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Books Teachers Share: How to See Teaching as an Art

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Troy Cockrum (Anna Erdosy)

Award-winning educator Troy Cockrum is director of innovative teaching as well as host of the Genius Hour innovation class for middle schoolers at St. Therese of Little Flower Catholic School, a K-8 parochial school on the Southeast side of Indianapolis. One of the books that’s been most influential to him as he thinks about his work helping both teachers and students find ways to innovate is Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?

Though the book was written for the business world, Cockrum finds many applications in the education world as well. According to Godin, “linchpins” are people who are in touch with their own abilities to solve problems when “there’s no rule book.” And he calls them the “essential building blocks” of great organizations, who turn their work into a kind of art. That’s how Cockrum wants teachers to think of their job, and he believes, how students should think about their work and their futures.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Cockrum: I really like Linchpin because it talks about a different system and mentality that is outside the education realm. Godin may not necessarily have all the right answers because he’s not an educator, but he’s asking big questions. The book is about how to approach your job and your work with a different mentality in order to be more productive and beneficial. He mainly presents ideas to help people rethink what our current business culture should look like.

In my job as director of innovative teaching, I have two roles: I work with teachers to help them plan, and learn how to integrate more contemporary or innovative teaching methods into their teaching. And on the other side, I work with students to help them conceptualize their work. For example, if it’s using a technology tool for a project, how can we use that more creatively?


I first read the book as I was transitioning into my new job [from middle school English teacher to innovative teaching leader], and it made me rethink how we should approach a job, particularly one like mine where my goal is to help other teachers improve.


In many ways, Godin made me put into practice what I was already thinking. One of the things he talks about is seeing what you do as art as opposed to a job. A job is what you do when someone tells you how to do it, and art is what you do when you take your own path. I see teaching as an art in general. So when I’m working with teachers, I always tell them, I’m not going to give you a binder to follow step by step, I’m here to give you ideas, then I want you to take your expertise and background and meld it.

I push a lot of teachers and students out of their comfort zone, and I do that because we need to get out of our comfort zone to improve.

Godin also talks about the industrial model of teaching, and how schools were designed for 100 years ago. He says that a lot of teachers teach by fear, because it’s a shortcut to what you need to get done. It may not be the best way to teach, but you can get the kids to be compliant in a short amount of time needed in order to pass the test or whatever.

But the world is changing -- our kids are not going to be in the same kinds of jobs that we are in. I’m in an environment where I’m creating my own job and a lot of other people are doing the same thing. If you think you are going to find the ideal job, you’re not -- you have to make the ideal job. So, we need to teach students that; they need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, but what does that mean? We need to teach them to have the confidence to be different, and in the same regards as teachers, to push themselves out of their comfort zone and go beyond what they thought was possible, or are comfortable doing. 

Godin writes, “You have all the information that everyone else has. But if you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.”


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