People are metaphor makers. We create our metaphors and we perceive life from the metaphors we create. Metaphors are powerful ways we make meaning of this world. They can empower us and they can debilitate us. That is why it is important to carefully choose our metaphors that bring success and creativity. Giving the right metaphor to our students can also transform the way they perceive themselves and their ability for learning.
Imagine that you keep some of the most powerful life changing metaphors in your pocket and can bring them out when you need some reminders. Let’s try some pocket metaphors right now!
Take some coins from your pocket. Do it right now! I know that in reading this you may be tempted to be passive and not take action. But slow down your skimming and take some coins out of your pocket. Again, take some coins out from your pocket! Place these coins on the floor and stand on them. You have just acted out the most powerful metaphor we can begin with. You are standing in the midst of change. If you want education to change for the better you need to take action.
Deeper in your pocket you can keep a little paw removed from a stuffed Teddy Bear (a little gruesome, I know). When you are overwhelmed with all the confusion in education you need to pause (paws), take breath and reflect on why you are in education and the part you play to improve the minds of students.
In my right pants pocket I keep my keychain with a small flashlight to remind me that when things look dim I can shine some light on the situation and others if I just lighten up a bit.
In my wallet in my back pocket I am ready for anything because I carry one playing card-a joker. This is a reminder that whatever I am dealt I can transform it something better. I can laugh at the absurdities of life and not take myself too seriously.
Imagine using this idea with your students. Imagine them handling struggles, problems or situations with a metaphor that matches their strengths or passions. Perhaps math is a dragon that they can train or slay. Perhaps a problem is an opposing football player that they can tackle. Now imagine blessing your student with the strengths of their heroes. How would Superman turn this situation around? If you had the ability to change minds or abilities with your favorite hero how would they do this?
Here is a helpful hint to all teachers out there. We can teach students how to apply an appropriate metaphor with their imagination to help them achieve success. If we want individuals to succeed treat them uniquely with the metaphor that matches their creative passions. Metaphors have the power of metamorphosis–they can empower students to transform how they perceive problems, success and the world.
We can see how metaphors are the grid and projector of how we perceive the world. They have penetrated our vocabulary so well they are often imperceptible.
Listen to a few:
Ideas are food: There are raw facts, half-baked ideas you can’t swallow or digest that you may have to let stew for a while or put on the back burner until they become food for thought.
Ideas are plants: From her fertile imagination planted in her youth became a seed of a budding theory that got to the root of the issue that may branch out before it dies on the vine.
Let’s take a short walk to explore how we use familiar educational metaphors. Take the well-known quote by Socrates: “Education is the kindling of a flame not the filing of a vessel” Einstein has a similar version of this ideas when he said, “A student is not a container you have to fill but a torch you have to light up.”
These quotes introduce two contrasting metaphors. One sees students as receptacles for stuffing information and knowledge into. The other sees students as a spark to ignite. One sees teachers as one who imposes knowledge and fills the mind receptacle with information. The other sees the teacher bringing out knowledge and igniting a flame. Choosing your metaphor influences how you teach and perceive your students.
In Latin the word “educate” has two Latin roots. They are eduare which means to train or mold and educere meaning to draw out. Thus there is an etymological basis for many of the debates about education today. (footnote)
One camp uses education as the preservation and passing down of knowledge -the shaping of youths in the image of the past. The other camp sees education as preparing a new generation for the issues that are to come–preparing youths to create new solutions to problems yet unknown.
Pushing the characterization to an extreme: one calls for rote memorization and becoming good workers while the other requires questioning, thinking and creating.
If you were to listen carefully to our vocabulary you might catch some learning metaphors that affect how education plays itself out even in your child’s classroom.
If we see the classroom of students as a garden we would see the teacher as planting ideas as seeds that grow in our students.
If we see our classroom as a competitive race you would see whoever gets to the finish line first wins.
If you see yourself as a gamer you would strategize to determine what to teach and students would either win or lose
If the classroom is seen as a battleground the job would be to win over the students.
A common metaphor of the industrial age is the educational factory where students are products on an assembly line molded to fit in a competitive system.
A common (seemingly harmless) metaphor for education is a journey. But this can be distorted to become the journey of the teacher. The trailblazer teacher’s responsibility is to keep moving their students through content. The teacher “needs to keep going,” “pass to the next thing”, “move on” and to “to cover the material”. Student lack of movement (lack of academic progress) is used to describe students who can’t keep the pace. The road to academic progress has only one “only way” and “one size fits all”.
Even the Latin root of curriculum adds momentum to this. Curriculum means a “race” or the “course of a race.”
Let’s take out that “paw” from your pocket to pause and reflect.
Metaphors that focus on what the teacher does rather than what the students learn sees students as passive receivers who need motivation to stretch that vessel and to keep up with the race.
So what are we really teaching? What is the secret curriculum between the lines of our schools? What hidden metaphor is behind the curtain of our educational system? What metaphor is behind the decision making in this countries’ education system. When we continually compare our country with other countries to demonstrate how far we are behind are we not presupposing a metaphor? What we focus on is what our children focus on.
The most well-known metaphor for ideas is a light bulb. Let’s start there for a moment. Let’s take out that flash light from your pocket to shed some light on education.
Here are some observations based on a light bulb.
- We are all wired differently with different learning styles. If we look around at the observable differences in students we can be assured that their brains, though looking similar, have far more neuron nuances with more complex differences than physical appearances.
- We learn by making connections. Learning is a physical process in which new knowledge is represented by new brain cell connections. Students gather information but it takes the integrative imagination to create knowledge.
- Our task is turning kids on to learning. Just as a light bulb has a switch to turn it on, teachers have to find that switch that will light up the student’s desire to learn.
- Sometimes we get our wires crossed on what learning is all about. We do not connect because we do not teach to how students learn.
- We can all use some bright creative ideas for motivation. The best teachers are models of learning. They share with students that every day is a learning experience to further understand the topics they teach and the students they seek to inspire.
- We are wired for wonder. Deep inside every learner there is a mind that hungers for the electricity of astonishment and a desire for wonder.
I would like to introduce a new metaphor. It is exciting, mysterious and fun! We are in a transformational time in education. Remember we are standing in the midst of change. But you better sit down to listen to this. Here is a fresh metaphor to help us transform our perspective of education.
Think of the first magic trick you saw and how you experienced a thrill, surprise, mystery, and a spectacle. Think of a time where your innocence found wonder. This may sound trivial or naive now but think of how you felt as a child. This was a time before you knew about sleight-of-hand, trapdoors, and “up the sleeve” secrets. This was before you knew that parlor tricks were done with smoke and mirrors. This was before your amazement was dashed after a magician fumbled or bumbled and destroyed the spell.
You could have remembered your grandfather pulling a coin from your ear. You could have remembered a circus or amusement park entertainer or a stage illusion from David Copperfield. You could have been dazzled by a close-up magician with a card trick, amazed by an escape artist in the tradition of Houdini, or had someone “read” your mind.
What if you had a magic wand that could transform something about education or your teaching? Like that joker in your back pocket, what if you could transform what you were dealt into something amazing?
Would you like to make some magic happen in your classroom? Remember we are developing a metaphor even as you read.
What if you could……..
M Motivate from a heart of wonder
A Activate learning
G Generate inquisitiveness
I Invigorate emotions
C Celebrate the brain