FV #26 - Extreme Makeover: Teacher Edition

This recent article over on GOOD Education made me think a lot about the symbols we use to define teaching. To illustrate, try this... what visual symbols pop into your head when you think about teachers and the teaching profession?

If I had to venture a guess it would be things like an apple, a one room schoolhouse, and a chalkboard with 2+2 or ABC written on it, right?

Do a Google Images search on teacher or teaching and you will see that you're in good company. Could ditching these ubiquitous symbols of the teaching profession help reframe the way we think about teachers, teaching and education in general?

That's the goal of Teach, a rebranding effort by New York City-based design firm Hyperakt to create "a new visual vocabulary" that more accurately reflects the sophisticated work 21st century educators do.

The goal of these talented designers was to:

be a part of reframing the intellectual and creative work teachers do...to capture the excitement and magic of activating the potential that is innate in every student.

Whoa, I like the sound of that. Did They succeed? I selected a few of their designs that caught my eye but there are many more over on Teach website (they are encouraging teachers to download and use the images in the classroom).

I think the designs are wonderful and certainly plan on printing some of them out. However, I'm left with this lingering question (the skeptic in me always comes out to balance my hope). Do these designs accurately represent the current state of teaching and education or are they idealistic representations of where so many of us want teaching to be? We want education to produce forward-thinking, globally connected, creative, analytical individuals, but is this what is actually happening? Or is the classroom of today, despite all the promises of modern teaching and digital tools, still more like the classroom of 50 years ago where the apple was the symbol of teaching and the teacher was the center of the classroom?

Changing the symbols we use to represent our profession is a worthy undertaking, but it might be like a new coat of paint on an old, junk car. Until the underlying structure is rethought, redesigned, and rebuilt, what's the point?

I do like the fact that the symbol is abstract, it projects the concepts of connectedness, relationships, and process. I think that this captures a huge part of what education (learning) should be all about and it allows for a visual vocabulary that reflects the multidimensional role of the teacher in a way that an apple simply cannot. Basically, these designs have deep meaning.

I'm less thrilled with the connect the dots metaphor. In this classic children's game, the dots are pre-printed on the page, and the image is already determined. If children don't connect the dots in the presribed order, they won't be successful. Education is not about teachers leading children to pre-determined places, it's about children creating their own paths, it's about ambiguity and vagueness and how to handle both. Education, like learning itself, is not a simple connect-the-dots activity.

All in all, I love the idea of re-branding the profession. In many ways this is way overdue. Teaching today can be dynamic, creative, active, interconnected, bold and exciting. Now, if only our federal policies could be reworked to capture the same messaging.

Again, check out the great printables on their website and make sure to look at their presentation to really get a glimpse at how they worked through the thinking and design process (this would be useful to show students).

I'll exit this post with some questions:

  • Is teaching a brand?

  • Is a makeover needed? Will a makeover work?

  • Who is the customer/audience for these "advertisements"?

  • What would you change about the designs?

  • Assuming that these designers have not been teachers, how do you think they did?

  • Do you think that these designs capture what it means to be a teacher?

  • Are they worthy of replacing the traditional symbols of the teaching profession?

Finally, I think that it would be a great project-based learning activity for students to periodically rethink various cherished symbols. Maybe you could even set students to the task of rebranding education from a student point of view.