Refuse to Say, “I know I should, but…”

What is the difference between a highly effective teacher and one that simply gets the job done? I would venture it has a lot to do with whether one chooses to use the following phrase or not: “I know I should, but…”   Teaching is hard.  Being highly effective is even more challenging.   As teachers, we must ask ourselves, what is going to make the difference for our students? What attitudes and behaviors do I have that positively or negatively affects students?   Let me preface this by saying again, the demands on teachers is enormous and there are structural challenges that makes our job even harder, such as the out-of-date traditional schedule of having summers off.  There are a multitude of other factors that make teaching hard that we all are well aware of.  But, a highly effective teacher must instead focus on what can we do that makes a difference.

We live in an age where information and research is ever-present and, quite honestly, must be used if we want to be the best we can be for our students.  However, with all the demands of teaching, it may be easier to let oneself utter the words “I know I should, but…”  For example, I know I should read about effective practice, but I don’t have time.   Or, I know I should use formative assessment and differentiate my instruction, but I can only do so much.  The secret, I believe, is to make one small step at a time, instead of letting ourselves be less than who we can be.  For example, for one that says they don’t have time to read.  Can one choose to read just one professional book a year, reading just a few minutes each day?  The answer is yes.  The challenge is to recognize this is a choice.  The more I read about leadership, successful practices in life and work, and about managing life, instead of it managing you, is that you control your priorities and schedule more than you realize.

Another example would be formative assessment.  How does one build continual formative assessment into their schedule and not significant cut time out of their schedule?  Could the answer not be as simple as an exit slip?  Can it not be as simple as saying I will use more thumbs up, thumbs in the middle or thumbs down?  Can it not be as simple as saying twice a week, for five minutes I will evaluate the progress of my students’ learning?

The biggest point here is that yes, teaching (and especially highly effective teaching) is difficult.  But, sometimes, not as difficult as we make it.  My response to myself when I find myself occasionally saying “I know I should, but… is that how could I NOT find time to do a strategy that has been proven to work with students across the country, and sometimes across the world?   The answer is not to completely overhaul your classroom or immerse yourself in education research and then try to implement it to the point that it stresses you out and burns you out. The answer is to choose one small way you can tweak your classroom.  Sometimes, the smallest changes can make a difference. Don’t let yourself say “I know I should, but…”   Our children deserve better.



The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1.  It is written by Grant Wiggins.

“During my nineteen-year career in the classroom, I taught for sixteen years in grades 9 through 12 in three good schools and for several years at the college level at an Ivy League institution.  In all those years, I was never hired on the basis of a real job description or a performance-based test of my abilities. Rather, as in almost all teacher hiring, I responded to a notice about a content-area slot that needed to be filled.  I was never required to directly show that I could teach.  More importantly, perhaps, I was never given a real job description framed in terms of performance standards and learning goals.  I merely had to provide reference in which I was praised and that verified my paperwork was accurate concerning my readiness to handle the job to be filled.”

This excerpt had real meaning for me.  Let me first say this, I think there are many effective teachers out there.  As a teacher myself, I certainly don’t want to go on a teacher-bashing tirade.  It’s important that I don’t  do that because there are so many out there that blame public education; those people often don’t understand the field of education at all and have no clue about how to improve it.  However, being a teacher and a teacher leader, I have seen first-hand some issues that need to be addressed.  One of these issues is real accountability.  We use that word so much in education, but don’t always hold ourselves or each other to the level at which we should.  I think the aforementioned quote by Grant Wiggins is a perfect example.  His experience, unforutnately is what many experience when looking to be hired.  We really don’t have to prove ourselves to a great degree.  And school district rarely give a job description as far as standards and expectations.  The business world is notorious for expecting results. Education does not need to fully function as the business world does, but we have something to learn from the business world in the aspect of accountability and expectations. We need to step it up a notch.