Why Do We Do That?


I’ve got a little story for you.

It’s Christmas, and it’s the first time the family is having dinner away from the home they grew up in. The cook (not the matriarch of the family) is preparing the roast to cook, and the first thing he does is cut off the ends. He puts it in the pan, it cooks, it’s prepared to be served, and then comes the question. His mom asks, “Why did you cut off the ends?”

A little unsettled, he replies, “That’s what you always did when you cooked it, mom.”

She laughs, and he begins to get a little worried. After her laughter subsides, she shares why: “We only cut the ends off because we didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the whole roast.”

And just like that, the dreaded TTWADDI has reared his head.

Credit goes to Amy Mayer (friEdTechnology) for this memorable image!


Now think about your school. Why do we do things the way that we do them?

With some things, there are good reasons.

Maybe we do things that way because it’s best for kids or because it keeps people safe at school.

But with other things, I imagine that we don’t always have a great reason for what we’re doing. With many things, probably more than we’d like to admit, we’ve never even thought about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I think it’s time that we start thinking seriously about what we’ve not thought about before.

Typically I’m not one to make suggestions without offering solutions, but my goal is a bit different here. I want us to think of what we haven’t been thinking of. I want us to spend a bit of time exploring the gaps in conversations. Yes, eventually it’s important that we come to some conclusions, and I’m invested in that conversation as well. But I think it’s worth taking a step back from time to time and sharing a few ideas about what school could actually look like if we shook off the force of habit that has a strong hold on many of our practices.

So here are a few ideas I’m trying to rethink. I have some thoughts on solutions, but I’ll save those for another day.

Ideas I’m trying to rethink:

  • If we want our teachers to develop best instructional practices, why do we depend so heavily on whole group instruction for professional development?
  • If time out isn’t a good option for discipline in the classroom, why is ISS such a common consequence for behavior?
  • Why are we so hesitant to share our ideas with other educators? Why not connect more with others? Why not try to do that in new ways?
  • If we know that learning is often a messy, non-linear process, why is learning so often divided up into 6 or 7 or 8 period days?
  • If we know that learning happens at varying rates for various students, why are six weeks grading periods so commonly followed?

What are YOU going to rethink? What do we need to reconsider in education? What have we done the same way for too long?

Share your ideas in the comments!

Grades, Learning, and Change

Grades,Learning,& Change

A few weeks ago, a teacher shared with me a question his had given to his students. He asked them,

“If you had the choice for your next grade, would you choose an 88 that you really worked hard for and learned something to earn or 95 where you won’t remember anything after the grade and didn’t learn throughout the process?”

I love the question. Both the question itself and the thoughts I have about the implications of either choice are fascinating to me.

Not surprisingly, many students opted for the 95. They are sophomores in high school, and with a few weeks to go until spring break, I can understand the allure of some free points.

Still, there was much to talk about.

So the teacher and I talked though his reactions and our mutual reactions to the students’ reactions while we watched a soccer game after school. I mentioned several articles and books on standards based grading, dropping grades, and assessing for learning v assessing the learning, and we continued on talking for a while about our hopes for students and our desire for great learning to come from the feedback students receive from teachers. He mentioned that he wanted to follow up with these students, and I committed to touching base with him over the coming weeks.

So a few days ago, I stick my head in to ask if they’ve had their conversation yet. I thought I would get a yes/no answer and maybe a quick recap as class started if they had talked. Instead, he invited me into his classroom.

We talked the entire class period!

I used two recent posts to get the conversation going. The first was an idea that I’d heard before but was succinctly summarized recently by George Couros in this post titled “What Success (and Learning) Really Looks Like.” I recreated the drawings he includes in the post, and we talked for a bit

Demetri Martin on what “success” really looks like (from George Couros' blog)
Demetri Martin on what “success” really looks like (from George Couros’ blog)

This idea resonated with everyone, even the few skeptics who were still a bit unsure about an assistant principal dropping in to talk about turning the grading world on its head.

With that in mind, I decided to share this image “Shifting the Grading Mindset Starts With Our Words” by Starr Sackstein that compares the language of grading with the language of assessment.

