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Tinkering With Teaching

Today we had the Leadership Conference in our overly-large school district, the annual August gathering for all of us above a certain pay grade, designed to provide an inspirational kickoff for the new school year.

Our keynote speaker this time around was Tony Wagner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The Global Achievement Gap (which I haven’t read yet).

Wagner spent most of his time telling us about how our kids have changed, how the world they’ll be working in has changed, and about how educators need to change what we do in school to better serve our students.

In effect, he was telling us to radically change our curriculum, our teaching process, and so much more about what we do.

Ok, certainly a lot to think about going into lunch.

For the afternoon, however, we broke into smaller groups (if you can call 40 – 100 “smaller”) to hear about a new district program entitled Best Practices for Teaching and Learning.


I thought Tony Wagner just told us that we need to do things differently, to adapt what we do to those different kids who are constantly connected and multitasking, and want to create and communicate.

Instead of making them adapt to the curriculum and traditional school structure (none of which is changing).

And we must prepare them for a world that wants them to be adaptable and to understand how to network and collaborate.

“Best practice”, especially as it was presented to us, is all about a recipe approach to teaching. We provide the ingredients and the teacher mixes everything according to directions.

The afternoon reminded me of a session I attended at last week’s Building Learning Communities conference with the wonderful title of “Scratch Best Practices: It’s All About The Beta, Baby!“.

Darren Kuropatwa and Clarence Fisher offered the premise that teachers should be encouraged to tinker with their professional practice.

That good teaching has more in common with Maker Faire and tinkering school than with the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

In both concepts, talented people offer instructions for putting together all kinds of unusual stuff and then help and encourage others to take their ideas and play with them to make something unique and useful to them.

Nothing in this rant is intended to say that we should just tell teachers to do whatever they want in their classrooms.

Certainly we should provide them with great examples and access to a selection of excellent materials to work with.

But not a database full of classic recipes, most of which are designed to produce a standardized, and very, very bland result.


  1. Susan Socha

    Sorry to disagree Tim, but I am concerned that there are many teachers who are perfectly content to be given what to do every day…and even perform well under this system :( There are chiefs who create and there are indians who follow. The indians are not necessarily bad. I would rather have a good indian who listens and follows a good chief, than a bad indian who heads out on their own with no idea of where they are going or how to get there…..

  2. Julie Budd

    Meatloaf can be made hundreds of different ways

    Providing teachers with great examples and access to excellent materials and technologies are the key ingredients to a delicious school. I have been teaching third graders for twelve years and the basics still need to be taught. I see very little differences in the kids today from the kids I taught twelve years ago. Yes they can multitask and have been exposed to more technology, but they still need to learn to communicate and cooperate face to face, not just on face book. All good teachers evolve and adapt. Curriculums change, technology changes, the world is constantly changing but kids are kids. Thinking back to my first class, I can find a student just like each student I had my first year of teaching. (The over achiever, argumentative, charismatic, active, curious, talkative, and humorous child) These traits still describe children. The teacher (chef) is the one that makes the difference.

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