User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Courage to Be an Outlier Educator

with 7 comments

courage

Today, during a podcast interview, I was asked what it takes to be an educational thought leader. My response was, “courage.”  In this test driven, accountability-laden era of education, it takes courage to be an educator driven by authentic, constructivist, and student-centered values and practices.

Courage:

Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss. According to Maya Angelou, “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courage

Outlier:

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August. http://gladwell.com/outliers/outliers-q-and-a-with-malcolm/

I have been an outlier educator in a number of educational settings including elementary and college levels. I rarely stood in the front of the class as a sage on the stage. The only time I did so was to provide short snippets of information as mini-lectures, ten to twenty minutes in length, or to provide information about how to do the class activity. My classes were loud and seemingly chaotic (it was controlled chaos – I gave students lots of choices with the only rule being that you need to be engaged with a learning activity) with all students engaged and interacting with one other, computers, and with hands-on and experiential activities. I often was asked to quiet my students down and questioned about my classroom practices by other teachers and administrators. The other teachers did not like how I was teaching-what I was doing but my students did like it . . . a lot. Many students shined in this learning environment especially those who did not fit into or thrive in a traditional classroom. I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing even in these climates where I was an outlier, where my techniques were under constant scrutiny and ongoing questioning. So today, during that podcast, I realized I have been courageous in standing my ground about what I believe encompasses good, student-centered teaching and I also realized that I am proud of that courage. And in this new year, I toast all of those courageous, outlier educators.

Photo Image: http://www.superherolife.com/e-courses/cultivating-courage/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 23, 2015 at 12:55 am

7 Responses

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  1. Taking pride in being an ‘outlier’ in educational and academic practice is important. In my work around academic innovation however I am trying to encourage a normalising of innovation. I wonder if some university teachers see innovation as a place where only ‘outliers’ live? Unusual (because I love what you write here) I also have concerns with the idea of courage – for the same reasons. I see being professionally innovative as an important habit that should be a dimension of our practice. It certainly involves risk taking, and that can bizarrely me we feel we are stepping outside of ‘normal’ behaviour. I say bizarrely because a learning environment thrives through innovation, so surely it is in all of our interests to be taking risks. I understand that can feel particularly difficult when standards dominate and constrain our practice. In reality, therefore, courage is not so bad a word, but I would rather we express this more positively i.e. conviction and clarity.
    I am doing a seminar on this in the New Year, so framing my message! Thanks for another stimulating post.

    amiddlet50

    December 23, 2015 at 11:46 am

    • Thanks for your response and reflection. I wish innovation was the norm for educators of all grades including college. I hope you blog about your seminar. I’d love to know more!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      December 23, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      • I will blog about it. I would like to incorporate comments from academics who I think are habitual innovators or at least innovative thinkers. In addition to being courageous can you suggest how an academic innovator might rethink their professional identity?

        amiddlet50

        December 23, 2015 at 3:57 pm

  2. […] How useful are terms like ‘mavericks’ or ‘outliers’ (see Jackie Gerstein’s User Generated Education blog post Courage to be an outlier educator)? […]

  3. I, too, consider myself an “outlier educator.” Three cheers to us, and may we hold fast to that courage all the days of our lives!

    Cassie Hewitt

    January 4, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    • Keep outlying, Cassie!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      January 4, 2016 at 6:53 pm

  4. Reblogged this on JO'C's blog.

    joconnor2014

    January 11, 2016 at 9:23 pm


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