We, as teachers are often asked to do the impossible. It is not because our administration or the stakeholders keep raising their expectations based on previous success; it is because doing the impossible is part of our job. There are too many situations to count that have started out as a routine task in teaching and have turned into a task that would make the labors of Hercules seem like a better choice.
I know it is hyperbole but any teacher can tell you that there has been that one little, tiny, minor task that, when added to everything else, is most certainly the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The heaviest of these little straws is the expectations of others. We are expected to educationally keep up with the Joneses. There are new philosophies and best practices coming at a rapid rate fueled by the spread of educational technology (EdTech) and Personal Learning Networks (PLN). There is so much that it is impossible to judge what is right for our students and how to make it work in the classroom while still keeping to the curriculum that may or may not be updated. These expectations have put a huge burden on teachers and often end with teachers being asked to do the impossible.
I always tell my students, “Nothing is impossible; we just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.” Teachers need to believe this as well. I want to do all the amazing things I see pop up in my news feed but I need to figure it out first. We often rush to bring new ideas to the students without considering how we will implement them. I am guilty of this more often than I would like to admit. What I do to reduce the impact of my mistakes is follow the principals of science; treat new ideas like a new medication about to go to market or a new study being submitted to a journal.
- Define the idea: There are so many great new things I want to add to my classroom but I need to take the time to pick the right one. I need to hypothesize what will have the greatest impact on my students. Effective instruction is far more impressive than being cutting edge.
- Evaluate your resources: What are you willing to put into this great new idea? How much of your time, budget and other limited resources are you willing to give? This is important because we often stretch ourselves too thin and it causes many teachers to lose hope and feel inadequate.
- Test your idea: I know we hate the dreaded T-word; in this case you need to do small tests of your new idea. Start with a situation where this new idea would work best and then gradually take it out in other, less ideal, situations. When we jump into new ideas, curriculum, and methods without testing them out in small doses and getting results it can have a major impact on students. Would you try a new medication someone on the internet said worked for them? Not without finding out more about it first I hope.
- Share your results: If you try something out and it is working for you that is amazing! Share what you have done and how you did it with others and see if they get similar results. This may seem obvious but this is how a good idea becomes a best practice. When something works in one class that may just be a perfect storm of success but when it can be shared and used then it becomes a movement.
The moral of the story is that we teachers need to slow down and evaluate all these great ideas flooding in. There will be many people around you who want you to jump face first into new pedagogies and there will be pressure to join the crowd with each new trend but no one knows your classroom, kids and style like you do. I am not saying that you should never change but I ask that all professionals go slowly into changes and make sure that a change really is for the best before just tossing all in. You only get one shot at teaching the material so rise up to the challenge.