My principal is a good speaker. When he stands before a room he commands our attention with subtle humor, candid allusions to his own teaching, and a generally upbeat attitude (even when explaining that he is sick and could vomit any minute and it’s a good thing the front row is empty). I’m always encouraged to hear him, but it isn’t solely because he is an experienced performer. The content of his speech always interests me.
Okay, I’ll give you that most whole faculty in-services and presentations are pretty dry. At their worst, they are seen as being filled either with information you’ll be emailed anyway or with emotional platitudes about the current state of education in the building. That is where good principals are separated from average ones; good ones take a page from their communication arts curriculum and employ extended metaphor to do the job of entertaining while informing.
While writing an essay, short story, or even a blog post, using metaphors is hard to avoid unless you’re in business of scientific research (Even then, when I was in chemistry class, my lab reports were always very descriptive, “the reaction isolated a finely ground precipitate, which was canary yellow and resembled a delicious pile of saffron…” Then again, I did change majors for a reason).
So how does an extended metaphor help with teaching teachers?
It’s like translating words to images, building a mental analog for people to grasp and compare to the words you used before. Think about this simple one, “There’s no silver bullet for fixing any one problem in education.” You’ve heard this before, and you probably know that a silver bullet is the magical solution to killing a werewolf or, in this case, a big scary problem. So you already know and use plenty of metaphors in your every-day language, but the best leaders know how to use ones that apply to an entire topic.
A good extended metaphor is like a seed crystal. You’ve already got a beaker full of the proper chemical components, you’re stirring it, and you’ve agitated the glass a bit as well; there should be some crystals growing…but you see nothing. Until, that is, you add a seed. The seed of understanding is what’s needed for whole faculty meetings, and leaders (like principals) need to be the one to deliver it.
The point is that even if you have the most perfectly measured proportion of chemicals to grow a certain type of crystal, sometimes is just doesn’t work. You could end up stirring and agitating for hours. We all know what it’s like to be agitated for hours in a bad meeting, am I right? There has to be some seed of understanding publicly revealed (think modeling) for a large group to glean understanding of any broad and abstract concept. You’ll be able to see when your teachers start to have those Ah-ha moments.