The Antifragile Teacher (part 2)

I discussed how to be an antifragile teacher in this post at the beginning of 2015. Here are ten more ways teachers can make themselves strong like Hydra.

  1. Use ubermix. Google Chromebooks are great, but they’re reliant on the internet for productivity. iPads should be avoided like the plague in educaiton–unless you’re teaching a multimedia class. With ubermix, WiFi can be down and students can continue working. In fact, students may come up with better ideas when figuring out how to solve a task without WiFi. Check out this post I wrote on the ubermix blog for more information, and keep this in mind: ubermix>Chromebooks>iPads>Windows.
  2. Go on PLC walks. This might sound absurd, but I can’t overemphasize the importance of walking while you collaborate. Why is walking an antifragile action? Not only are there health benefits, you and your colleagues will also be inspired in ways that are impossible within a classroom, library, or teachers’ lounge. The environment of a meeting is important, and so is what you’re doing while you talk. Try a walking PLC and see if you don’t come up with more effective ways to enhance student learning at your school. (If it worked for Steve Jobs, it can work for you.)
  3. Maintain the perspective that every day is an opportunity to learn something now. There’s so much change. Once you make the decision to stop learning, you’ll die as a teacher.
  4. Give feedback, not grades. Grading may never go away, but I’ve seen a lot of teachers pour precious time and effort into grading assignments. The time could be spent more effectively, especially considering that students often don’t understand how to become better by viewing a letter grade. It’s much better to tailor your classroom in a way where the assignments you create foster easy teacher feedback–even at the expense of grading. “That’s a great idea, but how do you grade it?” This is a question I’ve heard many times. The quick answer is, “You don’t grade it.” In my credential program, I learned you have to grade everything. This is bonkers. Instead, take the stance that every assignment deserves “feedback”, and the feedback doesn’t necessarily have to come from you. It could come from students or other teachers. This approach will strengthen you as a teacher by providing more time, fostering your creativity with student assignments, and allowing flexibility within your work day.
  5. Give less homework (or no homework). I don’t want to make a blanket statement and say that you should never give homework under any circumstances, but I think we need to have a long conversation about why we give homework. Is it to strengthen skills and knowledge of content, or is it to ensure students are being compliant? It’s an interesting debate, and a great place to start is right here.
  6. Ditch your textbook. What would happen if school districts decided to write their own textbooks? What could you do with the money? How empowered would teachers feel? Could this help establish an antifragile school district?
  7. Get really good at a few skills. In my first post for becoming an antifragile teacher, I wrote you should learn as many skills as possible. This is true, but I’d like to add that you should never underestimate the importance of being really good at a select few. This will make you invaluable within any organization.
  8. Build your Professional Learning Network (PLN). Twitter is a must,–chances are you found this post via Twitter. Social media is important, but face-to-face interactions are much stronger, which leads to…
  9. Attend conferences. I’ve stated before that you must “read, read, and then read some more.” The great thing about conferences is you can learn and build your PLN at the same time. It’s like reading a book and making a friend simultaneously.
  10. Read Seneca’s work. I know this is random, but Seneca’s stoic philosophy will teach you to be antifragile in every area of your life, which will inevitably make you a better teacher.

Read Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The most important influence on student learning…

is an effective teacher in the classroom. There’s no interactive whiteboard, laptop, tablet, doc camera, web-based program, intervention strategy, curriculum, assembly, or after school program that can top what a teacher can do to help students learn and produce. Books back up this observation, and we all have at least one teacher from our past who lit a fire within us for a subject, so there’s probably not too many people who would argue with what I’ve just claimed.

That’s why it’s so alarming that even though most people say teachers are the most important factor in classrooms, the education pendulum never lands on professional development for teachers being a number one priority. Surgeons receive ongoing training. So do nurses, engineers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers. PD for teachers shouldn’t be relegated to only the beginning and end of the school year. Their expertise is just as important as the other listed professions. New educational studies, theories, and strategies are produced at least every month.

The onus for training doesn’t just land on the country, state, or school district. Yes, society should elect officials who make wise decisions regarding budgeting for PD, but teachers must also understand the importance of continual learning (not just for students, but for themselves) and strive to become better at their craft every day of the school year.

Enter Sugata Mitra.

If you haven’t watched Mitra’s TED talk, please be my guest:

If you didn’t watch the video, here’s the gist of his message: Students who are given access to the internet and encouraged by adults to explore interesting things learned at an amazingly fast rate. So fast, in fact, that Mitra’s findings could quite possibly revolutionize how we think about teaching. For some people, it already has.

If you’re familiar with Mitra, you know he views effective teachers as cheerleaders for student learning. In his opinion, teachers should not stand and deliver; instead, they should pose perplexing questions–such as Mitra’s example from the recent CUE Conference: Why do people’s teeth fall out?

I agree with Mitra. Does this conflict with my thoughts at the beginning of this post? I don’t think so, as long as I conflate the two. A teacher with expertise, experience, and skill at formatively assessing whether or not a student learned something is worth a lot. (Dylan Wiliam states that the value of a great teacher to society is around $300,000.) This is the ‘cheerleader’ needed for the type of classroom Mitra supports. This ‘Mitra teacher’ knows when to let students explore, when to encourage, when to guide… when to do almost everything.

This means (and I seriously wish what you’re about to read could be a disclaimer everyone hears whenever I talk about that importance of 1:1 devices in the classroom) technology is only a tool to be used–sometimes by teachers but mostly by students–to promote learning. I’m not a proponent of plopping children in front of screens and expecting them to learn. This will lead only to a scary, Wall-E like future. Good teachers know when to use good tools to reap good results. This is why PD is so important, because it’s only brave and knowledgeable teachers–teachers who see themselves more as senseis than lecturers, who will close the achievement gap and help all children learn.


When you go to the doctor, you expect a solution to why you’re sick. A good doctor doesn’t run one test and then say to the patient, “Well, you didn’t get any better. I’m not sure how to help you, so we’ll just let this play out and hope for the best.” That would be horrible.

This idea translates well to the field of education. Educators should be like good doctors; they must teach a concept, assess, teach again in a different way (if necessary), and continue the process until the student has learned–just like an effective doctor should treat a patient, assess the results, treat again, assess, and so on until the patient is well.

The years of teaching important concepts once and then moving on, regardless of who did or didn’t learn, are over.