by Julie Brock
Shrouded in blame and punishment, accountability has been twisted into a punitive action versus the rich conversation it actually is intended to spur. To account is to reconcile, balance, see the full picture so future decisions are better informed.
In his Fast Company article, Four Ways You’re Getting Accountability Wrong, Mark Lukens explains why a culture of accountability is vital to the success of any organization. The principles Luken presents ask leaders to:
“Whether you’re looking to fix a problem or to replicate a success, don’t act until you’ve understood why you got the results you did,” says Lukens.
Depending on how many classes of students move through a classroom in a day, it is possible to have three to six ‘micro-organizations’ that look to an educator as the ‘CEO’ responsible for setting the tone and expectations of their collective work.
How, then, do we function as a leader cultivating a collective culture of accountability as well as one of individual progress?
Mark Friedman, author of Trying Hard isn’t Good Enough, created a data framework that helps communities work toward big, shared goals. The crux of his argument is that no one organization can own the results of an entire community. It takes many organizations contributing to get sustainable solutions. Within each contributing organization are departments or programs that contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organization. For example, a large school district may think that they do own the graduation rate for their community, but they do not—they do not have every student who lives in their boundaries attending their school, so they share that result with other education settings.
Each educational setting can contribute to the overall graduation rate; yet, it does not have to look exactly the same. It is why school choice exists. Imagine each of those settings creating a culture of accountability in which students understand the systems serving them and also understand their role within the overall culture. It creates collaboration, cooperation, and communication.
The conversation that data inspires what leads to actionable change. Our educational systems are limping along. The last blow of COVID damaged our barge and we cannot bail the water out faster than it is coming in . And it is all levels. No educational setting is immune. We are a fleet of zero—grad school education settings taking on water and pivoting to figure out if the bucket brigade will work from a different angle.
That’s the thing with pivoting. I think about basketball. Once that pivot foot is set, it cannot move before a dribble. Players are stuck in one place until a pass or a path opens up for them to move. It is stationary, but all the while we keep spinning…thinking something will change.
But it doesn’t.
Instead, I ask…
The state of education can be overwhelming, stifling, and feel futile. But a classroom’s contribution matters. A department’s contribution matters. A building’s contribution matters. An afterschool program’s contribution matters. They matter when we hold ourselves accountable to a shared result. Students want to learn. According to the 2019 Minnesota Student survey, 97.8% of Olmsted County 9th graders (current 11th graders) said “if something interests me, I’ll learn more about it.” In that same survey, 99.2% of 11th graders said they will learn more about something that interests them.
Maybe we need to co-design around standards with students. Ask them how they want to learn the standards, what will resonate, and what will ultimately spur them to learn more within the content area . Results Based Accountability™ (RBA), Friedman’s framework, asks for a community of people to solve community problems together. It isn’t a framework that leaves people behind. If we adopt this framework within communities, new partnerships start to blossom. Youth who move between organizations are more likely to be supported when there is a framework holding us together around the success of youth. Pair RBA and the co-design process with students, and now we have created partnership, collaboration, and ownership for youth over their own education, potentially fueling that 97-99% curiosity students reported in 2019.
The nice thing about RBA is that we can start right now, today, using it in classrooms. We don’t have to wait for the community to get on board: it can start a ripple effect. In fact, we may already live in a community that is using RBA to effect systemic change. Strive Together is a national nonprofit that has seventy communities across the nation doing this kind of work. If you live in Minnesota, there are seven cradle-to-career communities and two promise neighborhoods working for systemic change.
Accountability isn’t about shame and blame. It has to be reclaimed and untwisted from its negative connotation to create space for creativity, for innovation, and a way to get those on the shore to help get those on the sinking barge off and together—find our way into the next wave of education.
Interested in learning more about RBA and using it in your classroom / department / building / feeder system / district? Let me know and we’ll collaborate!
by Phil Olson
There is an experiential continuum between being awestruck by the majesty and scale of the natural world and being utterly engrossed by a detailed, complex task. Macro versus micro, breadth versus depth.
My students and I are suffering from a lack of both.
