An Open Letter: To Pinterest, from a Teacher

First, I want to thank you. I’ve loved your many ideas for organizing my pantry, throwing my five year-old’s princess party, and introducing the blue-Dawn-and-vinegar trick to my shower.  Not to mention the hilarious memes and marshmallow treats.

Your resourcefulness has carried over into my classroom through the years, too:

Like the sponge of glue,

glue

the hand sanitizer bathroom passes,

pass

the visually-appealing display of learning objectives,

objectives

oh, and that fantastic example of comma use that had my whole class giggling.

commas

And of course, you know you’re my go-to for holiday art crafts and kid-made decorations.

 

ornaments

But I have to tell you, I’m worried. I’m worried about those ultra popular pins that circulate because they have all the glitz and appearance of learning, but that really promote something…else.

Like micromanagement,

ticket

compliance,

bbbfd9ad4c4b14cba518ffc0c92d3710

or perfectionism–

9984dc650cd83745344fb0ae41333706

–all with an adorable flair.

ce000719df218ed149bb7ce737f4f372

Of course, you and I both know that truly inspiring, learning-based pins are out there. Why, I recently came across a whole slew of fabulous self-assessments to help students become more metacognitively aware. But as I searched out those pins, I waded through what felt like an endless supply of teacher-centered fluff.

I must say, I’m not blaming you. After all, I’m the one who sometimes gets mesmerized by all things color-coded and lovely. But “it’s not you, it’s me” aside, now that I’ve identified the problem, I can move forward. I can reflect. I can ask why. I can rethink even some of the most commonly accepted practices. And I can guide my future curative efforts with questions based on what matters most, including:

  • Will this help me better understand and reach my students?
  • Will this enhance student ownership over learning?
  • Will this encourage the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, or creativity)?
  • Will this help me personalize student learning?
  • Will this help me pursue greater challenges as a professional?
  • Will this help my students better understand their own thinking and learning processes? (metacognition)
  • Will this help all my students to better access resources in and out of the classroom?
  • Will this help my students investigate concepts?
  • Is this centered more on empowering student-directed learning, or on getting students to sit still and listen?
  • Is this trying to solve a problem that I could actually just open up to my students for discussion instead?
  • Will this help my students grow as leaders?
  • Will this help my students build an authentic audience and/or community?
  • Will this help me reinforce my core values as a professional?

So thanks for everything, and I look forward to richer pins to come on my education board!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

16 Replies to “An Open Letter: To Pinterest, from a Teacher”

  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this topic. As a frequent pinner, your words are very important to me. I am a special education curriculum developer and I spend about 2 hours every day looking for quality content to pin. This has been getting quite difficult, and it saddens me. Either the pin goes to the wrong site, or even worse to a spam site. I research and review each of my pins to ensure it has some valuable content for my followers and for myself. You have certainly provided me with excellent things to think about and explore further. I hope many other teachers and professionals find and thoughtfully read your letter. Best of luck on your continued search for quality.

  2. Dear Mary,

    I came to your open letter because was curious how Pinterest helps teachers to create better learning experiences. BRAVO! But what really resonated with me are your questions. See, I studied for years to understand what learning is about and how, if you want to make a difference as a teacher, can you inspire this sensation of self improvement and achievement in your students. But over all I asked myself why there is so little choice when it comes to software that supports and fosters those 4Cs.

    As I am very passionate about education reformation and to provide my own children with an educational experience that sparks their curiosity. Curiosity, exploration, collecting, experimentation with the collected items, cluster, finding own categories (not the teacher’s), discover relations, dependencies … and with all this playful act realise in the end that you have great knowledge, deep knowledge of what you just created. A picture of your view of the things.

    Yes in the end I carried out and created that software myself, taught with it, improved it and now it became a platform which just went online … we call it iLKA … and it is free as in “education should be!” …

    We are not perfect, yet … but we will continue to improve ourselves, because that’s what it is about 🙂

    Again, thank you for your questions, this is what gives me confidence we are doing the right thing.

    with best regards
    Stefan

  3. Great article. I am an active pinner but agree so much with your questions. I also feel the same (if not more so) about Teacher Pay Teacher. It just seems like tons and tons of worksheets. I see so many teachers using them because they are easy. While I understand the need for easy, teachers need to stop and think if there are better ways to teach the same skills without the “cutesy” worksheets.

    1. I agree about Teachers Pay Teachers, too. There’s an unfortunate incentive to put anything on there as long as it’s eye-catching enough, and that doesn’t always equate learning.

  4. I agree with some of what you are saying, but I have to ask, what’s wrong with compliance? I am an educator and have been for over 20 years, and there is a trend in our society that I find disturbing. It is the idea that rules and compliance to rules is a bad thing. It seems more and more that students (and sometimes parents) have a rules-don’t-apply-to-me attitude, and respect for authority is also breaking down. Just look at how we are treating police officers these days. Please do not misunderstand me. I firmly believe in learning that is hands-on and meaningful for students. I encourage my students to question and think critically, and even in appropriate ways challenge rules or norms that they do not agree with. I do, however, expect them to comply with classroom rules. As a parent, I fully support my children’s teachers and their behavior management plans to foster a calm, cooperative, and yes…compliant, learning environment. Just my two cents…

    1. Hi, Becky! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I believe the key question for teachers to ask themselves is, “Do I value compliance more than learning?” Most would probably say no with their words, but many still say yes with their actions. The value is still heavily placed on compliance.

