What’s Keeping You From Doing What’s Right?

I had to be honest with myself. My ego was the problem. I am breaking my bad habit one day at a time.

I have a confession.

Sometimes I text and drive. I know. I know. It is a completely unnecessary and dangerous habit. I might as well be driving drunk.

My friends have been trying to get me to stop for quite some time. They send me articles, YouTube videos, Apps, and lecture me. They have provided empirical and anecdotal evidence time and time again, and although I have logically received the messages, nothing has worked.

I know what is right. But I am not doing it.

It was the latest attempt at an intervention that something clicked. Watch this video my friend, Shannon, asked. I am not going to watch it, I said matter-of-factly.

“Unfortunately, a video won’t make me stop,” I said. I don’t know why. I have to figure out the why. And once I figure out the why, I am sure I can stop without further interventions.”

Why do I text and drive? It’s simple, really. I don’t think anything is going to happen to me. I think that I have it all under control. It’s a fallacy to think that way, completely ludicrous.  But now that I have a handle on the why, I can take true steps forward.

Like all things in my life, I make immediate connections to education. What does this mean for us as teacher leaders?

I deliver professional development for a living. My job is to provide teachers will philosophical, empirical and anecdotal evidence day after day in hopes that it influences teaching practice. It could be the most impactful, up-to-date, significant research in education and for some teachers it just doesn’t lead to any change.

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhh! How frustrating! *Val shakes her fists in righteous indignation.*

But there is hope.

At my latest PD, I shared my texting and driving struggles and was honest about my why. Then I asked teachers to anonymously share on an exit ticket why they do or don’t want to continue working in professional learning communities and critically analyzing student work.

I honestly didn’t expect any teacher to write, No, because I don’t like my colleagues and I don’t think working with them is valuable. However, I did symbolically hold up a mirror and ask them to examine their beliefs and actions. I don’t know what they saw when I held up the mirror, but I forced them to look.

I also opened myself to their honest feedback about the professional development. It made me feel vulnerable, but how else does one improve except through feedback? The good news is only about 12% of the teachers (5 out of 42) thought the work was too time consuming. Everyone else wrote that they enjoyed learning from their colleagues, “being on the same page,” and “knowing that we are in it together.” We left the sticky notes posted in the room so that when the school year gets tough – and it will – teachers can be reminded of their commitment to the students, the work, and each other.

Looking in a symbolic mirror – to examine if your actions align with your beliefs – can be uncomfortable some times. But it is necessary. Previously, Dr. Deidre Gammill wrote this very poignant piece about her journey to do the same that I am still thinking about.

As teachers and teacher leaders, we have to align our actions with what we say we believe. It’s not enough to know. We have to do. We can’t let bad habits in our practice rule over us. We have to break the bad habit one experience at a time.  Finally, as Simon Sinek proclaims, we have to figure out our why in everything we do–and don’t do. Frankly, if the why is because of our egos, maybe it is time to get over ourselves.

So the next time you are faced with a chance to use your expertise to weigh in on a policy, working with a challenging colleague, determining whether or not you should share an innovative idea, or deciding if you should take a risk and try something new in your teaching practice – hold up the mirror, figure out your why, and take a step forward.

  • Cammie Williams

    Right thing

    Val, Your posts and tweets are always insightful and I would imagine your honesty helps others to approach topics the same way.  I’ve had a tough year, but I’m determined to share the good and bad so colleagues and the public see the profession of teaching and the practice of professional development for what they are demanding, sometimes impossible, valuable, intellectual and worth the effort-for our students and new teachers.

  • DeidraGammill

    Hitting Below the Belt!

    Okay, you seriously just hit below the belt. Looking hard in the mirror at our teaching practice AND texting while driving? Thanks, Val. Double whammey of awesomeness, as always 🙂

    If we’re being honest, I’ll admit – I love reflection and feedback when things have gone well. When they’ve gone less well, that’s when it’s hardest to make myself vulnerable. My department (and I’m sure countless others) struggled with this as we implemented lesson study in our PLC.  The purpose of lesson study is to give a teacher the chance to bring a rough lesson (or lesson that isn’t working) for input and critical feedback. You’re supposed to bring something imperfect to the table! But all of us consistently brought our best work to showcase. My reasoning? If colleagues couldn’t be in my classroom watching me teach, I sure didn’t want their one glimpse in to be less than stellar. That line of reasoning leaves very little room for improvement. Yes, I knew that I needed critical feedback but I kept bringing my best work anyway. Kind of like texting and driving.

    Thank you for giving me food for thought. Understanding the “why” is  as important as the “how” – maybe moreso. 🙂

  • JustinMinkel

    Love this.

