Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Power of "And": Taking Charge of Your Own Teaching

During my forty years as a consultant, I have often had teachers say to me, “I would love to use some of your ideas for instruction, Russ, but…The “but” was always followed by something like “the administration”, “the test”, “these kids”, any and all the reasons you’ve heard about why something couldn’t be done. Finally, at one session I said, “Enough with the ‘buts’ from now on where you were going to say “but", you have to use the word “and.” This made a huge difference in the conversation. The word “but” qualifies a statement with a negative. The word “and” indicates a thought continues. “But” sets up roadblocks. “And” opens-up possibilities. I tried to express the concept in this poem.

Coordinating Conjunctions

If I were compelled to point a finger
At the cause of educational malaise
I surely wouldn’t need to linger
Pondering the answer days on days.

I could indicate that a single word
Manages to keep us in this rut
And I know that it may sound absurd,
To say that single word is –

You hear it in the classrooms
You hear it in the halls
You hear it in the teacher’s lounge,
Where it bounces of the walls:

I’d like to teach kids to love reading,
But I haven’t got the time
I’d like to hold a morning meeting,
But there’s test scores on the line.

I want all my kids to be learners
But their home life’s in the way
I’d like to cover topics in depth.
But the curriculum crowds my day.

I don’t think there is any question
That every teacher’s lesson plans
Could be improved by the suggestion
That they exchange the
“buts” for “ands.”

Teaching time is always limited
And let’s work hard to find a way
To put lots of reading at the center
Of the children’s learning day.

Those tests loom over all our heads
And yet children thrive on choice,
So I’ll spend lots of time on writing,
So my students find their voice.

I know some of the kids are poor,
Their homelife might be a mess
And I also know all kids are reachable,
When I’m teaching at my very best.

Try it the next time you are tempted to say “but” to a good instructional idea. The administration says we need to do test prep and I know they want what is best for kids. We need to have a conversation about best use of instructional time. The curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep and I need to get on the curriculum committee to encourage and foster change. Take the roadblocks of “but” out of the way and you might just find yourself achieving the instruction you desire. Teachers have great power to influence what happens in the classroom. Sometimes we just need to decide to use it.

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