I started out my teaching career at a run. I wanted to change the world, I wanted my students to change the world. I had just spent a few years learning about “best practice” (more on that later) and I was ready to roll. I grew frustrated with coworkers and school leaders who kept telling me to slow down, kept voicing concern that I was trying to push others too fast, that people “need to crawl before they walk and walk before they run” and that I should just accept that. I did not want to accept that so I powered on alone and felt like my students where doing fine at my pace with my teaching style. I still look back on my early conversations and feedback that I scoffed at that I was just going “too fast”. In retrospect I see the advice and when applied to the world of education I can’t help but agree. I was going too fast. I think about the gym, too fast causes injury, unexpected change causes injury. We do things slowly, new lifts, new weights, gradual change and yet at times we expect education to change over night.
This year I have approached things differently. Scaffolded more, taken time for the feedback that matters, from my students. We have made gradual changes that require small adjustments along the way. Change is measured not immediate.
In Education we see a lot of calls for change. It is either “we need to focus on inquiry and voice and choice because kids hate the current system” or “we need to go back to the basics because kids are not learning anything”. Over the years I have learned that the single most damaging thing to a classroom, to instruction or to a school culture is extremes. Very few people in the grand scheme lie in the extremes. I think the same can be said for our students. A small portion need the full freedom of inquiry or project based learning to fully realize their potential. Others do need that traditional structure. The bulk lie somewhere in-between. When we only teach to the edges, when we allow our own preferences to guide our practice, instead of looking at the individual needs of our students, we might be missing out on success for the majority of them.
Choice is a term thrown around a lot. As I reflect on projects I have done in the past, with all these different options I have given myself a pat on the back because “WOW look at all the choice I have offered” or in book clubs and the piles of titles I have available. So much choice. But what I am leaving out it seems at times is the traditional and the transition from set parameters to open exploration. I think about those videos of the Beagles that have been in a lab and never touched grass. When freed the handlers open up their kennels but at first the dogs won’t step out, they tentatively measure the risk. They slowly step out and still slowly explore these new surroundings.
I think teaching needs to be a bit more focused on that piece of the journey. Less on the dramatic change and more on the progress. I was talking to Julie (my awesome New Principal of her elementary wife) today who said to focus on positive steps forward rather than the time it is taking. It was a moment to reflect, going too fast, trying to run before we walk.
Not all of our students are ready for dramatic changes to how things are taught. If we power through and drag them along the way we are doing the opposite of our intentions.
Some are not ready to run. It is ok to walk. Best practices are always developed from learning and building on previous “best practices” Innovation takes time to accomplish but also time to get use to. Balance is key and respecting the journey of all learners should be our focus.