Sunday, January 20, 2008

Get Out of the Box

This is the first in a series of postings over the next few weeks where I hope to show that by becoming an “out of the box teacher” you can actually achieve the goals of the “stay in the box” crowd.

Even though my first administrator went on to other things following my first year in the classroom I still saw him at least once a year as he breezed down the hall getting a handshake or hug here and there. He was a fairly hands-off kind of guy during my first year….I rarely saw him. He was a former basketball coach so he often employed his coaching tactics to the inhabitants of his school from the youngest to the oldest. He referred to many of us by our last names. My own last name of Cooper suddenly became “Coop”. He employed certain phrases to keep his team in focus and working together to meet his goal. He’d say things like “go team”, “keep it in focus”, “you know what to do”, or one that has signficance to me “stay in the box”. As for me and other staff members we took the last one to mean “don’t rock the boat”, stay in sinc with the team, or conform, conform, conform.

So what was my administrator’s goal? Quite simply it was for the school to run smoothly….no problems of any kind especially any he might have to deal with personally. He was all about appearance and a united front was key.

Today he’s no longer with the school system but still visits our campus as a community representative. He always receives a hug from me on those visits and always begins our visit by flinging open my classroom door, filling the doorway with his very tall form, and booms, “Well, howya doin’ Coop?”

I received a reprimand from him only once.Our team of teachers had decided to go out to lunch on a work day as so many educators do across the country. It’s one of those little pleasures you look forward to. One of our team members lived close by and had prepared a magnificent luncheon for us. It was so magnificient that we were approximately thirty minutes late getting back to school. Apparently our coach….er…administrator had decided to venture forth from his office to walk down our hall and found empty classrooms when he should have found a least one team member…er….teacher in each room. After we returned and thinking we were in the clear we all got back to work when suddenly over the intercom came our fearless leader’s voice.

He requested a visit from our team leader. After a few minutes another team member was called, and then another, and then another. By this time of course the team leader had already returned and alerted us to the fact that coach…er….our administrator knew about about our long lunch.

Finally the intercom came on in my room where everyone had assembled to discuss the matter. “Coop,” his voice boomed, “I need you front and center, please.” By this time every staff member knew what was going on and I got quite a ribbing as I traversed my way through the maze of hallways to reach the front office.

He sat in his big overstuffed executive chair while I perched on a much smaller and lower chair across from him. His elbows rested on the arms of his chair and he kept pressing the fingers of each hand together. His very empty and very shiny cherry desktop gleamed. I knew not to touch it. A team member of mine had made the mistake once of steadying her body as she sat down by placing a hand on his desk, and he immediately got out the furniture polish and corrected the smudge that had been left behind while she looked on.

Several seconds ticked by. I smiled nervously as I waited for him to speak first.

Our meeting was one of the strangest I have ever had. The gist of the whole thing was during the prescribed lunch hour the front office expected us to be off campus. If we were off campus any other time and the front office was not aware of it the situation it could cause a problem if someone from the board office called wanting to speak with us or if an official came by wanting to visit with us. I apologized and stated I understood. All my administrator kept saying was, “Coop, I need ya’ to stay in the box. Those words “in the box” still echo in my head today.

Ok, I know what he meant. He wanted me to follow the rules. He needed me to follow the rules, and I don’t think a rule about being off campus during unprescribed times is a bad one. I agree with it.

What I don’t agree with is always staying in that damn box especially where teaching is concerned.

These are difficult times in education. New theories, research, standards, expectations, and responsibilities are thrust upon us in what seems to be a daily litany of directives that can change day-to-day. In the meantime we are expected to work wonders with students who are unmotivated, often unskilled, and a growing number who have emotional and behavioral concerns. My educational playbook is full of reminders about staying in the box……I can’t leave students behind, I must meet them where they are, and I must focus on the whole student. Many feel that the only sure-fire fix to education and the way we can meet the cries of legislators, parents, and educrats is by forming a team where we all move forward in lock-step fashion to cure our educational ills…you know, that same page on the same day crowd (which to a certain extent isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

What I’m getting at is in order to meet those goals that we find in those boxes and binders full of directives, procedures, and reminders we must be willing to climb out of the box in order to research and collect a repertoire of teaching skills and strategies to meet the many different unique individuals we come in contact with each and every day. No one program, no one strategy, no one law will cure our educational woes. Our fix should come from many different directions.

Saying “I’ve always taught this way” is not going to get you the same results you might have gotten ten, five, or even two years ago. What it will take is a “team” of teachers who are committed to researching on their own, discovering on their own, gathering their own data, collaborating with others and inplementing on their own various skills and strategies to reach each and every learner.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers is about the stuff that gets ram-rodded down our throats that we must do in order to reach our goals. Don’t wait to get something thrown at you. Be aware of what is out there, be aware of current research, be aware of the demographics in your area, be aware of the particular problems your school has, and be aware regarding your own personal data with your own students. Don’t rely on someone else to give it to you.

Get out of the box and be part of the solution instead of having a solution you don’t agree with dumped on your head.

Thanks for visiting and for leaving a comment. My current postings can be seen here.


Gaspare Armato said...

I really like this post. Education is the first and important thing in human life and it's important how we are teaching.

On the other part, about history teaching, i write something in my blog:

Thanks for share your ideas.

Rino, from Italy.

Butterfly Angel said...

I hear something from an AVID coach last year that resonates with me: "Blow up the box rather than think outside of it." He said 'cuz if you don't blow it up, you have a tendency to go back in it!

Excellent post as always.

Dr Pezz said...

Wonderful post! I definitely recognize your coach/administrator walking the halls of my own school.

EHT said...

Dr. Pezz, while I didn't agree with the management style of my adm. that first year he was/is a wonderful person and I'm forever grateful to him for hiring me and helping me get my foot in the door.

I love that idea of blowing up the box, Butterfly Angel. We all go back to what makes us comfortable, but being comfortable doesn't always move us along.

Babilonia61...I'm off to visit your link as I end this since I hope I've now figured out a way to read your beautiful language.

Melissa said...


loonyhiker said...

This was a great post! Too many times I have teachers whine to me about having to do the same old things but they are the ones who are also not willing to move from their comfort zone. Sometimes I wish I could put a firecracker in their chairs to get them to move into new areas, try new ideas, and use new technology.

Gaspare Armato said...

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