Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Let's Do Away With Right and Wrong

“I don’t know if this is the right way to do guided reading, but…”
“This is probably wrong, but what I do is…”
“Am I doing _______ (insert instructional approach here) correctly?”

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say variations on these statements, I’d be able to go on that dream beach vacation I’ve always wanted.

Many of us teachers joined this profession because we were good students – we liked school, we felt comfortable there, and we want to replicate the joy of learning we felt growing up. And that’s a good thing! But being a good student oftentimes means we are people-pleasers who honor authority figures. We want to do the “right” thing the “right” way. Bless our hearts, we believe there actually IS a right way to do everything.

The other day I heard a coach friend of mine laughingly describe her first year of teaching. She bargained with her boyfriend – if he would just stick with her during this difficult first year, she agreed to get married, because after that she would have her first year of plans made and she could fall back on them from then on. Five years into it, her then-husband wanted to know why the heck she was still staying late at school and working on weekends – hadn’t she figured it out that first year or two?

One of the most unsettling realizations we can have as teachers often comes within the first 5-10 years of teaching, when we realize that Teaching Is Not Something You Master. There is never One Right Way to do anything.

Stephanie Jones, professor- and coach-extraordinaire, worked with a group of us coaches several years ago. Among the most impactful concepts she shared was letting go of “Right” versus “Wrong” and instead considering what each decision Allows and Shuts Down. 

Every decision you make as a teacher (as a human, really) allows certain things to happen and shuts down other things. For example, consider the way you set up your classroom. You might push your students’ desks together in groups – this allows for more teamwork and better table-space for project work. But it shuts down some students’ ability to easily see the board (if their back is facing the front) and it might encourage student talk during those times you’d rather they listen to you.

Or think about strategy-based reading groups, which is when you meet with kids reading at different levels and teach them a strategy before conferring with them individually. This approach allows you to provide targeted instruction regardless of reading level, thus giving you flexibility in forming groups. But it might shut down a common conversation that would be easier if everyone had a copy of the same book.

In other words, strategy groups aren’t “wrong,” but they’re not always “right” either. You make your decision as a teacher based on what you want to allow for your students at that moment. The key is understanding that every decision you make simultaneously allows and shuts down certain things.

Unfortunately, we will never Arrive at a point in our careers where we have this thing all figured out. We will never create the ultimate set of plans to save from year to year that will suffice for all students all the time. We will not find the One True Way to teach.

The sooner we realize this and embrace the messiness of working with young minds, the sooner we can be kind to ourselves and find the joy in teaching.

No comments: