Several years ago I was told a story about how baby elephants are trained for the circus. Can’t say that I know how accurate it is or remember exactly where I heard it, but the story certainly got me thinking. Here’s how it goes:

A person training a baby elephant will apparently end the day by chaining the elephant’s leg to a post so it doesn’t wander off. At first, this is rather traumatic for the elephant, as pulling against the chain is painful. Quite quickly, though, it learns that if it just stands still, having the chain on its leg won’t hurt.

baby elephant

The elephant grows older and stronger, and reaches a point at which it could easily break the chain tying it to the post, but doesn’t. The elephant has become used to the chain, and it follows its pattern of standing still when the chain is put on its leg.

So, if you’ve been teaching for at least two or three years, it may be time for a question:

What’s your chain?

What might you start doing that allows you to make new things happen?

Is it giving up some control to the students? Providing them more choice in how they approach assignments? Speaking up among colleagues about your ideas for trying something new?

We all get into patterns designed to help us get through challenges. Keeping those patterns in place, though, may well be keeping us from becoming the teachers we could be.

image credit: Baby Elephant, by William Warby from Flickr (CC by 2.0)

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Categories: teaching advice

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