    Val, I had a few immediate thoughts after reading your piece.

    1. I too, really need to stop texting and driving. I’ve gotten better, but I still have moments of regression.

    2. I’ve found with public speaking and leading PD, those moments of admitting your own flaws can lead to a much more receptive audience. I experienced this most recently speaking to teachers in Shanghai; the 3 other American teachers and I were really built up by the event organizers as these incredible teachers, so simply admitting obvious facts like that my classroom is often messy and loud resonated with the audience. I think part of this phenomenon is human nature–we “mirror” one another reflexively, so having someone be open and human encourages the listener to do the same. Part of it, too, is that I think many of us have a chip on our shoulder when “experts” come in to tell us how to teach better, since so many of them were not in the classroom long or else don’t seem to acknowledge the classroom realities that make teaching really, really hard.

    3. We do need to look in the brutal mirror when we’re not doing the right thing in our classroom. Most recently, for me, I’ve realized I’m not engaging my students’ parents the way I need to. Teaching is exhausting, and when you’re a parent/spouse, too, you can’t simply devote the time it would take to be the kind of teacher you want to be, because sometimes that time and mental/emotional energy comes at the expense of your family. But I do think those honest moments that you expressed in this piece help us take small but lasting steps forward.

    Thanks for writing such a wonderful piece. Your reflection is clearly inspiring your readers to reflect, too.


  • BillIvey

    “Figure out your why”

    Put that together with “As teachers and teacher leaders, we have to align our actions with what we say we believe.” and you’ve pretty much got all it takes to succeed in this profession. Along with acknowledging our being fallible humans. Which you also nailed!

    I find that my own “why” shifts and evolves in subtle ways over time. The most recent version is on this page of my e-portfolio website. The “all learning begins in wonder” part is a carryover from the last teaching statement I wrote, and my commitment to student voice is as firm as ever, but I’ve become more open about the political engagement involved in my teaching as my school has become more explicitly feminist and social justice work increasingly infuses everything I do. I’ve also been more willing to publicly explore the commonalities in caring for my child and for other people’s children.

    My biggest challenge this year is going through my first formal evaluation as a teacher in a decade (I know, I know. It’s a long story.). That one did not go well, as the basic thrust of my department chair’s write-up was “Reading and writing workshop ideas may be noble but they are not right for the students in this school and Bill needs to get back to the basics his students so clearly need.” Also, three years ago, I had a disastrous informal evaluation as Middle School Dean which boiled down, again, to “Bill’s ideas are wrong for this school” with a heavy dose of “And he neither respects nor supports teachers.” So I was pretty petrified about opening myself up to criticism again – like, to the point where I was telling myself that if I didn’t have a son in college, I would be seriously considering early retirement. But I also recognized that if I didn’t open myself up to criticism, I wouldn’t get input into those areas of teaching where I might honestly need to improve and which I don’t personally see, and I wouldn’t know if a combination of lots of responsive hard work on my part and the departure of some disaffected faculty members had led to an increased perception of effectiveness as an administrator. And moreover, I would have been a poor role model. So… we’re off!

    So far, it’s been well worth the risk, with a very helpful and supportive first write-up from one of my three department chairs (English, History/Social Studies and Performing Arts being the other two) and a much more positive initial survey of Middle School Team members. And my first round of student evaluations, so far just given to my Rock Band students, was positive too (actually, my student evaluations have been unformly positive for years). All of that is making it less terrifying to be vulnerable, which should help with my learning curve as I launch myself into my last 15 years or so of teaching.

  • JustinMinkel

    Brave, Bill Ivey…and it’s a tangled web.

    Bill, I loved your candid comment–once again, it could be a blog post in itself.

    It’s tricky for me to hold true to my convictions even when they’re in the minority, yet be open to other points of view. This came up today with a teacher in my grade-level who is almost religious in her devotion to phonics. My own take is that 1st grade students (mine, hers, others) need plenty of opportunities to engage with the ideas in books and make connections, without so much drill, but I also know that a weakness of mine is embedding phonics in guided reading and other literacy portions of the day.

    My hope is that, as often happens, the more willing I am to learn from her (i.e. I asked to observe her to get ideas next week), the more receptive she may become to what I have to offer. The dynamics of a single classroom are so complex; when you involve an entire school staff with varying perspectives and priorities (and, too, dogma), it becomes even more complicated.

    I’m glad you’re holding on to the origin of learning in wonder. If we rooted our teaching in wonder (at the remarkable human beings in our classes, for example, and what they’re capable of doing and dreaming), we’d find the kind of joy that has clearly sustained you through the rough patches.