When my Advanced Placement Literature classes recently read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus, they encountered dense prose and the need for a good thesaurus. At first, they didn't like it. The plot is a slow burn, and all those words make it a slog, so we get through the early pages by looking for word combinations that might make excellent band names:
Some students take offense when I point out that young Victor Frankenstein is a STEM student who is obsessed with the potential power of numbers and formulas and is determined to make them answer humanity’s biggest questions:
As he pursues science, Victor becomes a narcissistic jerk who makes an eight-foot-tall mistake, and students are eager to criticize him by arguing that no one could be so short sighted as to actually assemble and animate such a powerful creature without heeding its obvious dangers. Then we talk about nuclear arsenals, the petroleum industry, Facebook and Twitter….
Shelley’s title character is not a good romantic, so he serves as the perfect foil for Shelley’s celebration of Romanticism, the early 19th Century artistic movement that championed a love and respect for nature, emphasized emotions over intelligence, and foregrounded the rights and potentials of all human beings, even those without rank or wealth. Radical stuff. Victor is a failed romantic because he violates nature, lacks empathy, and watches passively as lives are destroyed.
Basically, we experience the sublime when we contemplate features of nature that are vast, mysterious, enchanting, and even dangerous. When we encounter a violent storm, a glacial mountain, or a roiling ocean, we feel small, vulnerable, and even afraid. And this is good. It’s humbling and allows us to take a load off: we are not the center of the universe. It also helps us put our daily experiences, especially nagging frustrations, into the proper context where they matter a heckuva lot less. We need the sense of proportion afforded by the sublime.
Last summer I had a sublime experience while hiking, alone, in California’s Redwood National Forest. It is morning, not yet full light. Moisture hangs suspended between the mammoth trees and the carpet of ferns. Silence. I am tiny; somehow both exhilarated and at peace; and I can’t help but recall a conversation with a local who told about recent sightings of a mountain lion.
My spine tingles in the same way when I share this story with my students, and then I ask them about their recent, sublime experiences. Some share stories, but many don’t, and some discover that the sublime erodes with time. We all agree we want more sublime experiences, so we spend a few minutes planning class trips we’ll never take.
And back to the continuum. When teaching Frankenstein, I place the sublime at one cosmic pole. On the other, I situate another concept that emerges when reading the novel with my students: the idea of “deep work,” a concept explored a few years ago by Cal Newport, a professor, author, and podcaster. (Check out his book, Deep Work, and/or listen to this revealing podcast interview with Newport for a quick, thoughtful introduction to the topic.)
The starting point of Newport’s argument is that, in our distracted world, we have an increasingly difficult time engaging in meaningful, complex, absorbing work. We have a hard time paying close attention. If you want to test your ability to focus, see if you can read the first ten pages of Frankenstein and, as you do, immerse/lose yourself in the setting and the plight of the characters. It’s not easy. Reading complex literature is deep work, and so is writing essays (especially this one!).
Everything educators do is deep work: reading and offering feedback on papers, planning lessons, creating projects, facilitating discussions, composing consequential emails, listening to students and colleagues, and on and on. And, of course, studenting is deep work, too. My students spend 35 hours per week in school, and each day is organized into eight periods, in which they take six classes, many of which assign homework. Calculus, physics, economics, Spanish, orchestra, art, and English all require deep work.
The problem for students and for me, is that we all have to juggle competing demands while also attempting to fend off distractions. The result is that I am always incredibly busy and seldom incredibly productive, and my students report the same. It feels impossible, but we must all carve out more time for deep work.
Here, at the end, I had intended to list some actionable ways to approach the sublime. How to engage in deep work. But my draft list is rather obvious (i.e. When experiencing sublime experiences, do not take selfies, and Close Outlook if you want to accomplish anything, ever). Instead, I return to Frankenstein and close with metaphors:
There are portals to transcendence at both ends of the continuum. When we channel our minds into the depths of experience, we flow with passion and power; and when we escape ourselves to tune in to the epic drama of existence, we’re left humbled, breathless.
