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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Which Teacher Personality Best Describes You?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

When my family gets together, one of the favorite games we play is Wizards, Gnomes, and Giants. It is great fun for young and old alike and is based on the games Rock-Paper-Scissors and Sharks and Minnows.

The concept is that wizards can overpower gnomes, and gnomes can overpower giants, and giants can overpower wizards. For some reason, these are the hardest things to remember when play begins, but that is what makes it challenging and fun. The trick is to consistently overpower your opponent -- as in the other games mentioned -- and gather more members for your team.

So, on holidays when we are all together, we divide up the family group, kids and adults all mixed up, into two teams. An imaginary line is drawn in the grass in the center of the lawn and an end zone is established at each end of the lawn. The two groups huddle and decide as a group what they are going to be -- wizards, gnomes, or giants.

To begin play, the teams line up on each side of the central line. On the count of three, each shows his or her sign: Wizards have their hands in front of them as if performing a spell, gnomes have their hands on the side of their heads symbolizing big ears, and giants have both hands straight up in the air because they are tall. Once the game gets started, we would just forget who was supposed to chase whom. No matter what, it ends with a lot of laughter and great fun.

Role-Playing

As I was recalling these wonderful holidays in Arizona, participating in this game with my siblings and their families, I couldn't help relate it to education.

I am sure there are several connections I could have made, such as having fun and learning by practice, but the one I homed in on was perhaps a little darker. I have noticed over the years that there are three types of teachers: wizards, gnomes, and giants.

The wizards are the ones who are always making things happen, for good or not so good. They are the ones on the campus committees, who chaperone the dances and organize the faculty parties. They seem to know about everyone and be involved in everything.

Then there are the gnomes, who watch, observe, and listen. They participate but rarely initiate anything. They do what is required and no more. They specialize in routines and ruts, and they stay out of the way of others while also avoiding the limelight.

Finally, there are the giants. These are the teachers who seem to have something to say about everything, and none of it positive. They criticize everyone, especially the wizards, but will rarely lift a finger to lend a hand. The giants oppose anything that resembles change, even if it means improvement. Giants are all about tradition.

Step Out of Safety Zones

Painting a picture of schools in this way, I think may clarify how they operate, or fail to operate. Nearly every school where I have worked, or visited, has had several wizards, a lot of gnomes, and a few giants. I tried to think what I would have been labeled. I guess during my first years, I would have been very gnomish, but later, I think I graduated to being a wizard. There were times, however, when I felt and behaved as a giant, especially when I believed the administration was wasting my time, or when I was struggling as a teacher and preferred to blame anyone but myself.

I think I learned, however, that complaining does nothing but create animosity, which drains a person of creativity. When I was a gnome, however, my biggest problem was taking risks. I was afraid of being singled out for taking a stand or voicing my opinion. I see this attitude now as cowardly and selfish. I think of all the good I could have done, but because I had chosen to keep my head down and simply do what was in front of me, I let opportunity pass me by.

Some things that make me think I am a wizard now are my favorite quotes framed on my office wall. Although I do not agree with much of what this guy stood for, I love these two quotes from him:

Far better it is to dare mighty things
to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure
than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much
because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
> -- Theodore Roosevelt

And the other one is its corollary:

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing
the next best thing is the wrong thing
and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
> -- Theodore Roosevelt

Whenever I am tempted to slip back into the safety of gnomishness, or the rancor of the giants, all I have to do is look on my wall and read these quotes to myself. Good or bad, I have to do something, take a risk, and either reap the rewards or suffer the consequences.

In the classroom, this philosophy means that I have to take the extra time to prepare interactive, engaging lessons. I have to risk a bit of noise or chaos, and I have to be out of the ordinary and memorable.

Matter of fact, as I think about it, every good thing that has happened in my life has come about because I was willing to take a risk. That is why I want to continue to be a wizard. In classroom practice, this may mean trying a new teaching strategy, or reaching out in a different way to a troubled student, or experimenting with new educational technology.

As a teacher, when have you been a wizard in your work? What helps you maintain your wizardry? Please share your experiences and ideas!

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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