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.

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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!

Pop Culture Mystique

Popular Culture- #Edublogsclub Prompt 9

This post is part of the #edublogsclub- a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Prompt 9 is to write a post about using popular culture in the classroom. The prompt also offered some questions that I could use to jumpstart my thinking. They were:

  • What kind of popular culture do you bring into the classroom? How do you use it?
  • Do you have any comic books or graphic novel favorites that you use for reading and textual analysis? Why do you choose those?
  • What are your favorite television shows or movies in your classes? Why do you find these helpful tools?
  • Do you have any favorite songs that you bring into your classroom? How have students responded to your music? Why do you bring in these pieces?

My initial response was rather sad. I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be referring to! So I did what everyone does.. I googled it.

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And I got:

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Now armed with a good definition, I can be part of conversation. While I may not personally be conversant in the current elements of “modern popular culture that is transmitted via mass media and aimed particularly at younger people, ” I do live and work with younger people every day. More than that, I talk with younger people.

So here is what I have to say about using pop culture to reach students. Yep, I know a lot of people who are really good at that. I’m not one of them. But unlike other areas where I have lots of teacher and mom guilt, this is NOT one of those areas.

  • I don’t watch movies.
  • I watch very little television. (Big Bang Theory and Fixer Upper)
  • I read a lot, but only occasionally books that young adults read.
  • I listen to music, but again, not music that teenagers listen to.. unless they listen to broadway show tunes!
  • I facebook, instagram, use twitter occasionally and have but don’t use snapchat. But my student’s are not my friends or contacts on these social media platforms. And they shouldn’t be. Boundaries are necessary.

And you know what? I am very happy living in the land of the uncool and “out of touch.” My students are desperate for real conversations and meaningful relationships. My lack of understanding of pop culture doesn’t hinder our bond. My students don’t love me or hate me because of my relating to them about a movie or song. They love me or hate me as a direct result of my  words, actions and daily response to their real needs be it educational or emotional. I know for a fact that for some of my students, I am the only adult that listens to them. I am the only adult that talks WITH them. I am the only adult that speaks wisdom into their lives.

So, no. I’m not a cool teacher. But that’s okay. I remember having a few teachers as a teenager that were just cool. They had a beat on pop culture and could authentically talk to us and with us about the things we enjoyed. But I didn’t learn more about the subject matter because of their ability to engage with students about the latest movie. I learned the subject matter when it was taught well.

On the flip side, I also had teachers that were the very definition of uncool. My chemistry and physics teacher didn’t watch television and could not relate to students at all in terms of pop culture. But he was incredible. He knew me and what I was capable of. He pushed me to work harder and do more. He was the first math/science teacher that made me see that I was smart and could do the work.  He new his role of mentor could not be replaced and valued his work too much to focus on things that were fleeting.

In the end, I have to say that yes, there are times when I’d like to be the cool teacher or cool mom. But I’m not and if I were to suddenly use the slang that is used by students, start snapchating and talking in class about the current trends, it wouldn’t be authentic and my students (and children) would see right through the effort. So instead of trying to figure out how to fit in, I don’t. I don’t need to be. That’s not my role.
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Redefining Leadership

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This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt was a sticky-tricky tar baby one for sure!  Here is the prompt…

Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. Here are some sentence starters that may help you as a work on the ideas for your post:

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for/with…
  • Teaching leadership skills to students…
  • The qualities of a true leader include…
  • Leaders don’t…
  • Leaders never…
  • Leaders always…
  • I wish my school administrator/boss…
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on…
  • A leader I admire…
  • Peer coaching…
  • Effecting change…

I pondered what to write about. I have so many thoughts about school leadership! Dang, I’ve been a public school teacher since 1997. I’ve taught in 2 states, in 7 school districts and worked for almost 20 principals. I’ve seen and learned A LOT about leadership! But I also want to continue working in public education and want a job as a campus administrator, so I’m not looking to air out our dirty laundry for all to see!

And then, in my course work I came across a Ted Talk by Drew Dudley and it was a light bulb (or lollipop) moment. If you have 6 minutes, it is definately worth watching!

Here are my takeaways from his talk.  Dudley states “We’ve made leadership something bigger than us, something beyond us. We’ve made it about changing the world.” Further he says that our mindset is that until we do something big enough to deserve the title, we devalue the things that we CAN do everyday.

And finally, Dudley says that sometimes the most important moments, where we are true leaders, where we impact a person’s life, where we change the trajectory of someone’s future are simply moments that are forgotten to us. We move on not even realizing that we made an impact.

So instead of focusing on the things that I wish my leaders did, or the things that I wish my leadership wouldn’t do, I’m redefining my interpretation of leadership. Yes, I want leaders to do big things that will change the world. But more than that, I want leaders (and I am including myself and my fellow teachers) to be leaders that change individual moments in the lives of our students. I want to celebrate so many “lollipop” or forgotten moments each week that everyone starts seeing themselves as leaders. I want to celebrate so many seemingly insignificant moments that impact the lives of students and their families that the students see their own leadership potential.

Because THAT is how we Redefine Leadership.