Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.
-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
It’s a bit of a gloomy quote to start a blog post, but it’s also something I find to be a profound truth about humans: our capacity to adapt to new situations and a new normal. Often when I talk to teachers about a new idea or perspective on their teaching, they tell me, “well when I was a student I wouldn’t have liked that,” or, “I wouldn’t have learned if it was taught that way.”
Maybe that’s true, given your experiences and what you were used to. But you have a year to spend with your students. You have the opportunity to set new norms and new expectations, to create the classroom culture you want to teach in.
Assuming that students won’t learn a certain way because you wouldn’t have liked it is also a narcissistic approach to teaching. Human memories aren’t very good, and I’m skeptical that any teacher can look back on their school years and separate their likes, dislikes, and emotional attachments from what actually helped them learn.
This isn’t an argument for blind change. Instead, it’s an argument to be bold about how I think about what is possible in my classroom. These might be structural changes like grading less to spend more time on relationships and student thinking, shuffling groups more often, or asking students to move around the room. They might be about redefining what it means to collaborate on mathematics or asking students to approach unfamiliar problems in new ways. And there are more potential transformations down the road that I don’t know about yet. Many things seem impossible until they’re real.
In a digital, connected world, I have incredible opportunities to learn from other teachers about how they create powerful classrooms. This is a reminder to be bold enough to learn from and imagine possibilities beyond my own experiences.