Your classroom is not a cooking show

There’s something really powerful about demystifying learning in front of students. If we’re serious about the power of ideas like grit and growth mindset, this demystification process is a prerequisite for increased student success. But how do we do that?

Planning is an incredibly important part of teaching, but in hindsight, I think I often spent too much time planning in the wrong direction. As a teacher, especially as a young teacher, I thought I was successful if I could make my students think that I knew the answer to every question imaginable and that it was easy for me (undoubtedly baggage from growing up thinking that I was smart, not that I worked hard to be smart). As a teacher, I spent a lot of time in the name of “preparing” that was really me investing in protecting myself and finding my identity in places I shouldn’t have been looking for it.

Whether you take this as far as I did or not, I think many educators value this idea of having everything together so much that it may be hurting our chances with students.

We all know that learning is messy. If we’re failing to show our students this part of the learning process, we’re failing them.

Maybe teachers are scared off by this because of the vulnerability required. That could definitely be the case. I think what deters more teachers might be this fear of the unknown. What’s going to happen when I get into showing my students how I learn? What if I get stuck revising a passage in front of 5th graders? What if I can’t conjure up the right phrasing for a particular sentence in front of freshmen in high school?

Not far behind those questions is this: What will they think?

I don’t mean to ignore that question (it’s a huge one and one worth investigating more at another time). Still, does what students (or the teacher down the hall or the admin who’s a little more in the box than necessary) think matter more than the fact that students are learning how to think? For some reason, this wins out more than it should. Why?

Why do we let what people might think get in the way of helping our students think?

Maybe we’ve never looked at the upside of bringing students alongside the expert in the room (or giving ourselves freedom from the exhaustion associated with feeling like you should be the expert in every room we enter). Because we like to control things in life, most of us don’t immediately think of the positives associated with risks as we see them coming. It’s not our default, and the benefits can be so easy to doubt away at times. For many, we’ve just never thought about what’s the best that could happen if we made a change.

Maybe better than anything I can tell you, these two videos help drive home my point. The first shows the power of bringing in someone who might be a disruption and discovering he has impressive talent. The second demonstrates the power of joining in as a participant with students.

If your classroom looks more like a cooking show (you know, with each step perfectly measured out in impossible to replicate steps for your audience), it’s time to consider embracing a little vulnerability with your students. If you want to help students struggle through their learning, you’re going to have to show them a model of a learner struggling through something with a little grit.

Teachers–if students need to struggle through the writing process, you’d better be struggling through the writing process in front of them.

Administrators–if your teachers need to be using best practices, you’d better be using them in you professional development.

Get in there and struggle alongside the other learners on your campus!