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  • Writer's pictureMike Ward

Have You Ever Heard of the Porcupine Effect?

In casual conversation with a colleague in social studies, I coined a phase that has become known as the "porcupine effect"! Both of us have identified this reaction from students in teaching grades 6-12. Perhaps you have heard of it? Well, maybe not. Let me explain.....

The porcupine effect occurs with students that you typically build great social relationships with but everything goes South the moment you push them past their academic comfort level. When a little porcupine is not challenged in the wild, they are rather cute. However, the moment a challenge is presented, the quills flare up and watch out! But remember, these are students who go out of the way to help you in almost every other endeavor. You coach them, lift weights with them, joke around and know a lot about them. But they just cannot make the jump and trust their skills to guide them though. We as teachers see they have it what it takes but we can also recognize how the retreat to safety become habitual and then becomes a crutch that forever holds them back.

Teacher instincts and past experience tell us that students need to move out of the realm of comfort to challenge their skills academically. Stepping out of your safe comfort zone is the best way to grow. Why can't they trust their skills and try to face the higher level stuff with confidence?

I suppose it would have been a tough sell for me, thinking back nearly 35 years ago to my teen years. However, we do so much more to encourage this leap and put a lot more into building a safe environment to do it. Not to mention a ton of scaffolding leading up to the big jump.

This year I am trying very hard to get students to recognize and face this situation. Have you got any ideas? Would love to share some thoughts with other like-minded professionals regarding the porcupine effect.

Have a great week and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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