It’s Time to Build Mirror Factories

After reading @edgeBlogger’s recent posts: A Glimpse into the Mirror and A Long Gaze Into the Mirror, the metaphor of looking into a mirror reminded me of one of my favorite novels – Fahrenheit 451. Before I get to the metaphor – a little background on the novel.

If you have read the novel, you will remember that it deals with a society dealing with many problems, such as, over reliance on technology, over emphasis on sports, gossip, sex as forms of entertainment, mindless violence and vandalism,  and a complete lack of any real human connections. Despite many of the problems portrayed in that society (which eerily are beginning to resemble our own society’s shortcomings), it is the willingness of most of the citizens to remain ignorant and isolated from their current realities that I find to be the root of the problem.

Now back to the metaphor: *vague spoiler alert* Towards the end of the novel after disaster has struck, the protagonist wonders what to do next; his friend, Granger, tells him:

“We’re going to build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look at them.”

Think about this concept of building mirror factories and the implications it may have in the education world today. What I like about this metaphor is that it is a long-term solution not just a quick fix. Granger could have said we are going to build a few mirrors or we are going to make everyone look into the mirror – but building “mirror factories” suggests that structures will be put into place to ensure that reflection will occur – and people will not be able to hide from their current realities.

In regards to the teacher shortage, @edgeblogger makes the case here Long Gaze Into the Mirror, for the huge need to reflect, so that we are all aware of our current reality.  And when I am using the collective pro-nouns “we” and “our” I am including all educators and stakeholders. We can no longer remain blissfully ignorant of the big picture by continuing practices and maintaining attitudes that are short-sided and self-serving many of which @edgeblogger mentions, but a few worth another mention.

– Allowing students to fail because of lack of effort.

– Denying teachers adequate time to plan and reflect.

– Over emphasis on Accountability

– Over emphasis on Autonomy

– Isolated Classrooms

– Giving grades that are not accurate feedback on learning.

– Attempting to measure teaching and learning through one shot high stakes testing.

– Ignoring the difference between “what was taught” and “what was learned”

This list could be elaborated on and expanded on – but I think the audience of this blog as small as it is (shout out to my 9 followers!) has a pretty good understanding of these practices.

So now – the obvious question.  What does building a “mirror factory” look like in actual practice? I have a few suggestions but welcome you to comment below with ideas of your own to continue this conversation.

Building a Mirror Factor = Practices and attitudes that are guided by reflection in order to help us become aware of current realities, so that we may begin to improve our reality.

– Develop capacity as a listener.

– Develop capacity as a member of a PLC.

– Embrace the need for Autonomy and Accountability.

– Build shared knowledge in order to make informed decisions.

– Teachers – open classroom doors to other teachers.

– Video your lessons and watch them by yourself and with peers/coach.

– Don’t wait until the end of the unit to find out if your kids know the content.

– Plan for the students who will struggle and plan for the students who already know the content.

– Give teachers adequate amount of time to make these plans.

– Give students adequate amount of time (during the school day) to catch up, when they do need extra help.

– Ask “Why are we doing this?” and “Why are we doing this, this way?” All the time!

– If people ask you why give them a good answer – or be open to change what you are doing.

– Know your students

– Study your craft (read, go to trainings, edcamps, twitter chats…)

Building a mirror factory involves changing the entire culture of education to ensure we don’t just employ quick fixes to the problems we are dealing with – but we create a culture that begins to weed out the problems.  In order for this culture shift to occur, we have to reject blissful ignorance – even if it is easier. “I’m just going to do it this way, because that’s what everyone else does and I’ve always done it like this” or “I am just doing it like this because they told me too.” If we are in it for the long haul, all stakeholders need to pitch in and begin the hard work of building mirror factories.  Maybe one day, when our work is done, we will be able to gaze into those mirrors be satisfied with what we see.

“It doesn’t matter what you do,… so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” (Fahrenheit 451)



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