Toolboxes and Treasure Chests

a fish tank with blue stones at the bottom, a tree branch on the left, green fake plants in the back, and a treasure chest on the right. There's a snail crawling on the tank. There is a fish in the water behind.

Orientation week for undergraduate and graduate students is over. We start classes tomorrow morning for the fall semester (with multiple pandemics circulating). Lots of us have just facilitated a whole lot of teaching and learning workshops. I would bet a whole lot of money that most instructional facilitators – consultants, designers, developers – used the words “tools” and “toolboxes” frequently. We offer to instructors a toolbox of strategies to use in their classrooms to support their students’ learning.

On the radio on a drive to pick up dinner last night, the interviewee mentioned having a “treasure chest of responses” in regards to their parenting. Not a toolbox. A treasure chest. That shift in word choice changed a lot about my perspective on the relationship of teacher-student and facilitator-instructor.

What do the words evoke?


It holds devices that have specific functions – hammer, screwdriver, level. Each tool serves a unique purpose. Tools enable application of force, pressure, and measurement. A carpenter uses a hammer to pound nails. Running pliers are used to snap glass sheets along a straight line. An instructor uses minute papers to see what students are thinking about at the moment. Tools seem to me to be about the user’s perspective and their desired outcome on the target. There’s an implication that if I choose the wrong tool, I won’t get the desired outcome, and might even damage something.

Treasure chest

It holds valuable and beautiful riches we happen upon in our journeys. Greedy, selfish dragons do hoard them. But treasures are also precious gifts we share and distribute among our relations. They are lessons, wisdom, stories, presence, compassion, and kindness. They are precious, taken care of, and stewarded. They are sometimes magical, offering insights and doorways. Treasure can be about generosity, abundance, and beauty. It also shifts focus to the finder and recipient of the treasure.

What do “instructional toolbox” and “treasure chest of responses” mean to you as an instructor or educational developer (or parent, partner, worker, or friend)? 

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