Vol.#23: What’s at YOUR Teaching Core? [Cross-Post]

pixlrI was afforded the opportunity to have “blogging training wheels” in the way of writing a few Guest Posts for Scripted Spontaneity throughout the year before I started Teaching Speaks Volumes this past June. One of these posts from about a year-and-a-half ago still remains one of my own personal favorites that I’ve written on education.
So, I hope my readers don’t mind a cross-post as I include on my own blog, and will perhaps even provide some fresh perspectives in the comments.

“If our core belief is based on what other people think, then we eventually will allow their opinions to become our reality.” ~Darren L. Johnson

image credit: Wikimedia Commons user unununium272
image credit: Wikimedia Commons user unununium272

Our school is currently developing Core Belief Statements. First, each of our interdisciplinary teams and elective departments generated their own and submitted them to administration. Now these statements have been compiled and shared with the staff. They’ll be used to create Core Belief Statements for our school.

It’s wonderful that this process has opened dialogue, but it begs the question: Does something so personal coincide with asking for a standardized consensus? Perhaps I am borrowing trouble and these statements will be vague enough where everyone can agree, but some people have very passionate beliefs when it comes to teaching and education.

Scripted Spontaneity followers know there’s been recent discussion here about standardization of teachers’ practices. But what about standardization of Core Beliefs? Even if teachers can all agree on a statement like, “We value what is in the best interest of the students,” . . . what if we don’t agree on what that should be? What happens when caring, brilliant teachers who work daily with purpose and precision … don’t agree on what these practices are?

Case in point.

This morning, I found myself listening to two colleagues, both whom I admire and highly respect as exceptional educators.

Teacher A: “I really liked the second Core Belief Statement from your team, Mrs.Teacher B. ‘We believe students should not be given a choice to fail.’”

Teacher B: “Yes, we believe they shouldn’t be given the option. We as teachers have to do everything we can. They’re too young to make that decision.”

They’re too young to make that decision.”

This quote reverberated in my head for the rest of the day. I finally came up with one simple truth: I do not agree.

Conversely, one of my interdisciplinary team’s core statements was:

“Teachers empower students by providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to take control of their lives.”

We adapted it from the National Middle School Association’s Successful Schools for Young Adolescents “Essential Attributes”. Please note the verb “empower”.

A student is empowered when s/he is the one controlling the outcome – his or her own destiny. My mother always said, “There are some things for which a parent can take no credit or blame.” This goes for teachers as well. The credit or blame must belong to the student. A student cannot own his successes…yet not own his failures. You cannot give him ownership for one without giving him ownership of the other. They go hand in hand. Likewise, students cannot be challenged without risk, nor taught accountability without consequences.

Allow me one “metaphanalogy”. If a coach puts a child in a life raft and paddles the boat for him, the fact that the child is technically afloat in water does not mean she has accomplished the job. The child remains passive rather than active in the pursuit, and s/he has not acquired any skills.

Now, I want to be very clear: I believe an accomplished teacher goes to the ends of the Earth for his or her students. (You hand them paddles, swim fins, extra lessons…in the way of reteaching, extra support, differentiated lessons, etc.) My students are allowed to hand in late work, retake tests, and have access to tutoring during my lunch. I provide extensive online support to my students. I collaborate regularly with my PLC and other colleagues. I read educational research. I seek feedback through anonymous surveys from my students. I strive to plan innovative and interactive lessons daily, and remain open to new innovative instructional practices that engage and better serve my students.

I want to be very clear: I am not advocating a “sink or swim” model. I am an accomplished teacher who does everything in my power to help my students help themselves.

However, I maintain it’s a mistake to raise the next generation to think that failure isn’t a very real consequence of some of life’s choices. How can teachers complain about helicopter parents if their philosophy is also to swoop in to save the student from hard lessons at all costs? Is this not the teacher equivalent of the hovering parent? And to middle school teachers who think their students are too young to experience failure…my question is: How old is “old enough”?

I have two sons – five and three – and they are not too young to make decisions that lead to failure. In fact, both have. Moreover, they have even both made decisions when they were aware it led to failure. (Anyone else out there who’s also potty-trained boys knows I speak truth.) But they also know that, failure aside; they are still loved very, very much, and it’s going to be okay. That’s an important life lesson that shouldn’t wait until you’re twelve.

In closing, to all of my sons’ future teachers: I do not want you to assume the responsibility my boys’ failures. Know they will have many, but do not take that away from them, please.

I want them to learn that ‘failure’ is not the end.

The end is when they quit trying.


3 thoughts on “Vol.#23: What’s at YOUR Teaching Core? [Cross-Post]”

  1. One of the reasons I like strategic planning and identifying core values is because the process forces you to verbalize those things you hold dear. The other advantage is that you have a chance to hear what others are thinking and ask them questions so that they can clarify their own thoughts.

    As I read your post, I wondered if you were defining “failure” the same way. I agree that students have the choice to fail in small things so that they can understand the consequences of their choices. We allow them to fail at the small things so that, as a result of the consequences, students learn to better control their actions and are less likely to fail at bigger things (with greater consequences) in the future.

    It might be worth the group “picking apart” your understanding of those phrases and wording them in a way that will hold the same meaning for everyone. Have fun!


    1. That’s an excellent point Janet! There’s a difference between a failure on a single assessment (with allowable retake opportunities such as they have in my class, which might even meet her definition of what she’d meant?) and failing the quarter or even the school year. Further, any look at retention studies shows the long-term effect this is likely have on a child’s life. Perhaps the assertion that, “They’re too young to make the decision to fail,” was simply an articulation of the level of intolerance this teacher has for her students giving up on themselves.

      I guess where I’m grappling is: once all educators have this important dialogue, if that “line” of student ownership is truly in a different place philosophically, how can a school standardize it? (Is it something that even SHOULD be standardized?) This is of course assuming their differences come from a place of deliberate reflection in what’s best for students.

      And what’s best for students is ALWAYS for educators to push each other with important dialogue and get each other thinking. Thanks for the insight!



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