What ‘Zombifies’ You?

This blog was inspired by Matt Miller’s (@mattmiller) #Ditchsummit first session. In this session, Miller explores with Holly Clark (@HollyClarkEdu) the foundations of pedagogy and technology infusion in the classroom.

Clark, co-author with Tanya Avrith (@TanyaAvrith) of The Google Infused Classroom, is another powerful advocate for student voice, student choice to drive technology use. In the summit, Clark says we should ask kids what ‘zombifies’ them. By this, I take her to mean, that in seeking student input for her classroom, she seeks to know what turns kids off, what makes them feel bored, and what disconnects them from feeling a sense of learning.

Certainly, the posing of this question, even the framing of the question around the popular undead cultural icon would appeal to kids immediately.

Still, I think we should ask this question of ourselves as teachers. What is it in our classrooms that makes us feel like zombies?

And, let’s make sure that we have a clear understand of the zombie–what is it make us feel lifeless, thoughtless creatures.

I’m not talking about what enrages us like Hulk, “You won’t like me when I’m angry,” or like Frankenstein’s monster, swinging our arms at the villager’s pitchforks and torches. What are the triggers in our schools and in our classroom that make us mindless. When I worked in day-treatment, students spitting at teachers used to really be a trigger to anger.

For me, zombies are lifeless and mindless. They don’t really make choices. They are just driven by their lust for brains and blood. Likewise, in instruction, we are often driven thoughtlessly by tradition, law, perceived expectation, and ego, to name a few.

My list is also driven by my own actions and decisions. It’s not about what I see students doing in class. For example, it bothers me when students don’t follow directions, or who don’t do their work. It makes me angry, but I’m not mindless in these situations. These are students who need help and perhaps creative assistance on my part to offer an influence to change.

Here are my own personal triggers for sucking the life out of me and that make me a zombie:

  1. Doing things as I’ve always done them.
  2. Test-driven instruction, curriculum planning, and schools.
  3. Controls and restrictions in classrooms and by classroom teachers that continue to perpetuate systems of social inequality of class, race, sex, geography. Today, I’m considering how the following do this:
    1. Restrictive rules around technology
    2. Failure to use technology
    3. Providing only teacher accepted resources, sources, while denying the use of student selected materials.
  4. Having “discussions” in which I (assume I) know the conclusion the students will reach.
  5. Any kind of grading that results in a number being given.
  6. Projects with a single outcome.
  7. Annual presentations in faculty meetings.
  8. Reminder or refresher or update presentations in faculty meetings. Really, any kind of presentation that is disguised as something that could have been read as a handout or memo.
  9. Wordsmith and line editing as a committee.
  10.  Food-driven reward systems as motivations or as a behavior management systems with groups. It’s fine when training dogs and getting packs of animals to cooperate, but I like to think that I work with and for human beings.
  11. Proctoring.

Looking back up at these, I can see the negative vibe in them, and I certainly could revise and re-frame this list as the “practices I would like to embrace. But, it is a recognition of the stuff that turns me into a zombie–resulting in stress, anxiety, and stewing, brooding existential miffery.

It’s a great list for me of the stuff I need to avoid and steer away from. As an instructional leader, technology integrator, and self-proclaimed technology integration coach, it’s the list of stuff that I want to keep away from in my practice.

There are, of course, necessary evils in our schools and classrooms for which we must don the yellow Hazmat suits as the zombie-hordes creep across school fields and play grounds. I’m not going to be able to escape Regents exam grading; I’ve got two proctoring assignments in January so that some teachers can get valuable, formative feedback. But, I can force questions of the people I work with about the rules they establish, or to question existing practices. I can encourage my principal and work with him to create faculty meetings based on choice, and that provide opportunities for unheard teachers to have voice. I can give those who want to present their knowledge and passions to faculty opportunities that don’t involve the PowerPoint circle of the Inferno. I can look really hard at my own practice and demand that I’m better at what I do. And, I can model the kind of instruction that I want to be part of. And, if I do, then I might keep those brain sucking hungers at bay.

I encourage you. Make your own “Top 10 List of Zombie Practices.” Please share with me.

Writer’s note: For some reason, I had to resist putting everything into semi-ironic, air-quotes as I was writing. 

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