From Starr Sackstein’s blog, “Shifting the Grading Mindset Starts With Our Words”

This is where I really saw students begin to see the value in considering this. Many who if they were honest probably responded out of convenience for themselves initially with their teacher and even with me when presented with the “struggle to learn for the 88 or get the easy 95 and learn nothing” choice seemed to really understand the power of this.

To be honest, they really impressed me.

I expected that they would come around eventually (probably out of overconfidence in myself and the teacher, right?), but I didn’t expect it to come so quickly. Students mentioned their desire to take tough classes but the fear that accompanies that. They mentioned the pressure to succeed (from themselves, their peers, their parents, their coaches). Two students asked pointed questions about how a no grades classroom would work with eligibility for sports and extracurriculars.

Each of those questions have answers–though I am convinced by some more than others. But then they asked the question that has stuck with me the most: “Why don’t teachers do this?”

I was struck by their honesty and their enthusiasm for something that seemed so different from their normal and something that would daily ask more of them as learners. But more than that, I quickly realized that the reasons students might be reluctant to change are similar to the reasons the adults might also be reluctant.

Grades have their issues, but the process is predictable and consistent. Though the game doesn’t always measure what we’d like, it’s one students know the rules for. For teachers (and for me), I don’t always love the idea of something entirely new when I know I’m going to be evaluated on it. Teachers likely feel the same way. Grades are established and safe. Shifting is risky.

Three Takeaways From My Conversation

  1. Students will rarely rise above our level of expectation. If we expect them to be compliant, they will, but they aren’t going to try to push that ceiling on their own. At all levels, leaders need to be modeling what a reflective learner looks like. Doing so opens up valuable lines of communication between learners of all ages and breaks down barriers between positions and titles on campus.
  2. Change and learning require vulnerable conversations. I’m thankful for this, but it can be a barrier to our progress. In front of those students, I had to admit that the same reason that my reason for not pushing on this topic in a wider fashion is likely quite similar to the reason teachers aren’t always keen on pushing a tough to implement idea–it’s risky. I like to look like I have it together; taking risks doesn’t always do that. Still, it’s time we had those vulnerable conversations to push this forward.
  3. Success in reimagining assessment isn’t going to happen in a linear fashion. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was nice and neat to present? That’s not reality. Instead, our lived experience is going to follow the messy path that Demetri Martin depicts (and I think even his drawing is optimistic in that the change continues in a generally positive direction throughout it’s journey). As much as that’s not something I love to engage with, it’s a great (and necessary) reminder that our path through change is not one that is without risk at any level. Instead, it is one filled with excitement (and a bit of treachery along the path) and one that is worth effort!

I’ll leave you with a few questions. Leave me a comment to help push this conversation forward in a way we can share!

  • How satisfied are you with your/your school’s grading practices?
  • What would ideal grading practices look like to you?
  • What is one thing you could change to move toward that ideal?
  • What makes talking about the shift from grading to assessment worth it?
  • Any tips for the those interested in the transition?

Grades,Learning,& Change

10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16

10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16

I recently had the chance to engage with so many influential educators at TCEA in Austin, and I have a lot floating around in my head that’s waiting to find a landing place. That conference is definitely one where part of the challenge is managing all the new ideas and considering what challenges you’ll accept before planning them all out over a period of time.

Since I find myself in the thick of wading through a sea of good ideas, I thought I would blog about it. I’ve picked ten ideas that stood out to me. These ten ideas stand out as concepts I’ll continue to come back to in order to push my thinking, especially with regard to technology in the classroom.

Admittedly, a lot could be done to unpack each of these ideas, but rather than sharing a series of mini posts, I simply wanted to share the big ideas that have stuck with me from my learning last week. So, here’s what’s on my mind lately.

“Our kids will not know the difference between a social media site and a website. It will all be the same.” – Kasey Bell


“You may be sitting next to the smartest person you don’t know.” – Steven Anderson


“We use social media for conversations because that’s how we learn.” – Steven Anderson


“Twitter chats precede faculty meeting conversation by 12-18 months.” – Tom Whitby


“Your comfort zone should never impede the learning of your students.” – Tom Whitby


“Our technology decisions should be based on education and learning, not on business sense.” – George Couros


“Quit telling people to think out of the box. It’s how you innovate inside the box that counts.” – George Couros


“In education, how often does ‘data driven’ mean we become ‘weakness focused?'” – George Couros


“Isolation is now a choice educators make.” – George Couros


“The higher up we go in the traditional hierarchy, the more people we serve; not the other way around.” – George Couros


So, there it is. There’s plenty to ponder, but I’m enjoying thinking through these ideas and considering how we can change to push student learning to a greater extent.

