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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!

Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ben Johnson (Author)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kristi:

You are obviously a deep thinker. It really does no one any good if we have a few wizard type teachers with a whole bunch of gnomes and giants. I have some ideas about how to convert those giants and gnomes. The first step is those of us wizards who understand, to not allow negativism to dissuade us. Then we have to collaborate with the giants. They are good people, but like you said, they have lost their spark or purpose in education. Enthusiasm is contagious. I propose two books- Maxwell's 360 Degree Leadership and Covey's 8th Habit. We can have an influence on those around us even if we are not their supervisor.

The second thing we can do is to invite the giants and gnomes to be a part of the excitement again. The principal does not need to do this and we do this it is even more powerful.

Finally, we have to show the giants that their old uncaring way and gnomes and their timid methods do not work. This means that wizards have to be good at data and showing with cold hard facts that engaged teaching promotes engaged learning and greater student achievement.

Thanks for being so enthusiastic and never lose your sense of urgency. (Good luck on your masters)

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, TX

Patty Bell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had a huge response written to your comments, but I erased them. i can tell you all this much, I am sick and tired of the names and separations. If you see a gnome, rather than pointing them out, help them out. I can tell you why people leave teaching so soon. Teaching is an occupation that is similar to parenting. it involves sacrifices of yourself. The job never ends and it seems that only a small percentage is ever noticed for what they do. I believe that people get tired, and contrary to belief, teachers get tired too. I don't want to say where I fall, but honestly, I fall into all three ranks. I have experienced the character traits of each. my belief is that I was given a job to do-teach people who come with vaious attitudes and abilities. It gets hard, sometimes you do feel alone and if others look at your effort as trying to do too much or too little. A rock and a hard place. I just could do without the separation. You label the teachers, but for those "beneath" you, what did you do to help? My grandmama always said don't just bring an insight, try to bring a solution also.
[quote]Hello, Ben! I loved your blog! Your family game describes educators perfectly! There are a couple of points I agree with you on. One, about how one can move from a Wizard to Giant. It does depend on circumstances. Two, the Giants poison the Wizards with their negativity and stomp on their passion for teaching. I wish we Wizards could cast a spell on them to turn them away from the dark side.I am currently taking my master's program in Curriculum and Instruction. We are studying about the progression from novice teacher to expert teacher. Novice teachers remind me of Gnomes. Expert teachers remind me of Wizards. However, I know of some veteran teachers who are definitely categorized as Giants. They unfortunately have lost their passion for teaching and desperately need it to be rekindled.One further point,when I finished reading your blog, I categorized my colleagues immediately. As a matter of fact, I was discussing this with a colleague just the other day. We were noticing that teachers with 5-7 years of experience are staying within the Gnome realm. Some are even slipping to Giants. These young, fresh educators are not becoming the professionals they have the potential to be. When I began my career it was expected of you to attend meetings, sit in on district committees(ex. curriculum), participate at school functions. I now see how those expectations helped me to grow and become a Wizard. What is happening to our young educators? They can't become Giants this early in their career![/quote]

Patty Bell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great comments! I did not see yours before I wrote my own. You are a builder and not a burner of bridges. Great job!

Jan Duffy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This just sounds like labeling to me-I have an idea for a real solution to this kind of thing. I will detail it tomorrow on my own blog because it will take up too much room here: http://jrduffy09@edublogs.org

Woody Ziegler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A key to the success of the game seems to come from seeing position of the hands to define the role each person is playing. The same may be true in the school and classroom setting for the teachers and principals.

We place labels and descriptors on people and their behaviors but little changes when someone is simply given a label or a grade. At some point the wizards, gnomes and giants need to see how the others play and work if they are to function well with each other. The nature of education is in most situations we function in a closed door shop. When and where do we get the opportunity to see other teach and learn? In many situations principals are also limited in their opportunity to be coached regarding what actually works and concerning what quality instruction really looks like and functions. Even spreadsheet data of scores is limited if the educator in the classroom has no idea of how to energize and engage the student in the learning activity. Moving teachers from the science of education learned by reading and being told works in the classroom to actually living in the art of education is a challenge. Most of us found few opportunities to move next door let alone to the terrific educator across town or in another city to learn from the master.

