Teachers are amazing people. Their work is hard, and they work hard at it. The demands placed on them can be difficult, challenging, emotionally and physically draining, stressful, and frustrating. The amount of respect and pay they receive do not correlate with the responsibilities placed on their shoulders. Simply put, teachers are modern day superheroes!
Great teachers are able to see that change is not necessarily a reflection on them, but a reflection of their students' needs. Often times, teachers are doing the best they can with the tools they have. I've recently reflected on a quote by Jeff Zoul in which he says Doing things better is good. But, doing better things is even better.
One challenge I find with change, or even discussing change, is others feeling critiqued or attacked in a negative manner. Teachers may perceive doing things better as they aren't good enough. While this is typically not the case, the language we use in discussing change is extremely critical. I've not always been successful with this. My intentions have always been good, but I must continually work on my approach to effectively facilitating change.
Doing better things is better. I find this part of the quote to be especially powerful. There is a wealth of research available now which tells us what the "better things" are. From Marzano to Hattie, there are many high-impact strategies we can incorporate into our classrooms that will blend well with our teaching styles and personalities to have incredible impacts on student learning. Doing better things simply means we discovered a more effective, efficient strategy.
This is not the same thing as not being good enough. What it means is that we are growing professionally and finding ways to have a greater impact on the students we serve. Being better for students is not rooted in a personal attack; becoming better for students is a byproduct of our desire to pursue professional growth. As Todd Nesloney and Travis Crowder say in the book Sparks in the Dark, "Great teachers crave growth, and they seek challenges that will help them evolve as educators." Those challenges will come from genuine reflection and taking risks as we attempt new strategies.
There was a time in which cash registers did not exist. The implementation of the cash register was not a personal attack on the employees at the time. Perhaps some perceived it to be such, but cash registers improved businesses by more accurately calculating totals and being able to check customers out in shorter amounts of time. Target stores recently experienced a company-wide outage in which the registers did not work. Their cashiers continued to work as hard as they could, but they simply could not get customers through the lines in a timely fashion. Businesses would not succeed today without the technology. This is not to slight the individuals who work as cashiers, but sometimes there are just better ways to do things.
Cashiers can be hard-working, dedicated employees. However, without the cash register, the tools at their disposal just aren't efficient enough. Teaching is no different. Hard-working, dedicated teachers sometimes need more effective and efficient strategies in their toolbox. This is not a reflection on the abilities of the teacher but rather a reflection on the needs of our students.
Our ability to recognize there may be better strategies, and then successfully find and implement them, will make our impact on students great.
Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.