Looking back on 25 years of classroom teaching, I can say that the greatest changes that I made to my classroom practice began in 2006, when I had a principal that pulled me aside and told me that I should really push the limits and rethink my classroom. What she actually told me was, “Some teachers I feel need me to guide them to change. I think I can help you best by getting out of your way.” I had a green light, blank check, clearance from the tower.
But in retrospect, at this point where I had the institutional barriers to change removed, I built my own.
I was teaching full inclusion Special Ed US history in a room where ⅓ of the students had IEP, ED, BD plans. I had confidently volunteered to teach the class, saying that I knew exactly what I would do. Which was a combination of wishful thinking and bravado. My cooperating SPED teacher and I were eager to try new things and started of the year by rethinking homework, due dates and tests. We implemented test retakes and test corrections. I read books, talked to my principal regularly and had a clear vision of what I wanted to do.
But in every instance, I created obstacles and limits on these changes that prevented my classroom from moving forward.
I limited who could do test corrections and how often any one person could do them. (If these processes are learning, why would I limit their chances to continue to learn?)
I was flexible on turning in work, but I limited how often I was flexible and I still imposed harsh penalties for timeliness. (If I identify a hard working student, capable of learning but who needs more time to do so, why would I make time a key continuing factor in their grades?)
I changed classroom activities to be more student centered, but I still maintained dominion over what those activities were. In the back of my head, my current mantra “Choose the destination, not the path” was forming but I was still creating narrow, singular paths to the learning objective. (So long as they arrive at the objective, how concerned am I really about the path that gets them there?)
In hindsight I think there were many reasons for holding back. I was certainly concerned about other teachers. It was my first year at a brand new school.
I was very aware of how parents saw what I was doing, and concerned about helping them to understand and see value in what I was doing. I felt an uneasiness each time we used cell phones in class, secretly set up a wifi network, or threw away the textbook.
Now I see that these were excuses that I made, because there we little to no actual instances where any of these fears were made real.
If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice knowing what I know today, it would be “Get out of your own way.” I knew what I wanted, I was on the right path, yet I kept building roadblocks. Often, (but certainly not always) institutional roadblocks were perceived, but disappeared as my resolve to change grew stronger. What really held me back was me and my perception of how big of a leap I could take.
What are the changes that you believe you need to make? How are you limiting your own ability to achieve them? What personal roadblocks could you remove today?
Get out of your own way.