The Pendulum in Education

The pendulum: used to describe to the tendency of a situation to oscillate between one extreme and another.

That is why the image of the pendulum works so well when talking about education “best practices” and trends.  After almost 20 years in the classroom, I have had the opportunity to learn and use a number of teaching methods. Some are worthwhile. Some are not. But every few years the new “great” thing comes out and all of us educators have to sit in professional development sessions and hear about how if we will use this new method our classrooms will be transformed. They never are.

Yes, I’m a bit cynical.  But after all of these years and reading and researching and actually doing the job, I realize that the catalyst for change, the red ball in my picture above is never a teacher in the trenches. The catalyst is a politician, a higher-education researcher, a group of specialists, a retired administrator.. someone that personally benefits from suggesting this new better thing. The catalyst of the pendulum shift is on the outside and only sees what happens from one point of view.

The best classroom instruction change agent.. a would be pendulum shifter… that I’ve ever heard was at our district’s convocation this past August.  His thoughts were radical! (well not really, but they might as well have been watching the response of the people in the audience..)

He asked teachers and administrators to think creatively and to be engaging in their instruction. He asked teachers to invest themselves personally in the process and not worry about the tests so much. (scary stuff for sure.)

Yes, he was selling his books and yes, he made a nice chunk of change for the presentation… but he was living in the trenches and doing what he was asking us to do. (You can find him at Teach Like A Pirate.)

Huge difference. His ideas came from seeing education from the center of the pendulum. While he was pushing for change, he was also being hit from the other side by the realities of his classroom.

pendulum

In the end, it was a nice presentation and we went on doing what we’ve been doing.. because there wasn’t an outside force that required change. There wasn’t any follow up, no required test, no paperwork followed.

hmmm. interesting. So I guess this reality becomes my question.

How do we in education become internal catalysts for change that we know is needed?

How do we, in essence, change the direction of the pendulum?

Do we have to wait for the hit to come back at us?

Do we have to absorb the changes in one direction before we can send change back in the other direction?

Lots of questions.

Processing this pendulum concept empowers me. Often I feel completely on the outside of the educational process and that my world doesn’t matter to anyone or anything beyond my students and my classroom.

But that is not the case.

All of us. Every. Single. Teacher is part of the the great pendulum and while we may not the be red ball catalyst, we do impact the structure of education.

With every hit (new law), we respond.

With every thud (new research), we react.

With every swing (new method), we learn.

Our ability or inability to absorb pendulum shifts with grace directly impacts our students. So instead of focusing on the bruising impact that some of these shifts in education policy leave on teachers, I’m going to remind myself that I’ve always loved to swing and that the pendulum and all of its back and forth is just a swing set and I’m going to hold on and swing high!