In a previous post, I outlined what I thought was a real problem with individuals who are out of the classroom and therefore out of touch with the realities of the classroom. My concern was individuals who are not teaching and yet dictating best practice models or strategies for classroom teachers. Even with the best intentions, at some level, they are out of touch. I stand by that statement. If you are not in a school on a daily basis working with kids, you are out of touch at some level. When we deny this it typically comes from a place of ignorance or potential arrogance on our part.
Having said that, I think I need to expand upon that statement because there is certainly more to that. Yes, I firmly believe a classroom teacher is the best advocate for best practice and what works with kids. If you are a conference organizer, make sure your “headliners” are folks in the schools doing the work. When you purchase the latest education book, check to see if the author is someone who is working in schools with kids or trying to create the next trending hashtag. Through our social media interactions, make sure those we are retweeting, following, or sharing are those who are struggling with the same work as us.
There is always a “but”. I see folks who are not classroom teachers as out of touch at some level, but I still see tremendous value in their work. In addition, they often have a lot to offer all educators. For example, Daniel Pink is an author who writes for the business world. However, I have found a great many ideas and thoughts I pull into my own work with students as it pertains to motivation. John Schu is not in a classroom but I look to him for inspiration about new books and teaching literacy to all kids. Even young adult authors such as Angie Thomas or Nic Stone provide me with insights into tough conversations with kids through the experiences of characters within their novels. My own brother builds barns and yet I see his passion for building and bring that mindset into my makerspace at school. I could go on and on listing people who are no longer or never were inside a classroom yet still have influence over my thoughts about teaching and working with students.
I see two other distinct values in paying attention to those outside of the classroom. One is they have the ability to engage or access educational research that classroom teachers either don’t have access to or time to engage in. There are many people in higher education or education consulting firms that conduct research which is valuable and can impact our work in schools. Another reality is those not in the classroom can bring unique perspectives we might not be exposed to otherwise. For example, some individuals are able to work with schools and teachers around the globe. They are then able to bring those experiences into their work and potentially further enrich more teachers.
For me, the key is to be able to take everything in stride and see it for what it is. You can read a book and take one thing away and if it betters the learning for your students, good deal. I’ve sat through many “edu-celebrity” keynote sessions that did not teach me anything I didn’t already know or provide any new insights. Yet, some of them inspired me and reminded me of why I do what I do. I’ll even admit I have found inspiration in a Voxer group whose foundation is to talk about sports and beer.
As educators, we must always be skeptical and mindful of the snake-oil salesmen trying to sell us the newest and greatest tool or resource to revolutionize our teaching. Personally, I am always leery of the next best thing or trending hashtag. However, I try to be open to the next source of inspiration for myself or idea to help my students, no matter the source.