Teaching – the most haunted profession of all.


This photo really has nothing to do with haunting, but it was the scariest image I had. (Image: © Elena Moiseeva | Dreamstime.com)

One of the great mysteries of the teaching profession is that we are the one most closely linked to learning, yet we are the most resistant to change, the greatest inertia bearers of any profession. (Even if you disagree, it is safe to continue as I will argue with myself in the next couple of sentences.) This makes no sense, until we realize that my first assumption has a fatal flaw, in that it is based on a common misconception. Teaching has not always been about learning. It has mostly been about teaching.

This is the fundamental piece of the school-puzzle that has changed rapidly in educational thought, but not in educational practice. We think differently in our heads, but sometimes not in our insecure hearts, because we are haunted by those persistent ghosts of the past. Our teachers were probably about teaching, not learning. It is hard to throw the ghosts of our own hard earned school experiences off our backs, those ingrained assumptions about the way classrooms run. Tenacious little assumptions they are, formed during our own school days.

The closed-classroom is the embodiment of the ‘teaching is about teaching’ world view. Conversely, the ‘teaching is about learning’ world view is embodied by an open-classroom. It seems that levels of preparedness to share would be a perfect measure of classroom openness. For a quick self assessment of how badly you are being haunted by those ghosts of the past, I have three questions – a yes/no is required.

  1. I am nervous about sharing my lesson/unit plans with colleagues because they may not be good enough. (The plans, not the colleagues!)
  2. I become nervous when another adult enters my class.
  3. I make sure my door is (literally) closed when I am teaching.

If you answered yes to all three, you are clearly being haunted by ghosts of school past. Fortunately, there is a simple remedy. Do what we ask our students to do on a daily basis. Create, share, publish, create, share, publish, create, share, publish ad infinitum. A sure cure to get those ghosts (closed-classroom insecurities) off our backs and move our great professional along, so that our collective thinking will more closely align with our collective practice.


True Misconceptions: Multi-tasking and concentration


I have just published my second novel, a much shorter process than the first, and in a recent conversation with Amy Burvall, digital trail blazer and the ultimate multi-tasker, we talked about the writing process, particularly as I balance my time between life as a middle school principal and the world of fiction, a dystopian world in this case – my novel, not my middle school. The entire thing was written in my living room, the most active place in my house. I have a quiet desk tucked away in a spare room and have tried, but it doesn’t work for me. Also, I have a whole parallel universe of other tasks happening – music, movies, TV, email, Twitter, Facebook, family conversations, work tasks, coffee & snacks etc.  Does it help me write? Recently my students at school tried to argue that multitasking helped them to concentrate better, so they wanted to be able to multi-task in various ways, so they could be more productive at school. Imagine that.

They are completely right of course, although the argument is based on a misconception. In my case, my concentration when writing the novel was horribly disrupted, but I was more productive as I could work longer. I become (bored is not the right word) restless without the distractions. So the positive correlation between multitasking  & concentration wasn’t supported, but true if ‘concentration’ is used interchangeably with ‘productivity’. Perhaps concentration is over-rated & productivity should be our chief concern in schools? It would take us a little closer to the real world, at least to the world in my living room. I wonder if people used to be this restless, back in the bad old days.