Our guest blogger this week is a friend, former staff development coordinator and current high school dean of students, Eric Serbus. I hope you enjoy his musings on onions.
I honestly do not like to eat onions. The combination of an onion’s taste and texture makes me squirm. When I was a boy I would go to great lengths to extract any remnants of the shiny slivers before braving a bite. Whenever my mom made chili, my onion extraction operation could have been confused for a rudimentary gold mining operation. As I’ve grown older either my tolerance for the vegetable has increased or my patience for avoiding them has decreased. In either case, my palate and onions have come to a place of coexistence. I won’t seek onions out, but their presence won’t necessarily disqualify a food from being eaten.
In the past 10 years my relationship with the onion has blossomed, but not on a culinary level. I have begun to realize that an onion is arguably the most effective metaphor for reaching a deeper understanding about some of the complex challenges in teaching and learning. Here are just a couple of examples:
• Students, especially those at-risk, are onions that must be peeled layer by layer to understand, relate to, and ultimately educate. I’ve seen many teachers mistakenly respond to the behaviors and attitudes of challenging students as if they were rocks to be buried rather than onions to be peeled. Next time you encounter an unmotivated or defiant student forego the temptation to classify them as simply “lazy” or “naughty.” Rather, withhold judgment and peel away the layers by asking “why” the student has this attitude or displays that behavior. Only then can you intervene to effect real change.
• Time, experience, and stress can easily add additional layers to a teacher’s professional onion, layers that can potentially conceal the core of one’s purpose if not routinely peeled. As we begin the Professional Learning Community journey in our school, teachers have been forced to peel some of the dirty, old, dead layers off of their onions and refocus on the most important and effective practices in their profession. They are moving out of isolation and are beginning to engage in action/results oriented collaboration focused on student learning and continuous improvement.
It doesn’t take a lot of reflective practice to realize that many aspects of the education profession are more complex than originally thought. Whether it is grading practices, discipline policies, or any other pressing issue, educators must continually peel away layers to find the heart of every issue. I challenge you to see beyond the surface and explore the undercurrents of educational issues.
Whether you like to eat onions or not, I invite you to post your own onion metaphors.