The one rule of teaching

by | Thursday, May 05, 2011

Pauline Kael is regarded to be one of the best film reviewers to have ever lived. Sam Sacks has a piece on Kael in which he describes her style of film review, one based less on academic nitpicking and the presence (or absence) of directorial flourishes than on her personal aesthetic response to cinema. She is quoted as saying that there is only one rule in filmmaking:

There is only one rule: Astonish us! In all art we look and listen for what we have not experienced quite that way before. We want to see, to feel, to understand, to respond in a new way.

I read this quote and immediately realized that this rule applies to teaching as well. I have often described teaching as doing two things – making the strange familiar (an eclipse of the sun is caused by the moon falling into the earth’s shadow) or making the familiar strange (all matter is essentially empty space). What is common is the sense of surprise we experience in both cases.

It appears to me that very often we forget the value of astonishment and awe in teaching and learning. This is where the quote above really connects with my idea of teaching. Repeating the quote but by changing just one word—replacing “art” with “teaching.”

There is only one rule: Astonish us! In all teaching we look and listen for what we have not experienced quite that way before. We want to see, to feel, to understand, to respond in a new way.

How do we as educators meet this goal of “astonishing us all.”

A few randomly selected blog posts…

TPACK in Journal of Teacher Education

The Journal of Teacher Education just came out with a special theme issue devoted to innovative uses of technology for teacher learning. The editorial for the special issue frames the issues strongly in terms of the TPACK framework, building on the work Matt Koehler...

Value in an age of free…

What happens when an economy "built on selling precious copies" suddenly confronts the world of the Internet - a world based on the "free flow of free copies?" Kevin Kelly confronts this issue in a recent post titled, Better than free. As he says, "how does one make...

Creative Idiots share their process

Slate Magazine is running a series on Creative Pairs, or why Two is the Magic Number! Written by Joshua Wolf Shenk the series seeks to understand: What makes creative relationships work? How do two people—who may be perfectly capable and talented on their own—explode...

Creativity is just connecting things

Steve Jobs retired as CEO of Apple this past week. The Wall Street Journal marked this event by creatingSteve Job's Best Quotes compendium. There are all worth reading - but a couple stood out for their connection to this course. Creativity is just connecting things....

Mishra, Dirkin & Cavanaugh, 2007

I have been teaching summer course in our master's program for years now and for the most part have found them to be the most enriching teaching experiences I have had. These are intense 8 hours a day, 5 days a week programs that typically go on for a month. [We are...

Is a lecture just a lecture?

My mashup of a commercial has been on YouTube for a while and just yesterday I noticed that someone had left a very thoughtful comment... and that comment got me thinking... and hence this posting. To start with, if you haven't seen the videos here they are again....

Sketching on the iPad

Over the past few weeks I have been experimenting with using my iPad as a drawing/painting tool. The sketches below were created by tracing on an existing image - usually a photograph. So this is not "freehand" drawing per se - but given my limited talents that may...

Self-similarity in math & ambigrams 3/3

Self-similarity in geometry is the idea of repeating a similar shape (often at a different scale) over and over again. In other words, a self-similar image contains copies of itself at smaller and smaller scales, such as the image below of the word "zoom."...

Things we hold on to (in a shifting world)

Things we hold on to (in a shifting world)

Title image created using Dall E 2, with input by Punya Mishra My colleague Jill Koyama shared an essay published in the Refugee Research Online journal, titled "It's all in the bag: Refugees and Materiality."...


  1. automation courses in chennai

    We wish to thank you once more for the beautiful ideas you offered Janet when preparing her own post-graduate research and, most importantly, regarding providing many of the ideas in one blog post. If we had known of your web-site a year ago, we’d have been kept from the needless measures we were participating in. Thanks to you.

  2. Michael

    We understand the need of the hour in teaching. Astonishing is a pretty good technique. However, the persistence and prolonged maintenance of this astonish us is going to be critical issue.

  3. Alice

    yes, “Atonish us!” means we always want to listen and read about new things, and even contemplate new feelings. These are also very important in education. The world changes everyday, education should be ussually refreshed to strive to a new height.

  4. Anna Hayes

    “I read this quote and immediately realized that this rule applies to teaching as well.”

    You’re a star in teaching and education, Punya!!! You always try to get the new thing, apply new method! I admire you alot!

    Good luck to you!

  5. Jeff

    I agree! What’s amazing is that, with the practically limitless availability of fabulous resources that are available to educators now, we still find lots of classrooms with a single voice (the teacher’s) and a room full of passive, disengaged students. Most of us entered the field of education with a deep passion for our work. What happened to the passion? Are most educators burned out? What do schools need to do — and I mean everything should be on the table — to not only energize and rejuvinate teachers but to provide structures for creating engaging instruction and curriculum?


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