I have a list of communication "rules" in my classroom. Little hints to remind students that how we communicate is just as important as what we communicate. My rule number two is this:
When I hear these three words, I know what I am about to hear is going to hurt my feelings. And feel very personal. The phrase that on the surface was meant to alleviate concern actually creates more concern.
And it is not alone.
Our language is complex enough, but our own intentions (that we can often intend to mask) add a complete other level. Educators are definitely not immune- we speak a number of phrases that mean something different than the original intent. Or, we say things that mean different things to different people.
Here are a few of those phrases unpacked:
Data driven instruction.
No three words are used more to support a new method of instruction than these. And I am not arguing that data is unnecessary- quite the opposite. Data needs to inform our educational practice. But it needs to be allowed to tell the truth. And too often, we twist it to meet our own needs.
Case in point. A fellow educator reached out to me last year. They had done flexible seating in their math classroom, but their admins kept marking them down on evaluations because of it. They argued that it was not beneficial to the students. I asked the educator how their students compared to others in their scores (data). The students performed at or above the levels of their peers. So data backed their use of flexible seating, but their admins ignored that. The educator eventually stopped using flexible seating.
Data supported their endeavors, but data did not matter in this case.
Mark Twain popularized a quote from British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Disraeli is saying that statistics (data) can be manipulated to support our opinions. Education does this a great deal. Standardized testing anyone?
If we are to use data, it needs to be transparent in how it is acquired, replicable, and NOT manipulated.
I hear this phrase a lot as well. On the surface, we want our students to have an educational opportunity that is relatively equal. If class A is doing a really fun project and class B is just testing- that seems unfair.
But too often, 'equity' can be used as a buzzword to control the type of instruction done. Used in conjunction with 'curriculum alignment,' equity can seem to a classroom teacher like they are being told not just what to teach- but how to teach it.
So how can we alleviate concerns that we will be micromanaged in our instructional style? Again, like with data, transparency is key. If people are not understanding what equity means, or the process behind developing it- explain it. Make sure the door is open to conversations about what equity really should look like.
When I was in high school, I went hunting with some friends during dove season. The doves were hiding out pretty well, and that morning we only shot three. My friend who was an avid hunter, Jared, informed (threatened) that I would have to field dress the next dove we shot. I made sure to not hit anything for the rest of the day.
I tell this story to establish that I am not a hunter, but I do greatly appreciate nature and the creatures that exist in it. In fact, my retirement goal includes moving to the mountains and starting a "no kill hunt" where folks learn to stalk animals in the wild, and the trophy they collect is a photo of the animal they are 'hunting.'
It is a little ironic that my favorite U.S. President is the one most synonymous with hunting- Theodore Roosevelt.
I am currently reading a book about Roosevelt called The Naturalist by Darrin Lunde. It looks at Roosevelt as Naturalistic (duh) Hunter and his contributions to Natural History. Early in the book, Lunde establishes a definition of a naturalist hunter that sets them apart from the common perception of hunters. He states that most people see hunters as meat hunters (hunt for food) or sport hunters (hunt for fun/trophies). Naturalist hunters hunt for communion with nature and the object of the hunt. He says this
That quote hit me hard. Roosevelt and others like him did take trophies, did consume their prey, but they also had a strong desire to UNDERSTAND nature.
Immediately, I made an educational connection. Many educators work for money (meat hunters)- even if it is not much. They punch a clock and wait for retirement. Others teach because they love it (sport hunters). They enjoy sharing their knowledge and interacting with students.
Neither of these are bad, per se, but they lack something. Teachers who are 'meat hunters' may lack passion or care- they teach because it is how they survive. Teachers who are 'sport hunters' have the passion, but passion can fade. When the reward they feel from teaching fades, they will become 'meat hunters' just counting the days to retirement and making their living.
Educators who choose to become Naturalists choose to teach to become a part of learning. To become a part of the students' lives. They thrive on the connection. Yes, they get their 'meat' and their 'sport,' but they get something more.
They learn, too.
Lunde addresses a well known fact about Theodore Roosevelt's youth- he was sickly. He also deeply desired to interact with the outdoors, but was limited in that exposure. One day, he found a seal carcass at a local butcher and eventually was able to acquire the seal head. He studied the head, and discovered an intense interest in trying to understand how the anatomy of the seal worked. He then began collecting other specimens to form a 'museum' in his home. He even got his siblings to help collect the specimens. He found a way to become a part of nature.
As teachers, we must have an intense curiosity about our subject matter, but also about how to better understand our students. To become a Naturalistic Educator, we need to seek to understand what makes our students tick. It takes investment in listening to what and how they say things. We need to desire to be a part of the class- not in a creepy old person hanging with kids way- but in a "I am learning and growing with you" way. Naturalistic Educators realize there is a give and take- we too must invest in the lessons and in the real life we are living together.
Roosevelt understood that we share this world with the animals in it. It would be good to understand how they live. We need to understand that our students are not just goals to be achieved or boxes to get checked off. They are unique individuals we share this world with.
We should try to understand and engage with them.
Be a Naturalist. And like Roosevelt, recruit your friends and co-workers to join in.
Make your classrooms museums of active learning.