Want To Become A Better Teacher? Try Slowing Down

by Terry Heick

The gift of my fifth year of teaching was patience.

Every year something new occurs to me as an educator, and for year five it was the insurmountable scale of process. This was partly a response to beginning to see the things that were in my control, and the things that were not. To see the sequence between this thing and that place with that student clarified it all quickly.

All year I worked with my students to loosen them and wake them up—to get them agile and responsive and able to move laterally in their learning as they consider task, purpose, technology, and place. To look first inside themselves, and move outward from there.

On a daily basis, I fought my instincts to plan and control and cause, and their instincts to be ‘finished,’ listless, and compliant. There were times I thought we were dead in the water, but a few months ago they started to respond, and just in the last few weeks started moving through ideas and projects faster than I can chase them.

Which is exactly what I want.

So many times I almost quit. I blamed culture, literacy, technology, myself, Minecraft, Justin Bieber, and everything else that didn’t jive with my ‘vision.’ But it was growing the whole time–I just couldn’t see it because I wasn’t looking in the right place.

As a teacher, you may come across a strategy, technology, or learning model that knocks your socks off, only to give it a shot and be underwhelmed at the results. It very well could be that you’ve got a bad idea.

But it also might be that you’re teaching students so accustomed to other ways that everything you say sounds like crazy talk. That you teach on a ‘data team’ that wants you to be more streamlined—to teach just like they do. That you’re trying to lead an entire school of fish upstream, which is real work.

Trust yourself to figure to know when to cut your losses, and when to stick it out.

For one, there is always an implementation dip–a period after integration when things go south. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, you probably don’t fully understand this “great new thing” as well as you think you do. Which means you probably explain it clumsily, use it inefficiently, and aren’t sure how to trouble-shoot when things go awry.

Like your students, you need time as well.

In an era of pressure, maps, PLCs, and pacing guides, forgive yourself for not having all the answers. For learning on the job. For not being able to fully explain why a student is struggling. This doesn’t excuse “accountability,” but rather honors the teaching and learning process as something greater than the scientific collision of students and standards.

Rather than an excuse, patience can keep you from overreacting. It can force you to sit with the assessment design, or assessment results just a bit longer to see if something reveals itself. It can keep stress from shutting down your creative thinking and resorting to crazy-panicked teacher mode where no one wins and you’re exhausted.

All of education may seem like it is trying to exert its will on your classroom. Let it push.

You’ve got work that is both creative and scientific. Human and technology-based. Two minds that can’t possibly be rushed.

You’re growing things, after all.

Image attribution flickr user adselwoodpreviously published at TeachThought.com

1 Comment

  1. Esther Wilkinson

    This topic certainly captured my attention as I sought information on how to become a more effective teacher leader who influences social change in my school. This involves being a positive influence in the classroom as well in the school (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2007). The idea of slowing down when everything else suggested the need to take off was certainly revolutionary. As I reflected on the ideas shared, the need for patience as part of a strategy for growth resonated.
    As a teacher in the classroom I struggle to bring order, discipline and enthusiasm to the learning experience in the classroom. This process is often frustrated by the conflicts between students that distract and waste time, the lack of focus on the concepts being taught and for one student especially the constant focus on the progress of other students while neglecting her own progress. Many days I approach the classroom with enthusiasm, ready to institute a new strategy only to be frustrated by the voice that repeatedly expresses a lack of understanding without the required effort to seek it.
    Teacher leaders are competent in the classroom, credible with peers and approachable. They learn all the time and are always looking for things to share. As lifelong learners they continually seek ways to improve their craft (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007). As leaders, they are also encouraged to reach beyond the classroom to the families of their students, in order to learn more about them and so they can more effectively engage them. This is a model that I seek to emulate.
    The suggestions raised provided another perspective for interpreting the behavior of the students which frustrate the process. Instead to trying to lead an entire school of fish upstream, I see the need to dangle live bait in the water and move it gently in the direction of choice as they pursue it. This approach will provide me with insight into managing my own time and energy in a way that benefits both of us. It will also cause the students to swim for themselves and seek creative answers to their problems.
    The time taken to reflect, re-examine strategies and choices, acknowledge that my own knowledge is limited and that I don’t know why some students are failing is time invested in a process that will lead to my own growth and development as a teacher leader.
    Thanks for sharing your insightful post.

    Ackerman, R., & Mackenzie, S. (2007). Uncovering teacher leadership: Essays and voices from the field. (Laureate Custom Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
    Laureate Education (Producer). (2007). Dynamic teacher leadership: Thoughts and perspectives [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.


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