The Sharks of Education: What Continues to Work in Our Classrooms Year After Year

By AJ Juliani, 7 comments

Neil Gaiman, award winning author of Coraline (and many other books), recently gave a talk at the Long Now Foundation about “How Stories Last” which was an incredibly fascinating look into how stories grow, morph, and live on. In his talk he compared paper books to sharks, because nothing is as good at being a book…as a book is:

Douglas Adams … understood media, understood change. He essentially described the first ebooks long before most commuter trains were filled with people reading on them. And he also perceived why, even though most commuter trains are a hundred percent people with ebooks, there will always be physical books and a healthy market for physical books — because, Douglas told me, “books are sharks.”

There were sharks back when there were dinosaurs… And now, there are sharks. And the reason that there are still sharks — hundreds of millions of years after the first sharks turned up — is that nothing has turned up that is better at being a shark than a shark is.

Ebooks are absolutely fantastic at being several books and a newspaper; they’re really good portable bookshelves, that’s why they’re great on trains. But books are much better at being books…

As I continued to listen to the talk I couldn’t pull my mind away from this analogy. It made too much sense. I read ebooks all the time. I read magazines on my phone and articles on my iPad, and just about everything else on my computer. Yet, when I truly care about a subject, a person, or a story…I’ll drop everything to buy the book. I see the same thing as an author, when my paper back books still sell as well as my ebooks.

Books are easily shared. They can be saved on bookshelves and re-read or kept as a memento. Books will almost always exist because they serve a wonderful purpose, and do it extremely well.

The Sharks of Education

In education, we are consistently looking towards the future. We wonder what will be the “new” or “innovative” idea that will transform education. We search for quick-fixes and spend so much time talking about the problems…and yet, I believe, we have many educational sharks that are often discarded as not mattering anymore.

I’ve done this myself. I fail to see what is working right in front of my eyes, what has seemingly always worked, while falling for a shiny new practice that may not be a better solution.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be innovative. Far from it! But we should be just as intentional about building on current and past best practices, as we are about looking towards next practices.

Here are three educational sharks that I need to keep focusing on (please share your “sharks” in the comments!):

1. Relationships

Learning is social. It is built on relationships. Through time learning has been passed from generation to generation through oral and written tradition, but we have always done so through relationships (whether family, friends, or mentorship). Building relationships between teachers, students, and school communities is just as important as any other strategy.

2. Choice and Inquiry

I’m biased on this as best practice, but as the research shows, choice and inquiry are two powerful (and tied together) instructional approaches that benefit all types of learners in a variety of learning environments.

3. Sharing Best Practices

The best thing about blogging, Twitter, and conferences is giving educators a forum to share what works (and what doesn’t work) in the classroom. It’s why we are running The Teachers Leading Teachers Conference this July…so teachers can share and learn from each other. If we don’t share what works, and if we don’t share what we are trying in our classrooms…we’ll only have our “bubble” to learn from, and miss out on an entire world of experience and knowledge.

What are your educational sharks? Please share in the comments…it is Shark Week after all!

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