Productive disruptions

It’s the second month of the year and it already seems old. I no longer have to pause before I write the numerals on a letter or as I date a signature. Some temporary habits are easy to acquire. But then again, some old habits really do die hard.

As teachers, many of us yearn for some level of comfort in a classroom. We like the routine of a repeated lecture and the familiarity of practiced arguments. We enjoy just the right bit of debate and discussion, stopping things before they reach a point that we might describe as “out of control”. In fact, we do everything we can to keep our lessons calm and our students comfortable – intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally. While all sorts of conflicts arise in the outside world, we see the school, and the classroom, as a safe haven that is insulated from the politics of that world.

The African-American writer bell hooks (yes, all lower case) once said that the classroom is a space of possibility, a space where transformations can happen.

But these transformations require a stimulus, an ignition point that sparks a break in the cycle of habit. The stimulus is something that breaks the continuity, the regular way of doing something.

In this issue of Teacher Plus our cover theme addresses two ways in which we can introduce “disruption” in the classroom and in the thinking of students. The first relates to the way in which we offer feedback to various stakeholders in the school system – students, colleagues, administrators, support staff. The simple mechanism of offering comments on work done can be skillfully transformed into a tool that makes people think and then, possibly, apply it to how they look at a task. The second piece discusses how we can navigate difficult topics – without avoiding what we worry might end up being quite contentious and problematic – and use such moments in a way that avoids alienating some students or indulging others.

Both pieces aim to “disturb” our habitual practices in a way that pushes us to think differently and more deeply about pedagogy. There are of course many other things that we can do to consciously question our settled ways of teaching and introduce minor disruptions just to shake us out of our complacency so that we constantly grow and learn. As Neerja Singh shows us in her column on new trends, it’s important to stay aware, to stay ahead of the curve – and this pertains to more than just technology!

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