Here’s the secret, I think: teaching is empathy.Seth Godin – Instagram live 8/28
If you have a bad teacher, who is strict for no reason, who says “there will be a test,” who is strict for no reason, who glosses over things that the class doesn’t understand, or spends time on things the class does – that teacher is a bad teacher because they are selfish.
What it means to be a good teacher is to see the world through the eyes of other people.
This is frustrating… So if we’re in an airport and you get to a door and you can’t figure out how to open it, the person who designed the door has lacked empathy. They said, “I know how to open the door, I just need to don’t make it obvious.”
No. You do.
So empathy is where it all lives, for me, and the only way I know how to develop that as a teacher is to teach, is to figure out how to find a human and get them to be able to ride a bicycle. Or to write a letter. Or to juggle. If you can teach someone how to juggle, you can teach somebody almost anything.
Planning is essential in education, but it’s easy to fall into the habit of treating your session plan or presentation as a set of inputs for a machine: “If I do these things, and introduce this content, and prescribe this activity, this learning will result.”
But we know that groups of people, and especially groups of children, don’t work so predictably. The ‘perfect’ lesson plan a classroom is a Russian doll of one set of complex adaptive systems inside another inside another:
- The rapidly developing minds of children or teenagers…
- Nested in expectations and the social structures and groups-within-groups of kids-at-school culture…
- In the classroom culture shaped by a particular teacher – who is themselves a complex adaptive system of body, thoughts and emotions…
- Interacting with the wider culture of the school…
- All interacting with cultures local, national and international…
- And influenced by what’s going on at home, the weather, what they had for lunch…
In the face of this complexity, the first thing to do is recognise that what happens in our classroom is beyond our control, at least in the mechanistic sense of the word. Trying to impose precise control – of learning outcomes, of students’ behaviour – is a recipe for frustration and disappointment, if not damage.
The second thing is to start thinking about teaching and classroom management in terms of disposition and influence (and teachers can have a lot of influence):
- How can I make it more likely that the people I teach arrive on time and ready to learn?
- How I can I increase their disposition to be kind to each other, or to love this subject and to work hard?
- How can I make it more likely that they’ll do X, rather than Y?
Go to work. Take responsibility. Do the hard work of building a classroom culture that gets your students where they want to go (hint: you might have to start by showing them where it’s possible to go).
But don’t beat yourself up the next time it snows, and the lesson plan goes out the window as the kids pile up against the window to watch the world turn white.
A butterfly must have flapped its wings in New York.
… producing books with ease on Gutenberg’s press did not fully unleash text. Real literacy also required a long list of innovations and techniques that permitted ordinary readers and writers to manipulate text in ways that made it useful. For instance, quotation symbols make it simple to indicate where one has borrowed text from another writer. We don’t have a parallel notation in film yet, but we need one.
Once you have a large text document, you need a table of contents to find your way through it. That requires page numbers. Somebody invented them in the 13th century. Where is the equivalent in video?
Longer texts require an alphabetic index, devised by the Greeks and later developed for libraries of books. Someday soon with AI we’ll have a way to index the full content of a film.
Footnotes, invented in about the 12th century, allow tangential information to be displayed outside the linear argument of the main text. And that would be useful in video as well.
And bibliographic citations (invented in the 13th century) enable scholars and skeptics to systematically consult sources that influence or clarify the content. Imagine a video with citations. These days, of courses we have hyperlinks, which connect one piece of text to another, and tags, which categorise using a selected word or phrase for later viewing.
All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, remix ideas, quote experts, and sample bits of beloved artists.
These tools, more than reading, are the foundations of literacy.
You can’t ever just teach one thing.
Whether we like it or not there’s always other stuff going on: we’re teaching what we think of our students, whether we value other people’s time or feelings, how we think we should speak to people, how a person might be in the world…
All the time – consciously or not, or both – teachers are sending messages about what it means to be at school, about what education is for, whether this stuff we’re learning is part of the thrill of a lifetime or a necessary chore.
We play a huge role in determining whether or not our students like school, and the qualities that we reward and emphasise – risk taking or obedience, creativity or following the script, delight or the humdrum, kindness or indifference or worse – shape our kids’ days and so – their futures.
As with so many things, what we do and how we do it speaks louder than what we say.
What are you teaching today?
What else will you be teaching?
Getting a team together? Start building it before you’re even in the room.
Kathy Delaney-Smith is the coach of the Harvard woman’s basketball team… A few years ago she was asked to be the coach of Team USA in the international basketball competition. And what she was going to have was a dozen kids who’d been selected from a hundred who tried out, the very best female basketball players in the United States. And the problem was that they were going to be competing for five starting positions and moreover came from schools that were highly competitive.
So she had this question: “How do I take these thoroughbreds and turn them into a team?” And she was only going to have four days of practice before they went to Turkey to actually do the competition.
And what she did was … she started building the team over a month before people came to Colorado Springs to the training center for their first practice.
She formed diads or triads … of women ahead of time by email and gave them little assignments to do, things like, since the tournament was going to be in Turkey, “What are the best museums in Turkey?” or “How would you teach the Turkish alphabet to someone who didn’t know it?”, and they had to do these things by email before they showed up and then make their presentation of their report when they arrived at Colorado Springs.
And it was amazing, she said, when they arrived they made their presentation to the rest of the team and the team USA staff, and it was all very funny, and they had started to bond as a team even before they started practice, which she said transcended the latent competitiveness that they were arriving with. So there’s all kind of creative things that you can do to try to help this set of people who are really individuals come together and experience themselves as a team.Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast
Here’s a theory of learning:
- A person**…
- meets something new…
- has some kind of interaction with it…
- and is changed in some way.
I think these are the bare essentials. You can’t have learning with less, and everything else is detail under one of these headings.
** Or animal, or…