We are readers. Readers of novels, readers of people, and readers of ideas—all intricate and not-entirely insignificant elements of the sublime world.
by Stefanie Whitney
It is Friday morning—5:07 a.m. Coffee is brewing. It’s just me on the couch and a few books close by for inspiration. Sounds kind of delightful—except I have already been generously granted an extension on this article; this article that is still five pages of disconnected thoughts. The seed of doubt that usually precedes my “process” (**snort**)—a flurry of typing and accidental connections—is now growing into a grapefruit of trepidation just chilling in my esophagus.
The blinking image in my mind: “tl;dr.” (In case you too are late to this party, “tl;dr” is an abbreviation for “Too Long; Didn’t Read,” which I feel summarizes every email I have ever sent.)
My internal struggle for this article vacillates between two contradictory thoughts:
The latter is winning out; so, today I aim for brevity—windy introduction notwithstanding.
**This is where I introduce some thoughts and then weave them together. Fasten your seatbelts.**
In April 2015, I set out on a program with the goal of better understanding the bigger picture of educational leadership and the intersection of leadership and teacher professional development. More comfortable with even the remotest semblance of a plan, I was filled with hope, believing the next few years would be spent learning about leadership and intricately studying feedback and its impact on professional development.
The pursuit of a degree required me to delve into existing research before developing my own theories, which is a process that I understand and, frankly, enjoy. I’ve always believed that answers can be found through enough digging. That we can lean on the expertise of others to help us find our way. Namely, that someone else has been there, done that, and drawn a map with coffee shops clearly marked.
As a cumulative effect of the past 2.5 years (and quite possibly the previous 42), I am beginning to sense disruption to that which has always given me great comfort. I’m drawn to Brene Brown’s explanation of another form of research—grounded theory:
“I develop theories based on lived experiences, not existing theories. Only after I capture the participants' experiences do I try to place my theories in the existing research. Grounded theory researchers do it in that order so that our conclusions about the data aren’t skewed by existing theories that may or may not reflect real experiences by diverse populations.”
Through my own research, I did mosey into areas that align with Brown’s explanation of grounded theory. In short: educators have a great deal of power. When I researched how administrators can build cultures of trust, what I found through talking with teachers is that, ultimately, teachers choose whether or not they trust their administrators
When I researched the effectiveness of instructional feedback as a driver of professional growth, I found out how often teachers ultimately choose whether to accept feedback as valid and actionable. These points are incredibly simplified; I offer them because what is perhaps more noteworthy is the frequency of conversations with teachers who seem to feel powerless within the system of education. To be fair, I also often feel this way. This bears a need for much more research, but I posit that this research needs to begin grounded in personal experience rather than existing research. I’ll get to why in a moment. But first—a confession:
This bold proclamation, coming from someone who holds no positional power, put an exclamation mark on a conversation centered around key contributors to the current teaching climate in this space--fraught with all the complexities anyone reading this surely knows well. I suppose I feel disclosing this information is necessary based on the “no positional power” reality.
Who am I to suggest such a thing? I have been assured by this group of colleagues that “save yourself” was sound advice, perhaps in the vein of Brene Brown’s “clear is kind” approach; however, I did find my confidence waning as I stepped cautiously into the hallway. How loud was my voice moments ago? Who heard me?
Initially, the meaning behind my words came from a place of compassion; I want my colleagues to be okay. I hear you; I see you; I know this year is incredibly challenging for reasons beyond our control. The oxygen mask version of saving yourself first. I meant this then and I still mean it now.
However, in the passing days since that initial statement, I am more and more convinced of another, perhaps more important, meaning to “save yourself.”
Enter grounded theory: If we know these are indeed unprecedented times. And that no one alive today has dealt with a global pandemic, a divided nation, an assault on critical thinking, social inequities and the long overdue need for justice, an ongoing climate crisis… then why are we looking around to someone else for answers? Why am I delving into books and “experts” and looking to leaders who also have not lived through this before?
We are the leaders we seek. In our families and classrooms and schools and districts. And if we aren’t sure where to begin, let’s do what grounded theory researchers do: listen. We need to ask—and not just the loudest voices, those who expect to be asked and who find it comfortable sharing their opinions. Ask those who are quietly watching, observing the chaos and experiencing its impact. Ask. Ask students who are sitting in class—avoiding eye contact. Ask those who went to the bathroom 30 minutes ago—when they return, of course. And then settle in to listen to their answers. Share power.
