What is “insight?”

A student posed this question to me yesterday as we were reviewing the scoring rubric for the class’s argumentative essays. The rubric said an exemplary paper called for an insightful conclusion.

I explained that an insightful conclusion included a restatement of the claim (thesis) and a deeper explanation of what should have been learned throughout the reading of the essay. One could possibly use figurative language … a metaphor, even … to make the paragraph insightful.

In other words, if the essay was a journey, this is where we reflect on what the journey taught us.

My young student then asked a dangerous question.

“Could you give us an example?” he said.

Well, it would be hard since I had not written an essay. How can you conclude what you have not written?

So, I asked if it was acceptable to offer an example of what I mean by insight.

He approved.

I directed his attention to the 100 gallon freshwater aquarium that I have by the window in my classroom.

“Do you see the algae that is spotted along all the glass and wood in the tank?” I asked.

He nodded.

“This algae is a plant that grows due to the tank’s proximity to the window. It feeds on the sunlight. And Buddy, the plecostomus, at the bottom of the tank feeds on the algae as well.”

He smiled and showed his understanding.

Buddy, the plecostomus

“An interesting thing is that most of the time the aquarium looks dirty, it is due mostly to Buddy’s feces. His “deposits” create a chemical change in the water that stimulates algae growth and, therefore, provides himself with more food.”

His eyebrows lifted with new understanding.

“In much the same way, our school is full of negative emotions like fear, anger, depression, and jealousy. That’s the algae of drama that sticks all over our halls and classrooms. There are students in our school who are just like Buddy … they hang around and do nothing but feed off the drama. The ‘Buddy deposits?’ Well, that is every time a student cuts down or ‘janks’ other students about their hair, clothes, shoes, looks, etc. I’m really shocked you don’t smell it in the hallways … the school is full of it.”

The student’s look had changed.

The smile and look of understanding had evaporated. He was instead going deeper into his thoughts and evaluation of what I was offering him.

“Almost every week, your classmates will ask me, ‘When are you going to clean your fishtank? It looks nasty.’ I now respond to you all, ‘When are you going to clean your school?’ ”

There were some “oohs,” smiles, and other subtle signs that told me that I had made my point.

I asked him if he now understood that insight was taking ordinary things and transmuting them into extraordinary thoughts and reflections. He smiled and told me that he had now understood.


We all have it. We just have to slow down, think, and commit to going deeper with our understanding. But, if we stop there, it is criminal!

Insights are meant to be shared.

In our age of memes, likes, and shares … personal insight is sadly lacking.

Please make it your quest to strive for insight in whatever you are dealing with and then boldly share what you have learned of life through the process.

We will all be better for it.


    1. Actually, as it usually happens, it popped into my head at the moment he asked the question. My aquarium is my “go to” educational metaphor when I discuss things like balance and community. Teaching is my gift and I readily thank the Lord for all popup insights that ambush my brain unawares.


  1. This is my 22nd year in the classroom. There have been many moments like this where He has provided wisdom in my time of need. He makes me look better than I deserve to look. 😉


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