Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 8

Voices: The Teacher / Color Me Subversive

What do paper plates, quacking ducks, and quality teaching have in common? Not much—except in the minds of some inservice program planners.

  • Demonstrate how my brain works by changing my location in the room and/or standing on a paper plate
  • Have physical contact with my colleagues with my eyes closed
  • Make an animal noise
  • Stand on a paper plate and make an animal noise with my eyes closed
  • Articulate my vision for myself, my students, or my school
  • Act out my articulated vision for myself, my students, or my school with my eyes closed
  • Let myself fall through space with my eyes closed, trusting my colleagues, whose eyes are closed and who cannot move from their paper plates, to catch me
  • Demonstrate how my brain works by falling through space
  • Put myself in physical danger in order to demonstrate how I trust my colleagues or how my brain works
  • Have a paradigm shift

Brain Research Runs Amok

At a recent inservice training session, we all received a new pack of Crayola crayons and a diagram of a brain divided neatly in half with numbered lobes. Here we go again, I thought. Right brain, left brain. I was wrong. It turned out to be global and analytic. I thought that the word was analytical, so, being bored, I looked it up. Wrong again. It turns out that the word is analytic and that I've been misusing it. That was the only thing I learned from the workshop. I started coloring in what I took to be the corpus callosum of my brain.
"No, no, no!" One of the presenters rushed to my table. "You're doing it all wrong!" She was visibly dismayed. A few of my colleagues snickered. "Sorry," I mumbled, covering up my brain. I decided to pay attention.
The presenters read a list of questions and asked us to color in lobes of our brains on the basis of our answers. All the questions were either/or: If you knew that you had five days off, would you know in advance exactly how you would spend each day or would you decide what to do when the time came? Are you always on time or always late? Would you rather be a bird or a cat?
"What if I can't decide?" I asked. "What if it's half and half?" The presenters looked concerned and quickly formed a huddle. After a few minutes, one emerged from the clutch with an answer.
"Well," she said anxiously, "you can color in half a lobe on one side and half a lobe on the other, but we'd prefer that you just choose one side or the other." Said another presenter more confidently, "We'd prefer that you choose one side or the other."
They proceeded through their list of questions, and I reluctantly answered by coloring in a lobe of my brain, getting grumpier and grumpier by the minute. It turns out that grumpy people are analytic. (Global people are warm and friendly. They are also notoriously late, but everyone forgives them because they're so warm and friendly.) Still, I had used all my crayons, and other than my messed-up corpus callosum, my brain looked pretty good.
Next, the presenters had us arrange ourselves in a horseshoe shape, with the most global people on one side and the most analytic on the other. I tried to squeeze in near the middle and pass myself off as a balanced person, but someone noticed my brain and pushed me to one end of the horseshoe. I heard a snide remark about my corpus callosum, but I chose to ignore it.
Only one person sat to my right, that is, was more analytic than I. Knowing that he was probably grumpier, too, I didn't make small talk about our cerebral similarity. All around me I could hear people exclaiming over other teachers' placement.
"Now, I would have said you'd be more global."
"Are you really that analytic? Oh, that's right, you used to be a plumber!" I was trying to figure out how the horseshoe could improve my teaching when one of the presenters came over to me.
"Aha!" she said, looking at my brain. "This explains your problems with Ethan." She had one of my most difficult students in her homeroom. "He's completely global and you're completely analytic." This was news to me. I thought that I had problems with Ethan because he frequently disrupted my class by walking around talking to his friends and refused to do any work.
Finally, we were allowed to take our brains back to our seats, and eventually the ridiculous inservice program ended.

Refining Practice or Just Wasting Time?

What amazed me most was not that we had wasted an incredible amount of time, but that we had all submitted so obediently. In fact, no matter how pointless or foolish the exercise, we teachers almost always go with the flow without demanding to know how it will help us. I have been to only one "teacher-training, team-building" session in which the entire group mutinied. It was not a professionally validating experience.
Occasionally I worry that an irate taxpayer will wander in while we're all standing on our paper plates making animal noises. Teachers have enough PR problems as it is ("What are they complaining about? They work only nine months of the year!"). I could not possibly explain to an outsider how these whimsical activities improve my ability to do my job. If anything, I consider them professional insults. Where is our critical thinking? Where are the hard data showing that teachers who do a ropes course are more effective?
Some of the most contrived activities are rationalized as exercises in group problem solving ("You must keep quacking so that the rest of the flock can hear you, and you must remain in physical contact with another duck at all times. When you find the opening in the circle, quack as loud as you can so that the other ducks can find you. And remember, eyes closed!"). But the biggest problem is that we waste precious time solving fictitious problems while piles of real work accumulate in our classrooms.
After the global-analytic workshop, I discovered another teacher who felt the same way about being asked to color in her brain. It felt good to talk about it and to know that my resistance wasn't all in my grumpy, analytic head. We've decided to become subversive and are in the beginning stages of planning an insurrection. Maybe something good came out of that workshop after all.

Kim Chase has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
From our issue
Product cover image 100031.jpg
Keeping Teaching Fresh
Go To Publication