Recently the Educator's Virtual Mentor developed the 1,000 video clip of authentic instruction from featured teachers teaching real students real content in real time. These clips show wizards making learning come alive using any of 51 instructional strategies in high school, middle school and elementary school classrooms. An article summarizing the best practice instruction is supported by a rubric and video clips of the strategy in action. Unique reflection questions facilitate the educators examination of the strategy in his/her professional practice. Site users have 24/7/365 access to affirm his/her positive use of instructional strategies and challenge implementation of a research based instructional strategy in his/her classroom.

Until teachers and principals have access to resources of this type they are destined to continue functioning as giants or gnomes and educational change will proceed at a snails pace. Support, encouragement, leadership and modeling are needed for change. Billions of dollars are currently being invested to strengthen the teachers ability to know the subject area, little of that is actually being invested in developing the teacher's ability and principal's ability to serve as an instructional leader.

Evaluation/appraisal, professional learning communities, mentoring, whole staff PD sessions, and growth plans can all be enhanced when authentic video is available for viewing, analysis, discussion and reflection concerning an educator's personal professional practice. Then we move beyond the label to transformation into wizards the function as difference makers for our students and their future.

L.A.H's picture

Sonya,
What an excellent idea! I have found that my lessons come out better if I allow the students to plan with me. I am a language arts teacher as well and every year, I have the students "teach" the parts of speech to the class. They always have fun, creative ways to teach the parts of speech.
Laura

L.A.H's picture

As I was reading the article, I had many teachers come to mind as gnomes, wizards, and giants were being described. But, I do have to say that I do not agree that young teachers are becoming giants early in their career. I have enjoyed seeing the many young teachers come into our school. They are bringing fresh ideas on how to relate to our students. Many of the teachers are doing this through technology. Our school district has a wonderful technology program that reaches out to the 21st century learner. I have to say not many gnomes or giants attend these classes. I think the only thing that may make a new teacher a giant is the same thing that makes an expert teacher a giant...test scores. New, young teachers are not only coming into the classroom with new, fresh ideas, but they have to learn a new curriculum and make sure their stduents pass the test. I think that's enough for anyone to become a giant. I enjoy spending time with new teachers just to find out what they are thinking and to be around that positive attitude they begin with...maybe if all teachers surrounded themselves with new teachers, we could all be wizards!

L.A.H's picture

Sorry...I'm new at this. I wanted to reply to the following quote.[quote]Hello, Ben! I loved your blog! Your family game describes educators perfectly! There are a couple of points I agree with you on. One, about how one can move from a Wizard to Giant. It does depend on circumstances. Two, the Giants poison the Wizards with their negativity and stomp on their passion for teaching. I wish we Wizards could cast a spell on them to turn them away from the dark side.I am currently taking my master's program in Curriculum and Instruction. We are studying about the progression from novice teacher to expert teacher. Novice teachers remind me of Gnomes. Expert teachers remind me of Wizards. However, I know of some veteran teachers who are definitely categorized as Giants. They unfortunately have lost their passion for teaching and desperately need it to be rekindled.One further point,when I finished reading your blog, I categorized my colleagues immediately. As a matter of fact, I was discussing this with a colleague just the other day. We were noticing that teachers with 5-7 years of experience are staying within the Gnome realm. Some are even slipping to Giants. These young, fresh educators are not becoming the professionals they have the potential to be. When I began my career it was expected of you to attend meetings, sit in on district committees(ex. curriculum), participate at school functions. I now see how those expectations helped me to grow and become a Wizard. What is happening to our young educators? They can't become Giants this early in their career!
[/quote]

Charlene Ammons's picture

As a second-year teacher, I have to admit I hover between all three characters, depending on my day! I have struggled with being more gnome-like with my colleagues, as I often feel like I have a lot of information and responsibility to process and keep up with. Yet I also feel like my inexperience prevents me from being more wizard-like, that perhaps I don't have much to offer to my colleagues yet. I tend to sit and absorb more than I contribute, trying to glean as much as I can at this stage of my career. I do believe, though, that experience, education, and time will allow me to grow more wizard-like and to contribute to my profession beyond the classroom.

Kim Mccollum's picture

I think sometimes in the past, I might have had the inclination to be a gnome, to sit and watch, on the sidelines. This was more than likely lack of confidence motivating me. However, as I have had more experience and opportunities, I have chosen to become a wizard, or at least attain to be. I want to be in the "know" about things pertaining to my students. I want to make things happen, for the better!
>Thanks for your blog, for your insight and thought provoking stories.
>>> I also wanted to share one of my favorite quotes:
Success~
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others. to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healhty child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. -Ralph Waldo Emerson-
~ This is definitely not a gnome, or a giant's take on things! :)

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