Let’s ask students, in the same way we hope our leaders ask us, what they need in order to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of agency.
I spent five years researching the intricacies of professional growth. I started with feedback and found myself reading about the need for effective evaluation systems. I researched leadership and spent a great deal of time reading about teacher agency. I researched relationships and emerged weeks (months) later with a better understanding of trust. I started by researching those in positions of power, and ended up discovering how much power is possessed by educators.
In a time when ‘powerlessness’ is the pervasive feeling:
True to form, when trying to determine how we can manifest power, I’m struck by how ready we are to give it up. We are living through a time where nothing feels familiar, known. Our past touchstones now look and feel different in our hands and in our minds. That which comforted us and made us feel successful in the past no longer carries reassurances that we know what we are doing. Unsettled is an understatement.
But we are not powerless. The rally cry six months ago was that we cannot return to the way things were. Yet, it feels like we returned to school, dusted off our old talisman, and are using standards previously deemed ineffective to measure our current success and the success of everyone around us. And we look to others to be the change we hoped to see.
We have power. Don’t hand it over to someone you may not trust with it in the first place.
“If what’s under cynicism and sarcasm is despair, the antidote is cultivating hope. According to the research of C. R. Snyder, hope isn’t a warm and fuzzy feeling; he actually defines it as a cognitive emotional process that has three parts. The three parts are goal, pathway, and agency. We can identify a realistic goal (I know where I want to go), and then we can figure out the pathway to get there, even if it’s not a straight line…. Agency is belief in our ability to stay on that path until we’ve arrived….”
So, what does this mean?
I do not have this mastered, nor am I an authority. Today, I’m simply following Brown’s advice: “Write the book you need to read.”
I needed to read this—this article—to reclaim some of my hope, my action. If you are feeling this way, too: save yourself.
by Heather M. F. Lyke
I may be one of few adults with reliable internet access who has yet to see Ted Lasso. In fact, my partner and I don’t even have Apple+ TV, which airs the show. For this reason, I was startled to learn the other day that, apparently, I have been quoting the show for months, often asking of myself and of other, “is this rooted in judgement or in curiosity?
I thought, over the last few months, that I had been quoting Arij Mikati of Pillars Fund, who’d used the phrase in a recent podcast interview. Perhaps it is possible that Mikati had been quoting Ted Lasso?
I wonder it if matters who said it first, since no matter it’s origin, there is extra need for us to lean into curiosity right now. It’s been a challenging fall. A challenging fall that’s followed a difficult year. A challenging fall that followed a difficult year, which came right after an unthinkable spring. A fall that has left us with many, well, challenges. And when challenges come along, judgement often follows.
Deliberating as to why this is, I did a little digging; learned that psychologically, it’s often easier to label a struggle than to really work through the challenge itself. Labeling things can make them easier to file away and to move on. Ella Alexander shared in 2020 that, particularly during the pandemic, people have had a greater quickness to judge during times of stress; that “when we’re stressed or anxious, as humans we need to find a release for those emotions and...one of those ways is criticizing others because it makes us feel good...If we shame someone else first, then it deflects from our own insecurities and internal unhappiness, and even our own fears about being judged.”
But Alexander goes on to note that while we “cannot condemn anyone for processing quickly—life really is tough enough when you think of the many things an adult must concern themselves with” there are, “some things which we do need to stop and think about…”. That since “judgement is quite base; we have to learn to understand complexity.”
In the world of education, the benefit of being curious might prove more useful than judgement from three levels.
On a Micro-Level
On a Meso-Level
On a Macro-Level
I think it was Dr. Sharroky Hollie who I first heard say that, “our first thought doesn’t have to be our last thought.” We have the ability to rethink, to rephrase. Therefore, while stress may drive us to initially judge—making it easier for us to file away our struggles and to think we have pushed past them—we don’t have to sit in that judgement. We can push through, actually push past judgement, and embrace the curiosity that sits just beyond. Curiosity, which may make it harder for us to file and move on, is what is more likely to help us find solutions, grow stronger relationships, and increase our understanding. And isn’t that what the world could benefit from?
