By Micki M. Caskey and Karen Weller Swanson
Being completely present means much more in the last 2 years due to COVID-19. After the difficulty of our first full year since the pandemic, it is time to take a breath and reflect. Teaching nudges us to think and rethink our practice, sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance.
As we remember the challenge to bring our best selves into the classroom, bell hooks (2003) wrote that good teaching comes from whole teachers:
“[T]he classroom is one of the most dynamic work settings precisely because we are given such a short amount of time to do so much. To perform with excellence and grace teachers must be totally present in the moment, totally concentrated and focused” (p. 14).
We use a kaleidoscopic metaphor to think about a teacher’s identity, both personal and professional, and to reframe the transitory and challenging nature of teaching while keeping the integrity of the many facets of our lives. A multitude of roles and responsibilities frames teachers’ lives, influencing an ever-changing mandala; for example, the joys and challenges of caring for family members, nurturing friendships, and working can benefit from an integrative mindset.
Looking at the Pieces
To explore our kaleidoscopic metaphor, we look at the kaleidoscope’s pieces—eye piece, viewing tube with mirrors, and end cap with bits of colored glass or beads—and what they represent. Kaleidoscopes operate on the principal of light and multiple reflections.
The eye piece allows you to look inside and focus on images produced when turning the kaleidoscope. It symbolizes a starting point, a position or stance from which a person engages with life and their world. In the case of teachers, it is their perspective of the teaching practice.
The central section is the viewing tube, encircling a set of mirrors. Typically, a kaleidoscope has three rectangular, lengthwise mirrors that reflect and produce an image. By turning and re-turning the viewing tube, teachers can look and re-look at their teaching practice.
The end cap securely holds the pieces of glass that move in relation to one another when turning the kaleidoscope. In our metaphor, these stand for multiple identities. Each color represents facets of our identities: family member, friend, personal well-being, career. Together, they symbolize a whole person—one with multiple, integrated identities that ideally live in harmony. Teachers’ identity possibilities include:
When turning the kaleidoscope, different images—mandalas—appear. Mandalas have repetitive patterns, shapes, and colors that spread out from the center of the circle. Turning the kaleidoscope leads to ever-changing mandalas, which can activate creativity, build avenues for growth, quiet emotions, and stress, and improve focus (Singh, 2021).
The practice of turning the kaleidoscope offers beautiful designs that rarely repeat themselves. The pieces of colored glass (identities) shift in and out of prominence in the pattern making. For example, at school, the dominant color is a teacher identity; after work the dominant colors for friend or family may emerge. Nevertheless, all the colorful glass pieces remain present.
We view turning the kaleidoscope as renewal and reconsideration because revolution of the tube is at times a choice and other times a reaction. A mandala can be still for extended periods of time or change rapidly and/or surprisingly. Our goal is to illuminate how small shifts, such as taking a walk, influence the mandala’s design. We know that substantial changes, such as getting a master’s degree or new certification, can also influence the design. The beauty of a kaleidoscope is the perspective that a mandala is impermanent. We may never see that exact pattern again, yet on the other hand, we are likely to see a new pattern in the next revolution.
Light Sources Matter
When we think about the handling of a kaleidoscope, a key element is a quality light source. As an instrument of reflection, the source of light makes the difference. Bright sunlight makes the colored pieces dance, while a dim lamp seems to make them float softly. Both options are beautiful but deliver different experiences. What illuminates an integrated identity can include friends, mentors, and respected educational leaders. Light can also come from students, peers, a pedagogical book, or self-reflection.
Our goal is to encourage teachers to bring themselves—their whole being—into the classroom. Taking time to breathe and reflect allows teachers to form a rich, strong, multi-faceted, and ever-changing mandala.
Micki M. Caskey is Professor Emerita at Portland State University. As a practitioner and academic, she mentors teachers. She is co-author of A Kaleidoscopic View of Mentoring Dialogue and Practice (2021). Her teaching and research focus on mentoring teacher candidates and teachers.
Karen Weller Swanson is a teacher at Timberview Middle School. As an academic and practitioner, she mentors teachers. She is co-author of A Kaleidoscopic View of Mentoring Dialogue and Practice (2021). Her teaching and research focus on mentoring teacher candidates and teachers.
hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community. A pedagogy of hope. Routledge.
Singh, N. (2021, June 3). Mandala: A blend of history, religion, and psychology. The Mind Fool.