26. Lean on Others…But Not Too Heavily

If you’re like me you are constantly finding new ideas and inspiration for your teaching methods. Whether it’s from the teacher down the hall, a podcast you just listened to, or the social media worlds of Teacher Twitter & Teacher Tik Tok, you are nearly always finding and saving good ideas to use in your classroom. I think we can all agree this is a great thing–teachers should be looking to hone their craft and improve upon their methods–but it can also be a dangerous road to follow at times.

When I was a sophomore in high school I convinced my parents to drive me nearly 45 minutes each way to Methacton High School so I could wrestle for the Evil Hill Freestyle Wrestling Club. Aside from a few friendships and some techniques, the one thing that stuck with me to this day was a quote painted on the wall by one of Methacton’s former wrestlers and coaches, Nelson Stratton. The quote read “[y]ou either get better, or worse, but you never stay the same.” That quote has always stuck with me–sometimes, to my detriment. However, I do believe it to be true about teaching–we either grow and get better as teachers, or we refuse to make any changes and we get worse. The key, however, is to grow in a way that is sustainable and meaningful.

One of my biggest challenges in this area of growth is to do so in a balanced and measured way. I tend to either get stuck in my ways or to continually throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and start everything anew all too often. So, how do you do it? How do you continue to grow and evolve as an educator in a way that is sustainable? Well, if you’re looking to me for the answer to this question you obviously haven’t been paying attention–because I don’t know! However, there is one thing of which I am sure–finding inspiration and ideas from other educators has been a game-changer in my life as a teacher.

Any listener of Jake Miller and the Educational Duct Tape Podcast is familiar with Stuart Kauffman’s theory of the “adjacent possible.” As Miller often discusses, what makes sharing ideas and strategies in education so powerful is the iterative process nearly all educators go through when planning lessons that they get from others. It reminds me of the writing process–we can hardly ever do our best work on our first attempt, instead, it’s through the process of reflection and revision that we are able to put forward our best work. The same can be said of teaching strategies–but you have to go through the reflection and revision processes to make things your own.

Recently, I fell into the trap of simply using what was shared with me by some of my fellow teachers. I am fortunate enough to work with some amazing grade-level department colleagues and I knew what they would be sharing would be top-notch. So, I did what many stressed-out and overwhelmed teachers do–I used what was shared with me and did nothing to make it my own. Here’s the thing–the student work was good, and the students definitely learned, but it wasn’t my best work as a teacher. I wasn’t fully invested in the project because I had not made it my own–I didn’t bring my own passions and expertise to the project and it showed.

  • Borrow Liberally: Please do this–heck, this is the whole reason for me having this podcast! I truly believe that we are much better educators when we are sharing ideas and resources with others. Not only does this allow us to enhance our teaching practices, but it also frees up some of our time for us to pursue other interests and hobbies in life.
  • Give Credit: This is key! People who share ideas liberally online often don’t do it for the fame (if that’s even possible), but it’s still important to give credit where credit is due. Not only is it simply the right thing to do, it also demonstrates good digitial citizenship for ours students.
  • Share & Thank: If there’s one thing that doing my own podcast has taught me, it’s that it is easy to believe sometimes you are only talking to yourself. While I’d like to think I have a loyal following of listeners, anxiously awaiting the latest episode of my podcast (and if I do, sorry it’s been so long), I cannot lie–it often feels like it’s just me talking to my microphone. Sharing that you’ve used an idea that you got from somebody else and thanking them, will not only make you feel better, but it willl also invigorate the creator since they know someone is using what they are sharing.
  • Modify It: Finally, be sure to modify what you are using to somehow make it your own. No matter how much you feel like you can skip this step, pleae don’t! We always feel more personally connected and invested in our own products–so be sure to make whatever you are using your own.

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