Speaking of increasing understanding…in the aforementioned Ted Lasso episode, which I still have not seen, the quote “Be Curious, Not Judgmental” is attributed to Walt Whitman. Curious, I attempted to verify: eventually I learned that, according to Snopes, it’s misattributed. How curious.
by Sweta Patel
I’m a teacher and also serve as a “Seniors Transitions Advisor” at a local alternative high school. This involves meeting with seniors one-on-one and talking about their plans for after high school and how to best support them. Often, I help our seniors with college and scholarship applications. There is one question that always makes them pause:
What extracurriclar activities have you participated in?
Now, when I see that question, I think about my 9 year old and 5 year old. Regularly, I find myself in the position of a taxi driver, stopping in front of art and dance studios, soccer fields, tennis courts, piano lessons…and the list goes on.
But for our seniors? They usually name classes or activities they participated in at some point during their time at our school:
I believe there is a population within all of our schools that doesn’t have access to these types of ‘extracurricular activities’ due to any number of factors, including financial constraints, transportation barriers, or needing to work after school.
And yet time spent in these activities often leads to feeling a sense of community and teamwork, learning a skill that may become a lifelong hobby, or even developing a sense of what career path we’d like to pursue.
At our school, as a staff, we agreed that this list of benefits is equally as important as our academic standards. They are not “extra” to us… They warrant being a part of our school curriculum and culture. We want our students to be exposed to a variety of new experiences so that they can identify new strengths and interests and carry them beyond graduation.
The Duiring-the-School-Day Solution
To that end, we completely overhauled how Wednesdays look at our school. On these days, we go by a different bell schedule and master schedule. Each teacher teaches 5 sections - advisory, academic help, and 3 seminars (single or a double block).
During advisory time, students spend an hour deepening their relationship with each other and their advisor. Advisors also use a part of this time to have one-on-one conversations with each advisee, following a set of weekly questions created by our social workers. Past topics include: goal-setting, healthy relationships, coping with stress, and self-talk.
During academic help time, we give students a built-in pause during the school week and use this time to re-teach concepts and help students one-on-one with assignments. This helps to prevent the end-of-the-quarter mad rush that often happens to catch up on the past 8 weeks’ worth of learning.
And during seminar time, teachers choose engaging experiences to offer students, such as:
At our school, we are on a 9-week quarterly system. We broke each quarter up into two rotations, consisting of 4 Wednesdays each. We call these our “Student-Centered Wednesdays” because the students get to self-select what their schedule looks like for each rotation. Some rotations, students might be heavy on academic help hours; and during others where they’re feeling academically strong, they might have one advisory period with 4 seminar experiences. Their schedules are centered around their learning needs.
Prior to Each Rotation
Rotations & Collaborations
While it’s definitely more work to be on this type of rotation system, we feel it’s necessary for the following reasons: Students can try out many different types of experiences throughout the year. Also, if they don’t end up liking an experience, they only have to make it through three more Wednesdays (same goes for the teachers!). But most importantly, it allows teachers to more easily partner with community organizations.
For example, for our Chess Seminar, we’re partnering with the Rochester Chess Club. One of their chess instructors comes out to teach our students, and they only have to commit to four Wednesdays at a time.
As we continue to reflect and revise what these Wednesdays look like, our hope is that we’ll eventually be able to take students to off-site trips (for example, hiking at Quarry Hill or volunteering at a care center). Right now, our experiences are all on-site.
Implement With Purpose
Some may argue that these types of experiences don’t belong within the school day, but at our school, we argue back: We all agree that extracurricular activities have value, but it’s a matter of access to these opportunities. Because our students can’t participate in after school activities, we’re trying to integrate these activities into their school day.
If you’re interested in doing something similar at school but can’t on this larger scale, one idea is to replicate it for the last week of each quarter or even a few days each quarter. You’ll be surprised by how many students as seniors will remember these experiences when it’s time to complete that “extracurricular activities” box on an application.
