copy of the unconscious desires and ambitions of people around. Perfectionism of a teacher pushes a student to pursue the continuous self-improvement, gaining recognition and admiration (remember, ShiFu’s pride turned Tai Lung into furious fighter?). And there is no inner peace for both. This is something that Master ShiFu had to learn himself: the student will never be something that he or she is not.
By modifying the educational strategy, flexibly responding to the characteristics of the child and adapting to it, a wise teacher can achieve the main thing – allow the child to discover their inner resources and use them for further development. However, in this context, we cannot discuss the “innovation technologies” as each student requires unique approach. Yes, it sounds diffictult, yet this is something we should aim for.

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5. “When A Student is Ready, The Teacher Comes”

At the moment when Panda bows to honor Master ShiFu and calls him “Master”, he pleaded himself as an apprentice and Shifu as his teacher. Indeed, sometimes teachers aspire to teach, as well as parents want to nurture, but the child is not ready for the contact and learning something new. Then all the attempts of adults to convey something new to the child run into a wall of resistance. And only when the child gets ready not only to listen, but to hear, the changes appear. We can change only in the contact with othert, but before that we must open our hearts. It is a simple, but important truth.

At a time when we’re constantly inventing new technologies in education and training, teachers sometimes forget the most important thing – the needs of the child that underlie learning. That is why ShiFu starts with the motivating. Po utters his doubts, saying he can not be the Dragon Warrios and stop Tai Lung. And only the honest talk with Master ShiFu, who truly believes in Panda’s abilities, allows Po believe in himself too and regain his desire to become a kungfuist.

When knowledge anticipates the fact, there is an illusion that we control the situation. However, the most wonderful plans often fail meeting with reality. Therefore, the teacher’s desire to help and faith in student is no less important than knowledge, plans and strategies.