Help push my thinking. What do you agree with here? Disagree with? How are you making change happen based on these ideas?

Let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you!

We Don’t Have a Presentation #TCEA16


Heading into my time at TCEA, I knew that I was looking forward to a session called “Show How Awesome You Are and Tell Your Story with Social Media.” It seemed right up my alley. Though I feel confident in my ability to start that task and manage it well right now, this is area where I’m always looking to improve. As if the topic weren’t enough of a draw, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) was scheduled to present and Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) joined him.

With such a high interest topic being presented by two educators who wrote the book on the topic (literally),  my nerdy educator heart was so excited to hear from them!

They delivered in a big way, but not for the reasons I expected.

As I’m getting ready to receive the knowledge, Anderson turned off the screen behind him and told us that he wasn’t going to give a presentation.

Instead, we were going to have a conversation.

It was so validating to hear someone who is an undisputed expert in his field say that there was such great value in learning together through conversations. Think about what that statement is saying.

  1. It orients leaders so that they are learners alongside everyone else participating.
  2. It reminds us that learning can be messy and still be successful.
  3. It reiterates that we don’t have to have everything perfectly laid out to push our learning forward.
  4. It values the people with whom we connect (and makes us dependent on one another to truly move the conversation forward).

It’s such a simple idea, but it’s also pretty revolutionary.

Our ability to change how we learn is deeply tied to our ability to help other learners change their norms. If we want change for our students, if we want to challenge our teachers to do something different, if we want to do something different–we have to be willing to start making shifts like this.

The more I thought about it, the more I remembered that that’s what I’m doing when I use social media to grow as an educator. Though I’m quite comfortable learning in that style on Twitter, I still expect to be talked at for much of my face to face professional learning.

The reality is that we all have something valuable to add in many of the conversations that are one way in education today. We cannot fail to consider a model that would open us up to hear from those around us.  As Steven Anderson put it, “You may be sitting next to the smartest person you don’t know.” Ask him or her to share.


It’s worth mentioning that I’m not advocating for an across the board move to this model. I saw some of the best educational presentations from incredible educators who left me with so much to consider and rethink as I head back to reality. But the conversations I experienced show another way that we have to consider, and I’m motivated to empower others through similar experiences.

The Questioner and the Doubter

doubter questioner

I’m all for healthy discontent. I think it’s helpful for us to think through and rethink through ideas. It’s often how innovation happens. It’s often how creativity happens. But there’s a real difference in being someone who is seeking to bring about positive change in a situation and being someone who is a curmudgeon.

So, what exactly do I mean?

Let me explain with an example from literature.

In Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited (which is excellent and well worth your time for more than just these few lines), two characters are engaged in a dialogue. The first mentions to the other, “I aint a doubter. But I am a questioner.” The other responds, skeptically, saying, “What’s the difference?” I love the way the first man replies: “Well, I think a questioner wants the truth. A doubter wants to be told there aint no such thing.”


I love that distinction–that the questioner wants the truth. That’s so important to the way we approach problems, the way we try to resolve issues, the ways we try to move progress forward.

But it’s something we miss so often, even with the best of intentions.

That’s a problem to me.

We can’t have the hard work of many undone by a few dissenting doubters, and it’s our job as leaders (regardless of title) to help push people to become deeper questioners and infrequent doubters.

Here’s a few ways we can make sure we’re on the right side of this distinction.

A questioner is driven by wonder, but a doubter is blinded by limits.

Ask more questions. Think about what could be. Consider that biggest limit–the one that everyone knows about, the one that everyone thinks can’t change, the one that everyone believes is holding them back. Ask people what they would do if that obstacle were removed. Ask others to think up ways to creatively work inside the box while that road block persists. And ask others to commit to thinking of ways that you can see past the road block together.

