Friday, October 23, 2009

How are Teachers Like Rubber Bands?


Resiliency: The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy. (from

More and more, I see resiliency as a key skill for teachers. As change comes at us more and more quickly, we must recover from change. By recover of course I mean adapt to it, integrate it, prepare for the next upcoming change. There is no question that every new initiative, tool, standard, idea, philosophy, or concept brings about a series of important steps to handle this change.

1. Unlearning: A key part of resiliency is the ability to unlearn what you have previously thought of as an absolute truth. Many longstanding truths are being called into question due to rapid changes in our profession. For example, skills like cursive writing, alphabetical order, or interpreting paper maps have been staples in teaching for years. Today, however, they have become significantly less important. Tomorrow, they may go away altogether. We must be ready to question the relevance of what we teach and how we teach regularly.

2. Relearning: It is not enough to throw out old ways of thinking, we need to learn about new tools, new skills, new ways of doing things, and we have to do it in a very limited amount of time. The key to this is constant ongoing learning. Using tools like RSS aggregators and social networking tools, we must have a daily diet of reading and practicing new ideas.

3. Adapting: Once we have learned about these new ideas, we have to integrate them into our teaching. Too often, we talk about new ideas in the theoretical. They become cool, pie in the sky concepts that never make it into our classrooms. We must operate with a willingness to constantly try new things. We must become comfortable learning on the fly, understanding that there will be chaos and things will go wrong. It is from those mistakes that we will learn how to adapt these new ideas.

4. Restlessness: Finally, we must have a constant thirst for knowledge. We can not sit back and congratulate ourselves for setting up our first blog or posting our first YouTube video. We must simply consider these steps on an infinite staircase. Progress is constant and unending.

In the classroom, it was always apparent which kids were not resilient. They put their heads down if they got a problem wrong. They complained that things were too hard rather than trying it and seeing what happened. They gave up, checked out, and lost hope. We can not allow ourselves to become like those students. The rapid changes in technology and in our classrooms are simply like the math problems that feel slightly out of reach. Like we would say to our students: "Keep trying! I know you can do it!"

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