You Say You Want a Resolution… (apologies to Lennon/McCartney)
As our school communities return after the holidays there is a question about resolutions. Some of you may have engaged in this over the holidays (and may have already lost your resolve!). I checked the online dictionary for some definitions and came across these:
Resolution – a firm decision to do or not to do something.
New Year’s Resolution – a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life.
When I put my focus to the educators I know and work with, it is readily evident that they have desks that are overflowing. So I’m going to urge you to resolve to stop doing something that is current, familiar practice but might not be producing results or might actually be a “time suck”.
In a recent blog post (https://www.tomhierck.com/2018/08/12/familiarity-breeds-content/) I talked about how familiarity breeds content (yes the play on words was intentional) and often results in educators doing the easy, but ineffective, instead of the challenging that leads to growth. This comfort comes from years of practice. After all, as Smith, Fisher, and Frey (2015) point out, “…we began our on-the-job training as teachers when we were five years old. Our beliefs about school, classroom management, and discipline have been shaped by decades of experience, starting in kindergarten.”
I know I started my teaching career with certain notions in mind. Beginning my career as the very junior member of a very senior Science department compounded this further. Policy had been established around grading, reporting, and student deportment. I followed along engaging in practice I didn’t agree with but not able to disagree with – until I found my voice.
That came after I gathered evidence. If we believed giving students a zero improved their academic potential or their on-time completion rates, we should have had evidence that validated that belief. Instead, every indicator trended the opposite way. Students did not get smarter, more compliant, or more confident as learners because I had a big red pencil perfectly designed for making circles. Resolving to stop doing things that weren’t working gave me the time to engage in those things that truly had the potential to work.
Shifting from things that were easy (and I might have been competent at) to things that were hard (and I might struggle with as I built my competency) required a heavy dose of two key elements: courage and vulnerability. I needed the courage to STOP doing what wasn’t working even if it was commonplace and easy (it took no skill to draw a red circle and deflate a student). I needed the vulnerability to accept that adopting new, more effective practice would involve some struggle and a willingness to learn from colleagues. I also needed a leader who would support me, as I got better at what WE knew was the best practice in ensuring all students learned and grew.
So as the calendar year shifts and the school year continues, take a look at what you are doing. Are there things that no longer have the positive impact they once did? Are there things that never had a positive impact but were familiar? Are there things you would like to try but can’t imagine one more thing on your overflowing desk? Clear the clutter; let go of the easy but ineffective. Resolve to be that teacher you described in your first interview.
Welcome back and welcome them back.
Well said Tom. Making changes in any educational system can be difficult. As many new teachers come into school systems, any school system, they can be quickly co-opted by the status quo, as often the status quo is very familiar and comfortable to them because it was their lived experience as a student, as you allude to. As a school leader, I have recently seen new teachers reject new forms of assessment practice, just to mention one topic, because they were uncomfortable with these new approaches, primarily because it wasn’t what they experienced when they were a student. Hopefully, as systems continue to evolve and make use of research-based educational evidence, which is a positive trend, removing ineffective teaching practice will become more common place.
I am reminded of a story I once heard about a young mom who would cut the end off of the ham before placing it into the roaster. When her mother asked why she did that, the daughter replied that this is what you used to do mom. The mother responded that she would do this so that the ham would fit into the roaster. Past practice needs to be evaluated in the light of new educational research. There is so much more known about how children learn and what motivates them to do so than there was even 10 to 15 years ago. The “status quo” maintained in systems is by those who have been around for at least that long and in many cases much longer. Teachers owe it to themselves to consider why it is they do the things they do for their kids, and as Tom recommends, make a change if it isn’t doing what you want it to do. Sometimes you don’t even need to do something new, you just need to stop doing something that is not working for you and your students. If a new practice will make you more effective give it a try. Nothing is more motivating to teachers than finding something that really helps them to help their students. Check out Simon Breakspears “Agile Schools” approach on how to make small, simple, but effective change in your practice. Best of luck in 2019. Happy teaching.
Thanks Tony. Glad the post resonated! Love the story as well. Those help folks to make connections. I appreciate Breakspear’s approach. Happy 2019.