But there’s even a greater reason for more schools to jump in:
When I was younger, I took piano lessons, and this led me to introducing music into my daughter’s life. My husband played cricket and badminton, and he continues to play now as an adult as part of his fitness routine. My 9-year old daughter takes art and dance lessons, and through these, has developed dreams of selling her art one day and making it on the high school dance team. So many of us have these stories.
We’re hoping that through our Student-Centered Wednesdays, our students will generate similar stories of their own. A particular seminar just might change the trajectory of their life.
by Jean Prokott
Part of my classroom décor involves 8 ½ x 11 laminated prints of quotations, in color, that line like a 1990s-inspired wallpaper border. These quotes are about art, or education, or books, or our existential place on Earth, no big deal. I'm not sure the students notice them (perhaps when they zone out they'll take a glance), and, in fact, I forget them, too; they've become omniscient words of brilliance that mean something only when a body needs them to.
Not long ago, I needed a quote about education to jumpstart a journal for my philosophy students. And, like a student I'd jokingly **tsk tsk**, instead of observing my environment, I Googled "quotes about education," which led me to Pygmalion playwright George Bernard Shaw's: "You have learned something. That always feels at first as though you have lost something." It sounded familiar. I glanced up, and there it was in the wallpaper, written in Georgia font with colorful floral flourishes surrounding it. It'd followed me from classroom to classroom since 2009, when Georgia was still an acceptable font choice.
The line comes from Shaw's play Major Barbara, which is perfectly British in that it hits you over the head with themes of morality vs. materialism. Spoiler: in the end, utilitarianism wins.
If I sit with the quote, it takes different forms. To learn something is to lose naivete. Naivete might be synonymous with innocence, or childhood, or even nostalgia, which makes the loss heartbreaking. Shaw is suggesting the antithesis of ignorance is bliss. Instead, he says knowledge is worth loss. And/or he's saying loss is not loss. And/or: anti-intellectualism is bad. And/or: have you seen Pleasantville?
The quote reminds me of an essay I teach in creative writing that students often love, called "The Things I've Lost" by Brian Arundel. The essay explores the literal and the abstract things we lose throughout our lifetimes, how the small and the large can be one in the same. On Brevity, an education piece by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood notes, "[part of Arundel's essay] is largely focused on beliefs he has lost, and isn’t that the sign of wisdom gained through life lessons?" Wisdom comes from loss, because loss makes us grow; the holes that come from loss need to be patched, and quickly, with the sticky substance of knowledge, which is defined in many ways: grief, hope, intellect, power, reflection. What we've lost is just as much our personal identity, our autobiography, as the things we are or the things we've done.
While this allows for lovely existential reflection, there are ties to education as well--how we learn/lose and how our students do the same. When I showed one of Third Eye Education’s founders, Heather Lyke, the quote, she gave me a perfect response: It's not about "best practices"--it's about "better practices." We have to let go of what we knew was best to find the next best--often there is something better.
There was a time in history when teachers of yore were very excited about worksheets, how they would help students become stronger readers. (I like to think of this conversation: "No, no, see--I'll leave blanks and the students have to fill them in.") There are times when worksheets are great--the blanks are a metaphor for loss, I mean--but I think consensus is that worksheets should never do the heavy lifting. We know now students learn better when they are creating and questioning and writing their own worksheets. Research does not reach an endpoint. We do not say okay, we won research! That's a wrap! Everyone go home! We learn, ∞. This is social science and hard science in harmony. Think of how dull the field of education would be if we ever reached a finish line.
Looking further into the quote's diction, I interpret "learned" in a couple of ways. "Learned" could mean enlightenment, or a simple fact, or both. (Another quote I have in my classroom is Afred Lord Tennyson's: "knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." You can memorize the formula, but the wisdom is knowing when to use it.)
And there are the words "at first that feels like you've lost something." But you didn't actually lose, did you.
At the end of our metaphysics unit in philosophy (how do we know what is real, how do we know what is True), I show my students a web comic from The Oatmeal (author Matthew Inman) that explains the psychological response when our Truths are challenged. (As educators, when our best practices are challenged.)
