Reciprocity of Teaching, and Other Complexities

During my first year of teaching, I was asked by the superintendent to contribute to our whole district spring Professional Development. I gulped at the prospect, but acquiesced because I recognized it for the honor it was, and couldn’t fathom saying no to a superintendent ever- much less during my first year of teaching. I came into the district with a burgeoning enthusiasm for the Common Core State Standards, and my principal, who was in the process of trying to support its speedy implementation, was thrilled to give me all the support I wanted.

I tried not to be obnoxious in my enthusiasm. I tried to be encouraging, helpful, and approachable. I’m not sure it worked.

After about 2 months of preparation, I found myself standing in the midst of the High School cafeteria, holding a microphone and staring down the dozens of people waiting for me to be the mouth piece of the administration. Swallowing, I picked up the thread of our presentation, describing the purpose behind the anchor standards, and the correlation between Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge wheel. They’re very similar in that they describe the spectrum of challenges we can offer our students. Webb’s DOK, however proposes a wheel because these challenges should be cyclical, not simply achieved in silos, which are listed on many of the assessments supposedly crafted in coordination with the CCSS, the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

dok wheel

I insisted, pleaded with them, that these assessments, and the CCSS targets, are not designed to be “difficult”; they’re designed to be “complex”. And complexity is an entirely different animal. I had a few people nodding along with me by the time I surrendered the microphone.

Then, the next presenter stood and took over. She was a seasoned teacher, 2 months from retiring. With 35 years of relationship building behind her she took the stage with cheers from the crowd. She opened with a joke, which I’m sure was designed to engender even more affection, and rest people’s anxiety.

She said, “I don’t care what you call it. It’s not “complex,” it’s HARD. It’s difficult.” At which point the blood rushed to my face and the audience burst into laughter.

I think of this moment every time I consider putting myself out there for professional development- at least on a formal level. Subsequently, it’s led me to feel a bit of reticence about being on that stage again. However, throughout this program, there’s been a running theme of publication, collaboration, and becoming a resource in my own PLN. It’s inescapable for good reason.

Last week, we learned about the difference between “scholarly teaching” and the “scholarship of teaching and learning.” Researchers, Eileen Bender and Donald Gray, of Indiana University, described the birth of scholarship, saying, “With the blurring of the boundaries that we have long drawn between faculty roles in research and teaching–and a growing recognition of their common intellectual patterns of questioning, exploring, testing, and professing–a new phrase has emerged, challenging the stereotypes and calling for further amplification: ‘the scholarship of teaching,’” (Bender, E. and Gray, D., 1999). They continue to describe that scholarly teaching is sort of the application of this research where the scholarship of teaching involves a more reciprocal process of giving back to the research process, to the development of improved teaching.

I’m reminded of Gee’s “echo chamber of thought,” (Gee, 2013) which he uses to explain how humans surround themselves with like-minded people who will corroborate their beliefs. They are unwilling to include in their circle someone who might disagree, but as a result they limit their creativity and innovation because they don’t see multiple sides. As teachers, we can’t hole up in our classrooms and just expect the world to ignore us. We have a duty to share back the good things we are doing, to receive feedback and suggestions, so that when we address complexity, we don’t presume it’s synonymous with difficulty.  

I think it’s with this in mind that I’ll pick up that microphone. I can’t sit in an echo chamber, and the only way to change mindsets is to be an agent in this process- to be reciprocal. Even as complex as that can be.


Bender, E and Gray, D. (1999). The Scholarship of Teaching. Research & Creative Activity, XXII(1). Retrieved from

Paul, J.P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

(2009). Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Guide. OK_Guide.pdf



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