A questioner knows he does not know; a doubter assumes he knows what can be known.

A doubter loves to try to paint questioners into a corner using a bunch of fast talking and quick questions (almost to the point that people begin to believe that this doubter may know something we all don’t know). More often than not, that doubter is stuck on the idea that we have to have things–all things… every last little thing–figured out before moving forward. This can happen so much so that the doubter feels petrified of moving forward without total, 100% certainty of the course of action and destination deviating from the current path will require. A questioner knows he does not know, and that sits okay with him. He’s pursuing a solution, thirsty for an answer; but that doesn’t cause him to dwell on the few gaps in current understanding.

A questioner seeks greater understanding, while a doubter discounts what he cannot understand.

A questioner genuinely wants to know and understand more, and at times, it’s not even for any purpose in particular. Many times, the questioner’s pursuit of new knowledge gives him a wide body of knowledge to which he can compare future solutions. It serves as a broad, varied sounding board for future ideas. As a questioner pursues the unknown, he embraces struggle and acknowledges his limits. A doubter’s faith is in himself. He fails to see the need to learn without a particular end in mind, and his perspective is closed not only by his attitude, but also by the shrunken scope of solutions that results from it.

Beyond anything the questioner can do alone, each questioner I know believes that there is such great power in the collective. Those questioners know the value of sharing their learning, asking big questions, connecting to others, and listening carefully as others share likewise. They spend more time listening and less time talking, and yet those with whom they interact end up rejuvenated and energized after their interactions.

So, take a few minutes before you click off to the rest of the internet and think about it. Are you a doubter or a questioner? How do you become more of what you want?

Got a Question?


Think about the question you’re thining that you’re not asking. You’re not alone. We all have questions we’re wondering about, things that can’t be asked (or at least haven’t been asked yet).

What are those things? Why can’t we talk about them?

Why not position ourselves as the leaders who are willing to ask those questions?

I’ll be the first to admit that these won’t be easy, breezy conversations. They’ll be tough. But they’ll be intentional, and people will notice. We don’t have to get it perfect to be doing this right. What we can’t have is a mentality on our campuses that allows us and others to exist without having to ever face challenges.

They’re how we grown. They stretch us, reshape us, and refine our thoughts.

So, what are your questions? Write them down. Yes, now. Take a minute .(Seriously, here’s a timer. Use it.)

Two things to wrap up.

  1. What are you going to do with your tough question?
  2. How will you let others with tough questions know it’s ok to ask them (even without, maybe even especially without, an answer)?

Hawk Tackling (a disruptive innovation)

Embrace Challenges (4)

The Seattle Seahawks, though they are having a down year this season, are known throughout the NFL as having a impressive, innovative defense. Anytime someone is exceptionally good at something, it’s worth looking at what they’re doing to innovate and excel at such a high level. The Seahawks are no different.

The Seahawks have adopted what they term “Hawk Tackling” for their defensive players. Essentially, their players tackle differently than those on nearly every other team in that they don’t lead head first; instead, they tackle like rugby players do (who play their intense game with no head protection).

Other coaches are starting to notice how disruptively innovative Hawk Tackling is. Here’s a brief video (30 seconds) that’s worth watching to get a sense of what Hawk Tackling is all about.

(Click here to read the article this video came from.)

NFL players (much to the detriment of their health it seems research is now showing) have tackled the same way for years and years. Introducing Hawk Tackling is certainly a disruptive innovation on football fields across America.

After seeing this, I’m left wondering what practices we have in place that might need to be reevaluated.

What are we doing that could have long term negative impacts on our students? What do we need to reconsider? What are those sacred topics–the ones we can’t touch for whatever (usually not that great of a) reason?

It’s worth our time to crack those ideas open so that we can make sure they pass a check with our vision for the students with whom we interact.

Before you drill down to the campus/classroom level, leave me a comment about the areas you think we as educators need to rethink. I’d love to see your perspective, and I’m sure it will push my thinking. I have a couple of ideas myself, but I’ll share those in the comments soon.

Teaching Self-Control

TeachingSelf-ControlIn high school, I ran cross country and track, and during those experiences, I learned the value of pushing myself nearly  to the point of muscle failure. Our season ran from September through November (if we ran well enough to advance past the district level to the regional or state meets). I and my teammates spent a lot of time thinking about how to train in the smartest ways so that we would have enough stamina to outrun others on race day.

