Unintended Consequences of Short Line Thinking

Many of us know the commercials where someone drinks something, then smacks his or her head, and says,  “I should have had a V8.”  The point, of course, is that conscious choices are better than unconscious habit (short-term or short-line thinking)  Can we keep that in mind this school year?

Scenario 1:  Students in Class X are given marks on a teacher’s disipline journal.  Students with 2 marks in a day must stay in from the next day’s recess and read a book.  What’s the message being sent?

Scenario 2:  A homeless student carries his backpack everywhere, couch-surfing at night at one of several friends’ basements.  He doesn’t have enough money for a lock for his locker and is violating school policy, which states bags are to be stowed.  A teacher he doesn’t know confronts him, and attempts to take his bag away from him, which causes the student to verbally escalate the situation.  What’s next in this type of a scenario?

Scenario 3:  Students who are called to the office are greeted with a sign that states,  “If you are here to see the principal, your cell phone, tablet, chromebook, or computer are not allowed to be used.”  What have we just said about learning in the school?

Scenario 4:  A group of students invites a peer with a substantial learning disability to sit at their table for lunch.  The special education teacher is furious, and calls a meeting with the students and the principal to stop “setting up” her students.  She sets a special table at the lunchroom for her students only, and requires the students to eat there.  What have we just learned about empathy?

Scenario 5:  You pour out your heart and soul into a lesson you love, and formative work follows.  A student is disengaged, and when you ask why, she says,  “I just don’t get it.”  You reexplain the lesson you just gave to her, speaking slowly so she can absorb the words.  When you get done, she says,  “That still doesn’t make sense.”  Now what do you do?

I really wish each of these descriptions were fictional, but they are events that I have seen with some regularity. Teachers are human beings, not individuals with capes and superpowers.  Unfortunately, we cannot let a lack of mindfulness join our reportoire, or we risk teaching our students through our modetls that: 1) reading is a punishment; 2) rules should be enforced without seeking to understand; 3) technology is a convenience, not a way of doing business; 4) students should stick to the status quo; 5) as a teacher you have all the answers.

If you were to see one of these situations in your building, how could you move past the unintentional to systems thinking that could give your students voice, your presence a sense of empathy, and your content a sense of relevance?  Because that’s what our students need–each and every day.

Have you ever experienced or witnessed short-line thinking?  How did you handle it, or how can we move beyond the expected?  I’d love to hear.


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  • LizPrather

    Great post!


    It always baffled me when teachers threaten students with reading. The exception to this punishment-by-learning maybe the student who is required to write an essay of reflection when she has incurred consequences. I can endorse thinking on the page. 🙂    Great post on thinking beyond the immediate!

  • Jen

    All So True!!

    This happens all too often!! This would make a great PLC to show teachers how they could better themselves to discuss how these scenarios could have been handled differently!! I am interested to how some would respond and how they would deal with these situations?

  • SusanGraham

    Oh No! Now What?

    One of the huge challenges of teaching is making so many on the spot decisions. I don’t know any teachers who haven’t  experience “Well, duh, I should have..” when there was a better way. Or worse one of those “Oh my gosh, how could I have….” moments when we wonder if we did real harm.

    So, here’s what I’m wondering: We all have “I should have..”  moments, but what happens next?

    What do highly effective teachers do after they slap their forehead in frustration or hang their head in shame?  

    How should they respond to a mentee who comes to them saying  “I didn’t handle this well”?