      For example, during the first few of weeks of kindergarten, my daughter came home chatting and singing all about nothing but following instructions and sitting at the carpet. And that makes sense, because most teachers focus on classroom procedures and rules during the first part of school. But the unfortunate result was that she was trained from the get-go what school is about–and it wasn’t learning. It was compliance. Not anticipation for the wonderings they’d explore. Not hope that their curiosity and abilities would be cultivated. Not even simple joy for discovering the world around them. Compliance. And when compliance is the tone of a classroom environment, when it is valued above all else, at best, learning is diminished. At worst, students leave their contributions at the door, because they know that their voices won’t really be heard anyway because they’re not quite quiet enough or still enough or calm enough…

      Edna Sackson is an inquiry educator and administrator who always gets me thinking about my practices. Here are a few of her posts on compliance:
      https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/10-tips-for-creating-a-class-agreement/
      https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/compliance-vs-initiative/
      https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/10-questions-to-help-you-become-a-better-teacher/

      I’d love to hear your thoughts!

      1. Thank you for your links. It is definitely food for thought. I am not a compliance above all else type of teacher, but I do think that structure and a sense of order helps us in our quest for learning. In the past couple of years, I have found that my kindergartners have less and less respect for their classmates, teachers, etc. Everything is all about themselves and their need for immediate gratification. If that is not met they are throwing fits. I think there is a balance between the two that should be achieved here. I’m over the teacher shaming for trying to use tools for classroom management. Thank you for the thoughts. I always continue to grow as an educator, and I will certainly keep these points in mind.

    2. What is wrong with compliance ? Nothing when you aim to create a mediocre society … excellence will surely not emerge when you aim for compliance. Maybe there is a misunderstanding and you mean more something like sets of rules how to behave in a social setup. Not picking your nose, do not tear the hair of others. I think that has nothing to do with compliance … basic behaviour in a community, yes, I think you do not need compliance, just a minimum set of common understanding that one do not harm another.

      Funny thing, when people talk about compliance and then try to induce empathy, creativity, self esteem, you name it … where should this sense of self worth come from, which is arguable the prerequisite for true feelings and empathy, when we teach our kids for compliance? Do not behave different, do not be different, different is bad because it is inconvenient to handle in the systematic approach to education … well … here my advice (even you did not ask) let yourself being amazed now and then by non compliant, agile, highly creative kids … I am sure you can learn something that enriches your thinking.

      And one more thing, I am living and working half of the year in China for almost 15 years now … I see what this aim for compliance does to children. China comes to a rate of suicidal children nobody really wants to talk about … recent studies show that 60% of students K-12 voiced in surveys that they “hate” school … they did not say “don’t like” or any less drastic term … if you know the Chinese culture this is a very strong, unlikely statement to get … normally. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, because most don’t even dare to voice their feelings, thanks to, you guessed it the strict aim for – compliance.

      1. Compliance means something different to you than I. I also never said that compliance was the overall goal. My overall goal isn’t just a quest for knowledge either. My overall goal is to facilitate a love of learning, along with an understanding that they are part of a bigger picture, and how to be a productive part of that bigger picture. This is an interesting debate. Thank you for the food for thought.

        1. Thank you Becky, that clarifies that there was indeed a misunderstanding. The most beautiful quest for a teacher is how you put it: to “facilitate a love of learning” … or how I like to phrase it, to “bring the fun back to learning” … seems to be pretty much the same .. you love the things which you have fun doing. But how do you help students to discover their love for learning ? How do you tap into the intrinsic motivation that stems from curiosity and the aim to self improve. I am with you when it comes to rules that need to be applied in the social setup of a classroom (although chaos can yield some refreshing perspectives, too) , but when it comes to “the way” … and I mean how to help students to understand, I think there, we all are way too stuck in a scheduled, content driven approach rather than facilitating and mentoring our students on THEIR quest to knowledge. What does a student today feel when he/she gets an assignment about a topic ? First thing coming to my mind is : Pressure. “Oh god, I have to do this and it better be good” … with this the question “what is good” is associated. What does the teacher want, what is the “right” answer, the “right” way to solve, express, explain. Call me an idealist but my personal answer to the student is: “your way is the right way”. It is much like you let the student pick a topic and set him free to be curious, and follow what intrigues him most, telling him: “surprise me”, “teach me”.
          The miracles that start happening with this little signal: “teach me” are making the fear from “chaos” or not meeting the exact curriculum schedule just fade. And then watch what happens when you award a student with: “wow, I didn’t know that. I just learned something new. Thank you”. These are the moments where you “feel” again why you became an educator.

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