[This is my review of just the title of Todd Whitaker’s book, “Shifting the Monkey”. I’d like to preface this post by saying that I have begun reading and look forward to sharing the many positive reflections I have regarding this book…e.g. The importance of treating everyone well, the importance of people owning their responsibilities and the fact that we cannot change people’s thinking but we can influence their behavior….all for the betterment of our students]
Shifting the Monkey has become the “it” book on my educational-focussed twitter stream as of late. And although I’m not an administrator (nor do I think I wish to remove myself from the bliss of daily and direct student-teacher contact), I admit to being intrigued by the title. Tapping into my background knowledge and making informational and emotional connections like any good reader does, perhaps my extreme interest in the title resulted from the fact that I’ve always wanted a monkey; or maybe it was my undergraduate degree in biology and early desire to be a zoo veterinarian that was triggered; or maybe just the fact that I’ve always seen the humour in monkeys and am drawn to potetially humourous metaphors….
Any humour, however, stopped once I downloaded the Kindle version of Todd Whitaker’s book to my iPhone and the weight of the subtitle hit me: “The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers and Other Slackers”.
Understanding my reaction to this title will require some context:
Lessons in Education and Human Nature In General
Four separate but connected lessons in teaching and/or relationship building were activated in my brain before opening the pages of this book:
Let’s back up to lessons learned related to the quest of every district to engage educators in meaningful Professional Development. In education (and many other professions) there has been a backlash against the boring “talk at the audience” traditional approach taken at professional development sessions. In my profession, teachers were anaesthetized after hours of sitting and being talked at and would eventually emerge bleary eyed and exhausted from half or whole day sessions in Numeracy or Literacy or EQAO. Thankfully our school board is awesome at requesting specific feedback after each and every PD session. The eventual, overwhelming message received by administrators from educators attending these sessions: “Please practice what you preach: teach us in the way you are telling us to teach our learners”. And so, there are now a lot more opportunities at PD sessions for interaction and sessions are differentiated to a larger degree. Some colleagues have balked at “Think-Pair-Share”, “Graffiti”, “Carousel” and various break-out session strategies. I, for one, admit openly that I like them alot! Model for me how to teach my students when you teach me; model how to facilitate and use a transformative approach. I agree that these various activities activate thinking in all kinds of learners, whether they are 4 years old, 14 or 40! I say bring it on: lighten up and take part.
#1 Lesson Learned: Let’s teach and motivate adults the way we know learners are actually motivated to learn
Back up, to lessons learned in reaching struggling and/or reluctant learners. One actively promoted idea introduced to teachers in my district was the “Learning for All – Whatever It Takes” approach. Climate of high expectations. Frequent monitoring of student progress. Clear school mission connected to goals for high levels of student achievement. Leave no stone unturned in helping students to reach their full potential. Universal Design. Differentiation. Learning styles. New ideas in Special Education. Technology devices, programs and apps. Balanced/Comprehensive Literacy groups. High interest, low vocab texts. Building relationships and engagement through special student-centered groups. Abandoning the idea that lower class sizes, socio-economic status and home life are the determining factors in student achievment: EVERYONE can learn and reach their full potential and teachers can not only facilitate this process, they are the front line workers that will make it happen. I support these ideas 100% and although exhausting (since in my experience it has resulted in thinking about my students’ needs almost 24/7), the “Whatever It Takes” philosophy has great value. Added bonus: it resonates with my Buddhist-philosophy-inspired-approach…approach students with compassion.
#2 Lesson Learned: Let’s know our students fully, and teach and motivate them compassionately as individuals, believing in our hearts that everyone can reach their full potential
Back up, to other aspects of “Learning for All: 7 Correlates of Effective Schools”. There is an Instructional Leadership focus, where principals are “leader of leaders”, not “leaders of followers”. On more than one occasion, a principal that I once knew as a teacher has said to me, “Being an admin is really no different than when I was a teacher….it’s just that my classroom is bigger now” or “Administrator or teacher, it doesn’t matter; we are all leaders.”
#3 Lesson Learned: Let’s cultivate a culture where we believe that administrators and teachers are partners, everyone is a leader and has an equal voice.
Back up, to my training as Equity Lead for my school. Not enough good can be said about the efforts of boards across the province and our Ministry of Education to respect everyone through equity initiatives. Equity learning about poverty. Equity learning about culture. Equity learning about LGBTQ issues. Equity learning about all members of the one human race. Learning shows that there is no “us and them”; just “we”… and that marginalizing people through discrimination (e.g. exclusion, labels) is by defnition not inclusive and does not engage them in any sort of common goal.
#4 Lesson Learned: Marginalizing people depersonalizes them, leading to further marginalization….and an ever widening “us versus them” mentality
We know that like students, adults learn through an interactive, transformative approach.
We know that all students can learn….extrapolate that to adult learners.
We know that through instructional leadership, all educators can be leaders.
We know that marginalizing people through actions or words does not lead to positive change.
So unless we are going to label students who are not succeeding “liars, criers and slackers”, we should not be using these labels to describe adults either.