I won’t even ask the question–because I know the answer–you’re feeling it too! You are feeling April-tired and asking yourself, how in the heck can it only be November? We are all exhausted right now and, you know what–it’s kind of good to hear that we are all feeling the same way! I will be honest, the first few weeks of my school year had me nervous–did I make the right call in going back to the classroom this year? I was feeling more exhausted than normal and quite inept as a teacher–and then I realized, I wasn’t alone. In fact, almost every teacher I talk to is feeling the same way right now, and it feels nice to know that! Please don’t think I’m saying it in a selfish “if it’s hard for me, I want it to be hard for you” type of way–instead, I’m glad to hear others are feeling the same because it validates my thoughts and emotions right now. This year is hard and tiring, and that’s okay.
The Dangerous Gap Between Expectations & Reality
One of my favorite authors and podcasters, Ryan Holiday, just tweeted something that really resonated with me–he said “[S]ee things as they are, not how you want them to be.” I felt like that was such a crucial message for all educators to hear right now. For me, so much of my frustrations lie in the gap between my expectations and reality, and I doubt I’m alone in that. We all knew this year was going to be challenging–that it wasn’t going to be a quick return to “normal” (whatever that may be), but I don’t know that we realized truly how difficult it would be. Like many educators, I paid lip service to the notion of easing back into school for the students, but my actions did not reflect my words. Instead, my expectations (and actions) fell short of the empathetic approach I had planned to take. Rather, I found myself expecting my students to be able to do and handle things just like the students I taught in 2018-19. The challenge for me is to do exactly what Holiday says and see things (aka my students) as they are and not as I think they “should” be.
I Forgot About Zappos!
With this in mind, it’s easy for me to see why my first big project for the year did not turn out the way I would have hoped it would–in fact, I’d say it was pretty disastrous and should probably join the scrap pile. If you’ve listened to my podcast before you heard the tag line that talks about learning from our success and “sometimes failures” so it’s with this in mind that I feel it’s important to talk about my project and why it fell short of my goals.
I recently listened to the latest episode of Jake Miller’s Educational Duct Tape Podcast and his “Soapbox Moment” really hit home with me. Using Zappos as his guide, Miller talks about how limiting the number of choices can help to eliminate the “paralysis by analysis” we all feel too often and I can say with 100% certainty that I lost sight of this notion in my first project of the year. You see, I forgot about companies like Zappos that help you find what you’re looking for by narrowing the choices you can make at any given time because too much choice can be overwhelming.
In an attempt to engage as many students as possible, I did just that–offered way too much choice! I asked the students to create three different products about three different topics over the course of a month to help them learn about the Constitution & how our nation’s government works. In theory, it sounded great–the students would be active participants in their learning as they created products they chose to demonstrate their knowledge and learning. In reality, however, what I got was work that was rushed by the students because they were stressed and felt overwhelmed by the number of products and choices they had to make throughout the process. By trying to meet the needs and interests of all my students at once, I actually ended up stressing them out to the point that they could simply not do their best work.
So Now What?
Now I can sit here and perseverate on the shortcomings of my first major project of the year, or I can take action and make a change–and I think we all know what the right thing to do is here. So, what is it that I will change or do differently moving forward to ensure I don’t fall into that same trap? Here are some things I’ve learned that I will take with me from that first project:
- Slow Down! I think one of the simplest changes I can make that will have a profound impact is to slow down. My student don’t need to be learning the same material on November 11, 2021 that my kids did on November 11, 2019. Circumstances are different–the game has changed and I need to be respectful of my students needs and abilities as a result of the past two years.
- Be Like Adam! One of the biggest lessons I’ve taken from the head coach of the wrestling team I help coach is that when someone does something better than me, don’t be too proud to admit it and ask for help (I have to give Steve DeRafelo some credit for that). With that in mind, Adam Moler is doing some amazing things in his classroom and sharing them on his blog and I’ve already borrowed some of his ideas for my own classes. I had the opportunity to interview Adam for an earlier episode for this show and his stuff is great!
- No New Choices! This sounds deceiving–I’m taking this advice Jake Miller in the podcast episode I discussed earlier. My goal for the rest of this year is to ONLY give a product choice to my students that they have previously done in my room. This will not only help to prevent the paralysis by analysis, but will also allow my studnets to focus their mental energy on the content, rather than the product they are creating or too they are using to demonstrate their learning.
- Let Them Read! Finally, I do have one bigger goal I’d like to accompish. Dr. Scott Petri definitely inspired me in our discussion for our last interview and I want to try and get more literature into my social studies classes. I have a few students that absolutey love reading and I’m looking to find ways to get them to possiby compact out of other classwork and learn American history through literature–we’ll see!