Palmer’s third chapter speaks about paradox in teaching and learning. He describes paradox, overall, as the inner tension experienced in the heart of every teacher, competing and pulling between laughter and pain, joy and sadness, engagement and apathy. He embraces the soul of the strongly : “teaching...can only be expressed as paradoxes”. Push them yet coddle them, inspire them yet give them thinking time, challenge them yet celebrate their established riches. Parker’s description brings into light the true tension in the hearts of teachers, balancing forces of emotion, identity, intellect, and truth.
Palmer discusses six major ideas of paradox in teaching. Palmer’s first idea, suggests space binds and opens. In the classroom,
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Students need to feel safe in a class for learning to occur. Students, however, should not feel safe enough to put their feet up and nap. Our learning environments need electricity. In my class room if students lay their head down I say: “You can sleep at home!” In addition, such behaviours remind me to allow for a quick energizer or stretch break. Overall, creating an engaging, safe environment requires an acute sense of the nature of the students and the ability to know when a stretch break is not needed but required.
From our safety as people, we begin to connect as a group. This is Palmer’s third paradox. Individualism promotes authenticity, creativity, identity, and an ability to express one’s emotions and ideas. Within that, students live and learn as parts of one body. Students hear the collective voice. The motion of the group becomes clear. A collective voice emerges. Amidst the array of people, a teacher clarifies the voice of consensus, to bring ideas together of the common group, finding its concentration and rawness.
Besides the group voice, Palmer discusses the paradox of little and big stories in a learning space. Within the context of a learning experience, students need opportunities to express their own experiences, to meet their “inner teacher”, and connect their stories to new learning challenges. Too much of our small stories can lead us to narcissism , so the balance of large, archetypal