Professional Development

Reflecting on Practice

Metaphors can be powerful reflective tools that allow us to see common everyday experiences in a new light.

Metaphors have a compactness about them, packing lots of information into a small space, like that of our climate metaphor. They also have the ability to go below the surface and hit at a deeper level of knowing. Last of all, metaphors are particularly vivid and powerful because they arouse emotions in us.

Too often educators use violent metaphors to describe their work. "We're in the trenches." "We're on the front lines of the battle." "School is a prison." These violent metaphors can be self-fulfilling prophecies that impact our relationship with students and the tone of classroom management in our classrooms.

Let's listen as teachers introduce some of their metaphors that come from places of caring, nurturing and hope.

First, middle school teacher Melodi Patterson introduces her personal teaching metaphor — that of a tailor.

Look For:

  • What is Melodi's metaphor and what are some elements of it?
  • Melodi's metaphor is tailoring, but how would it work if the metaphor was not the tailor, but the one being fitted?
  • How do you think the metaphor applies to classroom management?
  • Can you extend her metaphor deeper?

Next, listen as high school teacher Marcos Torres describes his personal metaphor for teaching — a greenhouse.

Look For:

  • How does Marcos frame his metaphor so that it embraces a global community?
  • When you think of a nursery greenhouse, what do you imagine the plants are experiencing?
  • How do you think the metaphor applies to classroom management?
  • Can you extend Marco’s metaphor deeper?

Go Deeper:


Engage in a 10-minute free-write exploring a metaphor that captures your approach to teaching. Consider sharing your reflections with Learning for Justice by email at or by mail: Learning for Justice, 400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36104.

As a Group Activity

Introduce the activity to the group — that you're going to explore diverse approaches to teaching through metaphors. Allow participants at least 10 minutes to engage in a free-write. At the end of the writing period, ask volunteers to share their metaphors. Show the videos of Patterson and Torres as examples or as supplements to the groups' metaphors. Write each metaphor on a large sheet of paper or a chalkboard where everyone can see them. As a group, discuss:

  • What emotions are conveyed by our metaphors — hope, fear, frustration, joy?
  • What do the metaphors tell us about our relationships with students? Do we approach students from a place of bounty, a place of deficit?
  • What do the metaphors reveal about the ways students' experiences might differ from classroom to classroom?
  • How do you feel about your individual metaphor as you look at it within those of your colleagues? Would you change your metaphor? Keep it the same? Why?

Ready Resources:

Metaphorically Speaking

Explore a slideshow on teaching metaphors by Ron Marken.

Illustration of person holding and looking at laptop.

New Virtual Workshops Are Available Now!

Registrations are now open for our 90-minute virtual open enrollment workshops. Explore the schedule, and register today—the first workshop begins October 16th and space is limited!

Sign Up!