I loved it. The guys were great, running was great, and processing through how to each race was far more complicated than the “get out there and run as fast as you can” approach that some, maybe even many, took.

Any runner who has spent any time trying to get better has learned certain truths. It doesn’t take long to realize you get tired as you continue to exert at a higher and higher level for longer and longer. And all it takes is one race where you go out too quickly to remember that a smart racer will be smart about when he conserves energy and when he chooses to push the pace. Any runner knows that the best way to improve as a runner is to spend a lot of time running, getting better, and learning recognize and push your limits.

What I realize now (thanks to a keynote by Dr. Roy Baumeister at the Learning and the Brain Conference) is that those efforts were really an exercise in self-control. In fact, Baumeister says that self-control is like a muscle in the same way I considered running (ok, he may have said that first, but the ideas still apply to what I remember of distance running). Specifically, Baumesiter said that self-control is like a muscle. It gets tired after exertion, it wants to conserve energy at times (often so that energy is retained for future use), and that exercise increases strength.

What he had to say snapped into even sharper focus when he added that “Resisting temptations takes something away from our ability to persevere through the next challenge.”

TeachingSelf-Control (3)

Think about the factors that can impact a student’s ability to demonstrate self-control. We often think that self-control is a trait when reality is that it is a skill to be developed over time.

But that’s not how we always think.

We think some kids can behave and some kids can’t. Or maybe we think that some kids can behave and others just persistently choose not to (usually just to drive us crazy, right?).

I’m convinced that Baumeister is right. Self-control is like a muscle, and the more we test it, the closer it gets to failure.

So, what do we do?

I don’t have an answer for every student in every situation (and neither does anyone at the conference I’m at–which is both frustrating and reassuring all at once), but I’m wrestling with how to teach that to students. I really like the two new ideas that Baumeister provided. I’d like to share them here and see what we can think of about how these ideas apply to our efforts to teach self-control to our students.


First, he mentioned an article from the Wall Street Journal article  about Odell Beckham Jr.’s decision to not only keep from wearing out his dominant right hand, but also grow strength in that left hand by completing everyday tasks with it. “The Secret Left-Handed Life of Odell Beckham” (link) is a great example of someone who is wanting greater control of a part of himself. It’s worth noting that he is as good a receiver as the NFL has right now, so it’s not like he’s doing this because he can’t keep up on his own. He’s wanting to get better, and I can’t wait to find ways to package this for student viewing.

Part of me wishes he had a list of things we could to to help our students “use the other hand” to develop more resilience, but I think I’m happy the question is still out there. I’m still mulling this over myself, and I’m benefiting from the thought process.

Baumeister’s other example that really stuck with me centers around this image:


Here, Odysseus (or Zeus) is subjecting himself to temptation. Sure, he’s putting some constraints in place to help him keep controlled (tying himself to the mast of the ship), but there’s a better way. In Baumeister’s words, “Those with self control don’t do what Odysseus did here; they take a different way home.”

I love the image and how plain it makes the risks of the temptations that come at us.


The more I think about it, the more I think I’m convinced by Roy Baumeister’s compelling comment that there are similarities between working out a physical muscle and working out our self-control. That part is easy to nod along with, but the implications are significant.

Every coach knows that athletes will be pushed and will sometimes fail. Is that how we treat students who are being stretched in their ability to demonstrate self-control?


But that’s the task at hand. Teenagers experience a surge in brain plasticity during adolescence, and it’s our job to make sure we are helping stretch, grow, and cultivate students’ ability to demonstrate greater and greater self-control.


Let’s collaborate on this. How will you begin to put this into practice? What ways can you think of that help students to “use the other hand” or avoid the sirens on campus? I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear what you think.

Leave a comment with an idea or some inspiration for others who are working to help teach self-control.

3 Ways To Embrace Vulnerability

3 Ways To Embrace Vulnerability (1)There’s a lot of buzz in education right now about vulnerability. Many are talking about how it impacts leaders and their ability to connect with others, and more are talking about the trust that’s required for school wide risk taking to become a reality.

