Courage to Be an Outlier Educator
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 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” 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.