Monkeying with Productivity Metaphors

I was recently reading part of Cal Newport’s helpful book on A World without Email. In one part, Newport analyzes our complex, evolutionary relationships to Baboons and productivity while trying to work with our email challenges. I couldn’t help but remember another far less philosophical book on productivity that I read in the 90s: The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken, Jr., and Hall Burrows. The monkey metaphor represents any given project and still helps me think productively and humorously about our work as teachers and students. (No actual monkeys were harmed in the drafting and launching of this blog post.) 

If a monkey is a project, then the workers are in charge of the care and feeding of the monkeys. Likewise, leaders and managers are responsible for making sure that the workers take care of the monkeys.

(Image obtained from Pixaby.)

However, there’s a tendency for workers to transfer the care and feeding of monkeys to the leaders and managers. Chaos ensues. (Things can start to look a bit like the original Jumanji movie.) When I was first teaching in the 90s, I was struck by how relevant the metaphor and related analogy was for thinking about the students as knowledge workers.

I was thinking about how students should take care of their own learning through daily responsibilities, projects, and reflection. I was also noticing how many students often would try to shift the work of thinking and learning to me as a teacher. I’d find humorous ways to signal that they need to take care of their own monkeys.

Needless to say, employing the monkey metaphors and analogies with my students opened up the door to all sorts of unintended connections that one would expect from teenage students, and I won’t discuss those here.

But a few decades later, educators and other stakeholders are still wanting students to grow up as responsible individuals who take care of projects and miscellaneous duties. The metaphor is still memorable and humorous. 

But there’s a dark side to the monkey metaphors as I think of the countless school improvement projects I’ve worked with or have just been aware of. Unfortunately, they come. They dwindle. They die. School improvement is a bit like a giant monkey graveyard of forgotten and neglected projects. I seldom hear the equivalent of autopsy reports–just silence. 

Such is the nature of decades of school improvement projects, ranging from cute little monkey-sized ones to the King Kong-ish versions. 

And I think that sometimes it’s just about bananas.

(Image obtained from Snappy Goat.)

& It is clearly time for spring break!

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