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Learning at its Best

Toilet Paper and (Instructional) Tolerance

This post was co-authored by @BeckyFisher73 and @ELeclere01. 

So, which do you prefer – over or under?  Just how did that preference come about?  Is it really a personal preference or is it something you learned to prefer because of a significant other?  What do you do when you enter into a bathroom where the toilet paper goes “the wrong way”? 

Let’s say you are staying in a hotel room for three nights and as you are unpacking, you go to the bathroom and realize the easy-to-fix toilet paper is going “the wrong way”?  What would you do?  Not worry about it?  Take a second and flip it around?  Call down to the front desk and lodge a complaint about the TP?  What are you willing to tolerate?

Can you imagine spending this much time agonizing over the direction that toilet paper comes off the roll in a hotel room?  While it may be a minor annoyance, most would agree that ignoring it or exerting minimal effort to switch it to your preference would be the appropriate response.  Once switched, you can go on about your stay absent perseverance over such a detail.  But now, imagine your room is equipped with one of those Alcatraz-like toilet paper guards, lest a guest make off with a roll or two.  Suddenly, that small blip in your vacation can become a source of major headache.  A simple preference, which can be addressed in a matter of seconds, has been removed from your control.  You may forget about it whenever you are not in the restroom, but eventually, you have to face it, again. 

Perhaps you move beyond thinking just about your toilet paper preference and begin to ask yourself why a hotel would make the assumption that guests would make off with toilet paper.  Or maybe, the owner has such a strong TP preference, you think, that they are willing to force it on you and every other guest.  What meaning do you make of a decision that was likely well intended and designed to address a perceived problem?  What do you tell your friends about your stay?  Do you return to the same hotel? 

Probably, you are asking yourself, “What in the world is all of this talk about hotels and toilet paper?  I thought I was reading an education blog!”  Rest assured, you are.  Often, we, as educators, lock student choice, and therefore comfort, away in much in the same way.  During a conversation about instructional tolerance this morning, we reviewed several supply lists, available online, for various schools.  Fourth and fifth graders were being asked to be sure that they had three, one-inch binders (blue), two two-inch binders (red), six folders, with pockets (various colors, no designs), etc.  To be sure, at some point in time, a teacher or teachers got together and compiled a list of all the things students would need to APPEAR organized and successful in their classrooms. 

It is probably a safe assumption that this was done with the intent of supporting students.  The question then is – does such a list support them to learn, access information, share ideas and show what they know in a meaningful way to them now and in the future or, does it support them to conform these actions to the idiosyncrasies of a single adult or to the traditions of a team of teachers?  One could argue, persuasively, that this helps students learn to organize.  Or, it begins to create the skill of adjusting to the varying demands of future teachers or bosses.  Employers of the last century appreciated that schools fostered such compliance.  Students graduated with a template for learning in college or entering a workforce that valued these skills.

At what point in a student’s K-12 career are they empowered with the decisions around how to organize themselves?  How have the skills been developed and practiced in order to make and implement these decisions?  To what extent have students had the opportunity to develop an understanding of what it means to be organized and what the benefits of being organized are?  How do teachers scaffold students so the choices move from teacher to student as quickly and thoughtfully as possible?

Now, we elementary and secondary educators are hearing loud and clear that while the 3 R’s are still essential, the 4 C’s – Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical thinking – are the most highly valued skills with which our students can leave our buildings.  We happen to believe that navigating your Choices to find the Comforts that allow you to be most productive adds two more C’s to the equation.  Thus, we must examine our practices, structures and policies to evolve with the rest of the world and build an understanding of our personal preferences and how we navigate the preferences of others. 

How can we, as educators, revisit our “toilet paper”-like decisions in the context of preparing kids to make their own choices that will drive their comfort and either exploit or diminish their creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and future success in school and elsewhere?

This post was co-authored by @BeckyFisher73 and @ELeclere01. 

About beckyfisher73

DEN Star Educator, NTTI Master Teacher, Director of Educational Technology and Professional Development, former HS math teacher, avid RVer, baseball fan. ____________________________________________________ Becky received a BA and MAT in Physics from the University of Virginia while working as a FORTRAN programmer for the University's Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics. After assisting in an NSF-funded summer institute for Physics teachers, she committed to a career in public education. Over two decades later, she has been a classroom teacher, instructional technology specialist, and central office leader working diligently to change the landscape of public education by ensuring choices are made as close to the learner as possible!


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