The first line of the comic reads "you are not going to believe what I am going to tell you." In the following panels, Inman offers facts that help readers judge the "barometer" of their reactions. In the first example, he considers what most of us are taught: George Washington had wooden teeth. We begin on common ground. Then, he offers a new fact: George Washington not only had wooden teeth, but in 2005, the National Museum of Dentistry confirmed his dentures also included "horse and donkey teeth." (Inman calls it a "petting zoo of nightmares.") He asks us to consider the amount of "friction" we encounter after learning this. Generally, a reader would think wow that's nasty, but it wouldn't impact what they think of Washington. The final fact Inman offers: Washington's dentures may have been made from the teeth of slaves. This fact causes the most friction, and we must consider why. This knowledge stings: a founding father crossing the Delaware, a hero, did terrible things.
Inman explains our friction by means of science: "the part of the brain that responds to a physical threat also responds to an intellectual one." If something we've stood by in the classroom is challenged, we react in the same way we would to an alligator holding a knife or an administrator sending a vague email to meet him in his office. Our core practices are a house, and a challenge to them knocks the entire house down, implying we no longer have any practices. Thus, our amygdalas tell us to defend it. But wisdom says: build a new house. It's okay. (Inman offers solutions in the form of a pinky toe.)
In the perfect way it's supposed to, The Oatmeal's comic forced a metacognitive gag reflex in me, that I, too, have a house of comfort/knowledge. To build a house is a lot of work, and it's much easier to reject the new information. "At first," I feel as though I've lost my entire framework of pedagogy. I "learn" to rebuild again and again. This also could move beyond self-denial. If someone you value and trust helped you build your house, to let it fall could be taken to mean that person once lied to you, or betrayed you. While this is not the case, it is the response our brain offers. I train myself to understand that no, my second grade teacher Ms. Henderson, who taught me lies about Christopher Columbus, has not betrayed me. It was 1989, and school curriculum had a lot of work to do. ("In nineteen-hundred eighty-nine, some wrong school teachers told us lies…")
There's a lot at stake if you change your mind. You have to admit you were once wrong. At the start of the pandemic, scientists said masks weren't needed, and then they said we definitely needed masks. While some took that to mean scientists knew nothing about Covid because they changed their mind, most of us took it to mean they were doing their jobs, and it was saving our lives. That new knowledge meant Covid was more serious than we thought, which was scary. That stung. It'd be easier to say the scientists were wrong.
In a similar way, society considers a politician, or a political party, as wishy-washy if they change their mind or platform. It is ingrained in us that changing our position is in bad form. Honestly, I'd prefer a leader (a teacher, a boss) who changes their mind when they learn something new rather than a person who clings to old ideas for the sake of "stability." I'd rather be the teacher, anytime, anywhere, who realizes she was doing it wrong. There have been lessons I've loved that I've put in the back of the closet because fresh pedagogy renders them weak. In fact, transitioning back to in-person from distance learning has made me realize there are a lot of things that need to go. All educators (and the whole institution) had epiphanies during that time, ranging from the achievement gap and equity, to building student relationships, to changing a test question, and it would be a shame if we left those lessons behind. I, sadly, learned a lot about how and why students cheat, which breaks my heart, but now I've considered ways to make my assessments more personal. I've learned students don't define "education" the same way I do.
What I arrive at, with Shaw, and subsequently with The Oatmeal, is learning is hard because learning is changing. I don't care for change much--I eat the same thing for lunch every day (a breakfast sandwich, a yogurt, and an apple, if you want to follow the English teacher diet--it offers nothing beyond not having to think about it in the morning); I have a tattoo of the delta sign to remind myself change is the only constant and often get mad at the tattoo for being correct. A tattoo on my other arm is the Wallace Stevens quote: "it was snowing / and it was going to snow," from "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird." (It follows the line "it was evening all afternoon.") It is snowing forever, and in the process of the first forever another forever happens. You have learned something, you have lost something. You have shoveled, and there is more snow. The present and the future happen simultaneously. We are our best and we will be our best. This is what it means to be a lifelong learner, and this is what it means to lose.
Third Eye Education posts weekly articles focusing on education and innovation.