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


Eric Lawson · November 13, 2018 at 10:02 am

Well put Rushton! Change is often hard, especially when what we have been doing has “worked” for the most part. It is good practice to always reflect on your goals though. If what has “worked” in the past is still being taught, then my follow up question would be, “Hasn’t your outcomes or goals changed over those years?”

Susan McClellan · November 13, 2018 at 2:51 pm

Greetings! I teach in a Title One school in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. We are college prep, with amazing placement every year on U.S. News and World Reports ranking of top high schools, based on college preparedness. It is my privilege to spend the day with students who are Dreamers, one with a parent currently jailed for being in the country with his U.S. born child, but the goal of a better life through education – here in the United States. I currently teach Government and Dual Credit Sociology to seniors graduating May of 2019! Some voted for the first time, while many worked at the election polls at both the primary and general election. They are a motivated population!
My students have written amazing raps/verse/”lyric poetry” based on Congress and the election – very appropriate to the political climate but sensitive to the topics they are most concerned with. The collection is deep in thought, concerns, frustration, and hope.
My question is what is the best way to get their voices heard? I want to “publish” their voices – unique in that they are U.S.citizens in an Arizona high school with insight and passion not readily accessible.
What ideas do you have for sharing their work?

Thank you,
Susan McClellan, MS

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