How to catch a monkey in the wild: A Cautionary Tale

There are probably many ways to catch a monkey in the wild. One of the most effective is insidious in its simplicity.

The hunter gets a coconut and bores a small, cone shaped hole in its shell, just large enough to allow a monkey to squeeze its paw inside. The hunter drains the coconut, ties it down, puts a piece of orange inside, and waits. Any monkey that comes by will smell the orange, put its paw inside the coconut to grab the juicy treat, and become trapped in the process. Capturing the monkey doesn’t depend on the hunter’s prowess, agility, or skill. Rather. It depends on the monkey’s tenacious hold on the orange, a stubborn grip that renders it blind to a simple, lifesaving option: opening its paw.

Make no mistake: the hunter doesn’t trap the monkey. The monkey’s abiding tendency to stick firmly to its decision, ignore evidence to the contrary, and never question its actions is the trap that holds it captive.

Our beliefs have the power to catapult us forward. They also have the power to keep us where we are, tied to our beliefs. How we behave or react in a situation is very often an outcome of our beliefs. They can be so deep rooted that many a times we may not even be aware of them, like Plato’s allegory of the cave.

Not surprising then that we tend to follow the same rituals in the classroom or in our lives the way we have always done even though there seem to be growing evidence against its benefits with changing times. When a new idea is suggested, the oft repeated comment is, ‘but we do it this way’ or ‘we have always done it this way.’

For example, daily timetable of a school. The design of which was created many years back to support the teaching and learning at that period of time. Yet, we want to use the same structure, but have the desire to implement strategies that are more relevant and should be used to suit the learning needs of students today. For example, a 30 or 40 minute lesson (which is the case in many schools) is not very suitable for project based learning or inquiry based learning.  The school does not want to increase the span of the lesson because ‘that is how the day is structured’ and ‘it would disrupt everything’. Here, the span of the period or lesson dictates the teaching and learning experience. A typical case of the tail wagging the dog.

Another one? Lesson observations. Why is it used to evaluate teaching? Why not learning? If the students learn and are able to use their knowledge to solve real world problems  or issues in their context then the teaching has been good. But if we were to focus only on evaluating teaching then lesson observations will continue to be used as a tool to evaluate a teacher leading to no real benefit to students because what is being evaluated here is perhaps a couple of lessons for which the teacher has anyways ‘prepared’.

Next year is around the bend.

Don’t let the deadly hold of your beliefs paralyze you, your thinking and action.

Let the year ahead be one of fearless experimentation.





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