If you ask me, we’re starting the right conversations.

One of my favorite lines that I’ve come across as I’ve navigated the vulnerability/risk taking conversation is by Brené Brown. From her perspective (and more and more, I’m becoming a believer and adopting this mindset as well), “Vulnerability is not weakness, rather it is our most accurate measurement of courage and the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

Hers is a pretty bold claim. Think about what’s really at stake in that line. She’s saying that three of those things that seem non-negotiable for student success–innovation, creativity, and change–they’re an impossibility without embracing vulnerability.

So, it’s good that we’re talking about it.

My worry is that when it comes to vulnerability, we’re getting better at talking about it than at actually living it out. It’s certainly easier to talk a good vulnerability game than it is to live (or start) a life lived vulnerably.

With that in mind, here are three ways we can embrace vulnerability, not just as an idea, but as a week-in, week-out practice at school.


We all like to think we are open, available, and easy to talk to. More often than not, though, I’m betting we give ourselves more benefit of the doubt here than we should.

Inviting some criticism shows that we really believe that getting better involves having hard conversations, and asking others on campus for their feedback in those moments values the feedback and perspective of the others with whom we often interact.

Asking for feedback without giving any parameters is likely to yield either overly general feedback or overly specific feedback. Give people a couple of choices or maybe even give them a template to work with to help direct their feedback. That also helps ease toward the deep end of vulnerability without having to open up areas of ourselves where we’re less than comfortable venturing in those first conversations.


Putting your money where your mouth is by taking on something new–especially something that’s a challenge, that might not work–lets you really indicate that it’s okay for others to tackle that idea that maybe only has a 50/50 shot of working.

A lot of educators probably bury ideas because they’re not sure how to work through something that might fail. Your work can serve as a great model (one that you don’t have to nail down the first time; it can be a work in progress, too) for others who are looking for someone who’s willing to take on a new idea, work through the mess, and come out better for it on the other side.


Mistakes are inevitable. We have to be willing to own them and use them as the point of departure for productive growth in ourselves. That’s an idea that’s easy to nod your head along to, but it’s tougher to live that out.

In those time where we make tough decisions that impact others and things don’t turn out, I think it’s important for others to hear us and see us take responsibility. That’s not a popular narrative for most. Strength is all about covering up mistakes and appearing flawless and faultless for many. If we really want to bring people together and foster the kind of campus culture that brings people together rather than pushing people apart, then we have to be willing to have take this sort of action at every level of leadership on campus.

Because It’s Worth It…

Not only is there far too much on the line for us to blink past the necessity of living vulnerable lives in our schools, but there is also so much up side in taking on even just one of these challenges. Neglecting to pursue this is a recipe for stagnation and regression.

It’s not easy. It won’t always be much fun. But the work to open yourself to others, regardless of your role on campus, makes you a leader.

The Right Stories

Let's talk about (5)

We like a good story.

No, not just me (which could very well be the case in some situations for this former English teacher). We all do. Stories drive us to do more, want more, and achieve more. They’re how we relax, how we inspire, and often, they’re how we find our place.

Sometimes, though, I worry we buy in to some stories that aren’t true as educators. They sound true, and if we’re not careful, we’ll use them as excuses or they can even become ways we beat ourselves up about our performance (or seeming lack thereof). Within each of them, I think there’s a kernel of truth, but when that warps into fiction, it has the power to bring guilt and shame onto us.

This semester, I’ve been reassured of this power held within stories; unfortunately, that reassurance has been brought to light as I’ve caught myself believing three particular stories about myself as an educator.

Like many educators this year, I’ve put plans in place that have failed, I’ve made missteps with students and teachers, and I’ve had to ask for help. Not all the time. Not even each week. But more than I’d like.

Like you’d assume, this has not been really fun for me.

I like to have things together for myself (because I’ve told myself I can help others better if I’m together–or if I can at least make it look like I’m together–I’ll leave that for another post though). But with each step, I’ve come closer to telling myself a story that’s true. One that’s a more accurate reflection of where I’m growing and where I need to grow.

I’m hopeful you’re able to recognize those places in you, and I’m hopeful that we can walk along the path toward growth together.


