Friday, January 6, 2017

5 Blind Spots Educators Must Address

More than likely, you've seen the video below. It is designed to test the power of your attention. It will take careful concentration to succeed in the task. 

In the video, two teams are passing basketballs, one team is wearing white shirts and the other team is wearing black shirts. Your task is to count the number of passes by the white team, ignoring the black team entirely. Before you read further, I would like for you to watch the video and see how you do.

The video has been watched millions of times. And over half those who view it do not see a person wearing a gorilla suit appear, join the other players, thump its chest, and exit. Were you among those who missed the gorilla? If so, don't feel bad. You may have the ability to focus in ways others could not. You didn't allow a silly gorilla to distract you.

The blindness to the gorilla is caused by the focused attention on counting the passes of the white team. Our brain has the ability to ignore what it doesn't perceive as important. And we all know the idea of effective multi-tasking is a myth. You can learn more about this study on selective attention at

One of the remarkable findings of the study is how surprised people are to realize they missed the gorilla. "No way!" they think. They cannot imagine how they could have not seen someone in a gorilla suit in the video. They can't believe they missed it.

The invisible gorilla study reveals a couple of interesting facts about our minds. 

First, we can be blind to the obvious. We can miss the forest for the trees. We are so focused on the details we miss the bigger picture.

And second, we are not only blind to the obvious, but we are unwilling to admit we didn't see clearly. We are also blind to our blindness.

This gorilla business got me thinking about blind spots we may have as educators. The day-to-day problems we face require intense concentration, and unless we pause to reflect, to listen, to pay attention to the world around us, we may miss some of the most important changes happening. Or we may miss things we need to change.

The world is changing rapidly. And we can be so busy we don't even realize what's happening. Because of our intense focus on the routine parts of our work, we may not be aware of how our classrooms and schools need to change. 

We can't afford to let that happen. Our students can't afford for us to have blind spots. Here are five questions to help you think through some issues that can be blind spots for educators. You may have assumptions that haven't been tested. Maybe these questions will help you see any 'gorillas' in your approach.

1. Are my lessons designed to help me teach better or to help students learn more?

Some teachers design lessons to deliver content to students. They strive to teach better. They seek better presentations, better strategies, more tools. They rely on a test at the end to know if students are learning. Other teachers design lessons that cause students to own their learning. Students are the ones doing the heavy lifting. They are creating instead of consuming. They are active in the process. Their learning is visible throughout.

2. Am I teaching students first, or a curriculum?

Some teachers implement a curriculum. They teach the standards of their curriculum with fidelity. But if that is all they do, in my mind, they are not an effective teacher. If you teach students first, you recognize their unique needs. You seek to guide them, mentor them, and help them grow as people. You make learning personal. And you want them to be more excited about learning when they leave your class than when they came. It's more important to develop a passion for learning than to check off standards.

3. Am I preparing students for the world they live in or the one I grew up in?

Some teachers are teaching exactly the same as they were taught. If you visited their classroom, there would be no way to distinguish between this classroom and one from 1991. Your classroom should never become a time capsule. It should actually be more of a time machine, helping students to see what they will need to be successful in their futures. The next 20 years will be the most dramatic period of change in the history of the world. How are you adjusting your classroom to prepare students an uncertain, complex world?

4. Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?

If you are like most learners, you don't enjoy sitting for long periods of time, listening to someone else, and having very little input about anything. Be the teacher who prepares learning experiences, not lectures. Listen to students and try to see learning through their eyes. That's one of the most powerful weapons a teachers can have. If you can understand your students better, you can create learning that is irresistible.

5. Do my students see me as a learner too?

Some teachers are afraid of being wrong. They want to have all the answers and be seen as the expert in the classroom. But more important than being the content expert, teachers need to be learning experts. They need to model how to be an effective lifelong learner. If you asked most student if their teacher learns new stuff, they might say yes—at a conference, or a training, or in teacher meetings. But what about the classroom? Do your students see you learning side-by-side with them every day?

Question: What other blind spots might educators have about learning? I think we all have areas we could see more clearly. Or, we miss the forest for the trees. Or, we don't acknowledge the gorilla. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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