Teacher Hacks: Professional Learning as Life Hacking?

I  recently skimmed through this article– “99 Life Hacks to Make Your Life Easier.”  One that struck me particularly vividly was this one: “Rub a walnut on damaged wood furniture to cover up dings.”  I haven’t tried it yet, but every time I look at my coffee table, I remind myself to pick up a few walnuts from the bulk bins at the Olympia Co-op and have a go at it.

This morning, however, instead of thinking literally, I started thinking metaphorically (one of the casualties of being trained as a poet).

One of my core beliefs about faculty is that we are already committed to pedagogical acts of innovation– strong, vibrant, creative assignments, activities, discussion prompts, and the like– and that we employ them with strength and power in our classrooms on a daily basis.

And sometimes we read an article (for me, recently, it was reading an article about the Thriving Quotient and the cognitive and affective differences between a student “thriving” in college (versus merely “surviving”)) that help us see, with sudden clarity, how powerful what we are doing is (while reading that article, in community with a group of faculty from across the nation at the Washington Center’s annual National Summer Institute on Learning Communities, it was my literacy narrative assignment).

Suddenly put in conversation with the principles of “thriving,” I saw how I might make several relatively small changes to my assignment so it would be more meaningful for students (and that would be a very long blog post) in terms of their immediate experience and in terms of their transfer (both literally, as in transfer to a four year college, and metaphorically, as in transferring what they learned about writing to future writing assignments in and outside of academia).

So, at the same time we recognize the strength and beauty of our teaching practices, we also see how we might shift, subtly, slightly, what we are currently doing so it is a whole new thing entirely– more effective for us, for students . . . for learning.

A life hack, if you will, but in this case, it’s a teaching hack.

I suspect that often the connotations of “reform” (especially when “reform” is juxtaposed with “education”) are artificially limited to “big”– large-scale structural changes implemented at enormous scale.

However, while educational reform always implies a paradigm shift, that shift can be small– subtle– almost invisible to the naked eye.  It can happen in a moment– I’m thinking of Joyce’s definition of epiphany— so that everything around you is the same, but YOU are different.  And because you have new eyes, in a sense, with which to see, the whole world has changed.

I’m interested in hearing if this metaphor works.  If there are “life hacks,” is there indeed such thing as a “teaching hack”?  Can a teaching hack  be educational reform in terms of a paradigm shift?

If so, what are some “Teacher Hacks” you have recently envisioned/employed?

One thought on “Teacher Hacks: Professional Learning as Life Hacking?

  1. I like the idea of “teaching hacks”–it’s very similar to what we talked about a lot in the Re-Thinking Precollege Math project, “empirical tinkering”–making small rather sweeping changes partly because they’re more manageable but also because you’re more to assess the impact of such changes…

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