Investing in each student’s success is a great way to spend our time and effort. Even with good intentions, we could do far, far worse. Still, I think we sometimes fall into the trap of taking the blame when students choose to walk away from our best efforts.

Do I believe that great educators put every opportunity in place for students to be successful? Yes. Do I believe that great educators are invested in the relationships they maintain with their students? Yes. Do I believe that too often, educators take is too personally when students don’t take every opportunity that’s put in front of them? Yes.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find great educators who are satisfied with just helping most (but not all) of the students in their classes, but I do think that at times, educators begin to think that they can make every student be successful. This isn’t limited to academic success either.


I also think that great educators inadvertently begin to believe that with the right experience, the educators who have this down (you know, those who have arrived, those who are pros at this) can make their students to behave.

Great educators certainly have more than a basic handle on classroom management. Their skills are extensive, they’re not easily rattled, they never escalate with students, and they can deescalate students with ease.

Still, their best laid plans can and do fail.

When they do, my worry is that others in the building start to look at a educator’s interactions with a student (nearly always a situation where the onlooker does not know what’s led up to that moment) and make a judgment on the educator based on the student’s behavior. I also worry that educators in this situation start to feel like a failure because he or she can’t make change happen as fast or to as great an extent as preferred.

I don’t believe that it’s the educator’s responsibility to make his or her students behave. You just can’t force them to if they’re bent on not doing it.

Here’s what I do believe: it’s a educator’s job to teach expectations for student behavior and reteach in response to gaps in student achievement. I see great educators putting innovative plans in place all the time to do everything they can do draw students toward the best choice. But even the best plans can’t make students comply (if they do force compliance, then while you feel you’ve won the short game, you’ve only demanded compliance; no transformation has happened). As much as we want it for our students, students have the great privilege and responsibility of stepping in the right direction with any given choice.

Still, at times, all of our tricks seem to fail, and we’re left wondering what to do now that we’ve tried everything.


When the plans we put in place don’t work, educators need to know when to call in extra support.

We tend to value those who are self sufficient and those who seem to not need the help of others. I don’t think this is unique to education, but somehow, despite what we know about the value of creativity and the help that is derived from connecting, collaborating, and interacting with others, the person who doesn’t seem to need any help often seems to be the one who is doing it right.

But teaching is messier than that. We need help to work through the toughest parts of the job (especially those that deal with the complexities of relationships). After all, we are pretty complicated.

I can’t think of a stage of an educator’s career where this gets easy. A new teacher wants to get in and prove he can do this job. A teacher with a few year’s experience wants to show he’s learned from the missteps of the past few years. Teachers with more experience might wonder how others would react to an experienced teacher who can’t handle a particular situation. And teachers who are already in coaching roles, no matter the level of formality involved, are the ones who are supposed to have figured this out, right?

Here, my worry is that in an effort to save face, we miss opportunities to serve each other and grow together as professionals.

The reality is that we don’t often love talking through mistakes and shortcomings, but we end up growing through that process in marked and impactful ways. Ways that tie directly to improving our work with students. Ways that make deep impact on the already fantastic work that educators are constantly invested in.


With so many potholes in the streets we’re traveling, I’d like to end with a few suggestions about how to make quick changes to make sure you are telling yourself the right story.

First, I think we have to acknowledge that recognizing that we need growth is not a flashing red light that should alert others that something is wrong. Recognizing our weak spots should be part of our professional process of improvement, but that’s easier said than done.

I’ve seen teachers use a “favorite no” or a “favorite mistake” as a point of departure for helping students overcome common mistakes. (Here’s a great video on the topic.) I wonder what the impact would be if we had a teacher version of this practice. What questions would it open up? What common ground would people establish? What solutions could come from those collaborative conversations?

I think finding unity in those things that we collectively need growth in could make a huge impact on developing a culture where risks are embraced and where a community of professionals can try on new ideas in a safe environment.

Where risk is welcomed and vulnerability is embraces, the right story writes itself.

One quick caveat: I’ve presented this as an antidote of sorts for the educators who work hard to serve students well but might still be overly critical of themselves or others. The concessions I’m offering in response to the worries mentioned here are not at all licence to do things half way or give up before doing your very best for the students you serve.