Turn and Face the Strange

Warning: Ramblings of a TurboNerd ahead.

Change.  It’s simple, really. We all know it. We all know we should do it. Many of us embrace it….well…most of the time. Yet many of us don’t.  Now, I don’t blame those who resist change.  I can understand why they do…after all, I’ve done my fair share of resisting it. But let’s face it…while the idea of change is simple, the actual act of doing so requires a fair amount of effort. That effort takes time…and a pile of excess time is something most of us simply do not have. When it comes to education, I’m fairly certain we all share the same goal (at least I hope we do.) We want all (ahem…ALL) of our students to be successful. We work very hard at making that happen with the limited time and resources afforded to us.

And it’s exhausting.

The thought of admitting all of our students might not be successful…the though that there might be something we need to improve…the thought of moving out of our comfort zone…the thought of learning something new and unfamiliar and then implementing it can seem impossible in light of the myriad other tasks we are expected to do. But it can be done…and it doesn’t need to be all that complicated.

Maybe it’s overly simple, but my philosophy of education is pretty straightforward. First, I truly do believe ALL students can achieve at high levels. It’s our job to help get them there. ALL of them.


Simple. Do you want all (ahem…ALL) of your students to be successful? Yes? Then, ask yourself one question. “Self, are they?” If the answer is “No” … Do. Something. Different.

That’s it. Simple. Clean. Effective.

Of course, the idea is simple. But anyone who has ever set foot in a school knows successful implementation of a change can get a bit…well…messy.


We can clean that mess up, though. Successful teachers can break their craft down into three general steps:

  • Step one involves knowing exactly what it is you’d like your students to achieve. Check.
  • Step two involves knowing exactly where your students are right now. Check.
    • Are your students where they need to be? If so, insert {woohoo!} here and move on to the next goal! If not…
  • Step three involves helping them close the gap. That’s where the change comes in. And that’s where it gets fun.

Realizing our students aren’t where they need to be doesn’t suggest we’ve failed.  Successful teachers can and do reach Step three…Often. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with not responding, though. Something didn’t work? No problem. Try. Something. Different. No idea what to do? No problem. Seek some new ideas.

So, where do we find the best ideas for change? We’ve done a pretty good job in education of making change a BigDeal®. We roll it out in grand fashion, dressed in important-sounding acronyms, carrying the Research-Based Best-Practice Seal of Approval, promising broad-sweeping academic improvement…if only you make the change exactly as prescribed. For everybody. Regardless of current performance. Or individual needs. If (and only if) you just {insert best-practice initiative exactly as prescribed here} you will see student performance increase with an effect size of 1.7!  If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong. Try again. Harder.

Don’t get me wrong. In many cases, the BigDeal® Initiative actually works. There are a lot of really good ‘best-practice’ acronymed initiatives out there with some solid research behind them. Formative Assessment, Standards-Based Grading, Professional Learning Communities, and Response to Intervention to name a few. However, we can’t rely on just those.  They’re too big-picture. They provide the structures in which we can better operate.  But they don’t provide the on-the-spot, day-to-day, “My class didn’t understand the relationship between sample size and the standard deviation of the sampling distribution.” needs that really improve achievement in real-time. We can’t look solely to the BigDeal® to drive our improvement. In fact, if we do we are missing some of the most powerful professional change ideas available.


For every workshop consultant and educational researcher with really good systemic improvement ideas, there are thousands of classroom teachers with REALLY good incremental improvement ideas. For every back to school workshop of this year’s BigDeal®, there are tons of ideas waiting for you right next door. They’re across the hall. They’re right across town. On Twitter. On the Blogosphere. The most valuable ideas I’ve gotten haven’t come from the ‘experts.’ While the experts have provided a solid foundation for improvement, it’s the interactions I’ve had with colleagues that have had the most impact.  Whether it’s a sharing of classroom ‘best-practice’ ideas at a conference, discussing how to improve student performance in a PLC, chatting via Twitter in #statschat, #mathchat, #insertyourparticularinterestherechat, reading the blogs of other teachers and administrators, or sharing a cup of coffee (or the beverage of your choice) and just talking it through, the most powerful ideas for change are much closer (and cheaper) than you think.

We just need to tap into that more. We just need to be willing to share more. I’m thankful I’m connected with a LOT of people who like to share. And it’s those people that make me want to improve. To change. To grow. There are a lot of others out there with a lot of great ideas, too…we just need to get them to step out of their comfort zone and share.


Maybe that person is you. If so, let’s chat…because I’d love to learn from you.

I’ll buy the coffee.

4 thoughts on “Turn and Face the Strange

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