Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Taking My Own Advice

"Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome." -- Samuel Johnson

I was talking to some colleagues the other day about next school year and some ideas I had of things to try in my classroom. One by one, like a gun shoot in an arcade game, those nuggets I had treasured were picked off by sharpshooters. “That sounds kind of kid-ish to me.” “Are you sure you want to do that?” “Isn’t that just coddling kids?” By the time the conversation was over, I was questioning my ilk as a teacher.
photo courtesy of www.wikipedia.com
            Honestly, as I returned to my desk, I was disheartened. Maybe they were dopey ideas. Maybe the kids would think it was below them to do what I had planned. Maybe I would look dumb to my students. I sat there for a bit, ruminating about the words. I could let the words dictate my path as a teacher or I could let my actions reveal my path as a teacher. Did I want to sit back and wonder “What if” for the rest of my career, or was I willing to take my own advice and take a risk?
photo courtesy of Stacey Shintani
            Samuel Johnson, an 18th century English writer, knew what he was talking about in his quote above. He tried several ventures which failed before finding his niche as a writer and developer of the first dictionary. Personally, I can think of little less appealing than writing a dictionary, but Johnson ran with it. And succeeded amidst dire failure in his life. I could allow my colleagues’ comments to hog-tie me into inaction, or I could ignore their words and try something new. Just try it.
            The risks I proposed couldn’t even be categorized as such. Yes, my students may look at me as being weird, but when haven’t they? I could embarrass myself, but when haven’t I? I could raise the eyebrows of my principal, but when haven’t I?
            I came to the conclusion that I’d rather take risks than be sedentary in my profession. I could cruise into the new year with the same old stuff, or I could try to shake things up and be innovative. I could try to analyze my lessons and see what worked and what didn't. I could ask myself questions when constructing lessons about student engagement. 
            I like my colleagues and we get along well enough. And usually I take their advice. But I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't this time. In fact, I probably wouldn't share ideas with them for a while, until my confidence had grown some. Instead, I'd look outside my school for people to use to discuss ideas
So what's the moral of this post? Guard yourself against naysayers who can lead you to doubt yourself and question your ideas. Don't get me wrong, I think it's really important to get input from colleagues about ideas and things to try in the classroom. But ask yourself these questions first:
  •          Do your colleagues usually smother your ideas?
  •          Does the person you’re talking to try out new things in his/her classroom?
  •          How engaged are the students in that person’s class?
  •          How rigorous is the material your colleague uses?
  •          Is your colleague usually negative about other things in his/her life?
  •          Would this person be the first you’d turn to if you needed an idea of something          creative to do in your classroom?
  • ·         How reliable has this person been in supporting your other ideas?

The answers to these questions may reveal a lot about the person(s) you’re looking to for advice. I know they did for me.
            So my conclusion? I decided to follow the words of Johnson. I couldn’t possibly overcome all the objections of those around me. Instead, I’d follow my gut and see what happened. Besides, there’s nothing wrong in modeling failure with students. They need to see someone fail and handle it properly.
            I may still doubt myself at times, but the reward could be worth it. Engagement. Students willing to try new ideas and take risks themselves.
            So bring on the kid-ish ideas. Bring on the weird ideas. Bring on the risk-taking cloak  and let me wear that as a teacher, so I’ll never grow complacent, sitting back telling others their ideas may fail. Let failure happen and learning begin.


  1. I think that risk-taking is something that needs to be encouraged in students of all ages. One of the best ways of dong that is to model it yourself. I applaud your decision to take the risk despite some of your colleagues' naysaying and not growing complacent.

    1. It's hard to take risks and be viewed as an outlier but this is the way to teach, I believe.