Fresh Eyes

    One of my favourite, non-education blog is “Marc and Angel Hack Life“.  It is filled with quick reads that are uplifting and sometimes give me the exact motivation I need to go on with whatever point I am at during life.  I love this story that they recently shared:
    “Four monkeys were placed in a room that had a tall pole in the center.  Suspended from the top of that pole was a bunch of bananas.  One of the hungry monkeys started climbing the pole to get something to eat, but just as she reached out to grab a banana, she was sprayed with a torrent of cold water from a hose.  Squealing, she scampered back down the pole and abandoned her attempt to feed herself.  Each of the other three monkeys made similar attempts and each one was drenched with cold water.  After making several attempts, they all finally gave up.
    The researchers then removed the water hose and one of the monkeys from the room and replaced her with a new monkey.  As the newcomer began to climb the pole, the other three grabbed her and pulled her down to the ground.  After trying to climb the pole several times and being dragged down by the others, she finally gave up and never attempted to climb the pole again.
    The researchers continued to replace the original monkeys, one by one, and each time a new monkey was brought in the others would drag her down before she could reach the bananas.  In a short time, the room was filled with four monkeys who had never received a cold hosing.  None of them would climb the pole or allow other monkeys to climb the pole, and not one of them knew why.”
    This is such a great story, especially for any school culture that thrives off of the idea, “but we have always done it this way.”
    Recently speaking to a group of principals, one of the challenges that I shared with them was the idea of walking into their schools with “fresh eyes”, no matter how long they had been there for.  What this means is to take a step back, look at what you are doing in your school or even your own practice, and just ask the question, “why do we do this?”  This is not just for the practices that you may perceive as negative, but positive as well.  In fact, this might be especially the things that you may perceive as positives.  “Awards” used to be one of the things that I only thought positively about in schools, but after taking a step back and trying to look at it with “fresh eyes”, something didn’t seem right with the process and I have thought differently about it ever since.
    And it is not just about looking at schools or classrooms with this perspective, but also your own habits that you have as well.  Jon Spencer has one of my favourite blogs because he constantly questions both old and new practices, organizationally and personally.  His open thinking helps me to look at my own beliefs and practices and take a step back from myself as well.
    Through the process of stepping back and trying to understand “why”, it is crucial that we are willing to be persuaded into a new way of thinking.  I recently saw a tweet that suggested a very useful activity for schools where you would describe the last time someone changed your mind on something, and how they did it and what they said.  If you can’t come up with an example for yourself, what does this say?
    One of the hardest things to do in education is to not change others, but to change ourselves.  If we are willing to take a step back and ask questions, just like we encourage our students to do, we might see something that we hadn’t before.


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