"Show Your Work"

On a recent episode of Let's Make Mistakes, Mike Monteiro chatted with Austin Kleon, whose latest book is called Show Your Work! The title is itself a reference to something Mike Monteiro wrote about design:

This isn’t magic. It’s math. Show your work. Don’t HOPE someone “gets it”, and don’t blame them if they don’t — convince them.

While Monteiro and Kleon are talking about designers dealing with clients, I think this fits in with my recent theme of teaching as creative work. I can think of myriad ways in which this applies in education.

The most obvious connection is with teachers in the classroom. I know I have fallen into the trap of simply telling students that something is important and then hoping they will agree with me. My best lessons are always the ones where I show them precisely why I think they should value the topic as much as I do, whether that's the genitive case or Plato's allegory of the cave.

Really though, I think it's teachers that need to be told to "show your work" more often. Too often, I think we teachers like to cultivate an image of teaching as a black box, where the craft is simply too complex to try and really explain. Good teachers simply "get it," and bad ones don't. There may be some truth there, but it leads to lazy thinking, and we (myself included) could stand to be pressed more often to show our work.

  • "Boys and girls just learn differently." Show your work.
  • "This novel is much better for sophomores than that one." Show your work.
  • "These two classes need to have the same tests." Show your work.
  • "Our school culture is really student-centric." Show your work.

Those are all statements I've heard and/or made, and I'm not saying any of them are wrong. But too often we teachers feel so strongly about things on an emotional level, that we never step back to really think about why we feel the way we do, especially at a private school like mine where accountability is often self-imposed. Every time the accreditation process begins again, most of what we are told boils down to exactly that: "Show your work. We trust that you are doing good things, but you have to show your work." That's an important part of the accreditation process, but should also be a regular part of how we think.