My philosophy (It’s not fishy!)

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I decided to become a teacher of teachers after a long career, primarily because I wanted to press for teacher reform as I’ve done from my first days in the classroom. I joke with a friend of mine, Barbara Barnes, now in her mid-eighties, about how both of us entered schools desiring to change teaching, and despite our apparent lack of success, we haven’t given up! I imagine myself in my eighties still at it, as she is.

Occasionally, I have opportunities to give keynote speeches to whole faculties. Despite the obvious challenges of effecting change as an outside speaker, I take it seriously. I begin by imagining sitting in the audience and listening to what I say. I see my talk as a chance to infuse ideas to inspire teachers to make their classrooms lively, happening places.

Sometimes, I share the four principles of Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle. (The market has inspired workplaces throughout the country with their fresh and zany actions; for instance, they throw fish—big ones!—to customers.) Their four principles are:

  • Choose your attitude
  • Play
  • Be present
  • Make someone’s day

These principles reflect my convictions as a teacher:

  • I enter class knowing I can be upbeat about my students and circumstances regardless of how I felt yesterday.
  • I can put playfulness—in my case puns—into my lessons, instead of always being serious about the business of learning.
  • I can be fully present with my students’ responses, instead of being present only with my teachings.
  • I can certainly bring a smile to a student in way that, in turn, uplifts everyone.

Taken seriously, these principles can radically shift attitudes, particularly in larger and more impersonal schools. Sometimes, I am naïve enough to believe that the act of describing Pike’s Place in my presentation will flip a happiness switch as if it were a transforming tipping point. But, I realize the fleeting effect of my efforts as soon as the principal takes the microphone to give a list of things to do before sending teachers off to their rooms. (When I returned to one school, however, a teacher gave me a Pike’s Place Fish Market hat as he grinned from ear to ear. The message stuck, at least for him!)

Image: Pike’s Place Fish Market

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 16 “Leverage Tipping Points” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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