Sometimes Small Wins add up to Big Losses

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Just got done with my almost four year old having an epic tantrum at gymnastics class.

The cause?

I made her put on her shoes and socks when she came out of class before she did anything else.

I know.  I’m the worst.

That’s not what actually caused the epic tantrum.  That was more of a prequel to the disaster.  A foreshock if you will.

What actually caused the “drop on the floor, red in the face, screaming at decibels heard by two towns over tantrum” was the fact that I was unaware of the magical lady who hands out lollipops to all of the good little boys and girls who have stamps on their hands after class.

So, if you tell your daughter to put on her shoes and socks on before she does anything else she is inevitably going to miss the magical lollipop fairy lady because:

  1.  Asking a toddler to do anything will take ten times longer than anyone could ever imagine is humanly possible.
  2. When you were a kid at some point you threw temper tantrums and your mom said the stereotypical phrase, “I hope one day you have a kid just like you!” (Which at the time you blew off, but now as an adult you are wondering if she has some sort of voodoo power that you were not aware of.)

So here I am standing in the vestibule, trying to rationalize with a toddler that missing the magical lollipop that she “earned” is “No Big Deal” while her screams keep getting louder and her stomping is reaching epic proportions.  Minus her face turning purple I’d say she was pretty close to a direct reenactment of Turtle Throws a Tantrum.  (Side Note: DO NOT laugh at this point.  It is apparently not funny.)

People are staring.  Dogs are barking.  I’m about to pick her up and put her in the car kicking and screaming when guess who comes out of her office?  The magical ninja lollipop lady.

And do you know what she did?

SHE ASKS MY FULL ON TANTRUM CHILD IIF SHE WANTS A LOLLIPOP.

I looked at Alexandra.  I looked at the lady.  I looked at the faces of the moms ( totally not judging) staring at me.  I swear time froze.

I knew I had two options.  I could tell her no, that the way she was behaving did not merit a lollipop or any reward for that matter and endure the escalation that would ensue or I could let her have the lollipop ending the campaign of torture.

So, what did I do?

I totally caved.  I told her that if she would apologize to me for her behavior that she could have one.  I was worried about getting to her next activity on the other side of town on time and was honestly sick of listening to the tantrum that seemed to last for all eternity.

She apologized, instantly calmed, got her lollipop and merrily skipped to the car like nothing happened.  We made it to Little Actors Club on time and the rest of the day was great.

It appears that I made the right choice right.  But did I?  The entire car ride home I kept thinking all she is going to remember from this event was that a tantrum equals candy.  I chose the easy way out simply because of my fears of getting to our next activity on time (and yes of being judged) and now the next time I was going to have to start all over again with how we behave when we don’t get our way.

My short little win was most likely setting me up for defeat later on.

Choosing What’s Easy in Education

This longwinded story got me thinking about when I was in the classroom and the times I would choose what was easy over what would be a better learning experience for students.

How many times did I choose to teach whole class rather than differentiate because it was easier for me to cover the content that way?  I could say I covered the objectives, but were ALL of my students really learning from the lesson that day?

How many times did I teach something just because it was in the curriculum guide even though I knew that many of my students had mastered the objective already?

How many times did I make decisions based on what was easy for me, not on what was right for the students and then end up teaching it all over again?

I’d say the answer to these questions was more than I’d like to admit.  For a variety of reasons, (pressure from administration, district assessment deadlines, anxiety about keeping up with peers, inner drive to teach it all) educators feel a huge pressure to cover content over teaching the students in front of them.  None of these reasons are illegitimate reasons.  The expectations put on teachers are astronomical.  It is completely reasonable to feel like covering content should take priority.

Unfortunately, this dynamic causes many of us (myself included) to plan learning experiences and lessons that do simply that, cover content instead of creating learning that sticks with engaging in-depth experiences like we know we should.  Many times we end up reteaching these lessons because the learning was not meaningful to students.  Taking the time to prioritize and go deeper at the beginning would actually save us time in the end.

If I could be a classroom teacher again (one day maybe I will), I would stop placing the greatest importance on content and start with relationships.  I’d find out what was important to my students, learn their strengths and build from there.  I know there are many constraints with time in the school day, but I’d try to plan my schedule with longer blocks of time so that I could plan out integrated lessons that include time to ask questions, interact with peers, and causes students to engage in the learning.

I’d take the time to make it stick as opposed to getting it done.

Of course, I’m not a classroom teacher this year.  I’m an administrator and a mom.  So here’s my effort to choose differently than I have in the past.

  1.  If you work in my school I will support you 100% in teaching the students in front of you, not covering vast amounts of the curriculum.
  2. I will set up a schedule where you have flexible time to integrate subjects and plan deeper learning experiences.
  3. I will set up structures so you can coteach, collaborate, and reflect regularly with your peers to learn from one another and build upon one another’s strengths.
  4. I will plan engaging learning experiences that meet your needs as opposed to the God awful “Sit & Get” institute days.
  5. When you come to me with innovative ideas I will be your cheerleader, your support system and do anything in my power to make your idea a success.
  6. I will not take the easy way out and spend time in my office doing clerical tasks.  I will be present in the building getting to know the culture of the school so that I can contribute and elevate the great work being done.
  7. I will listen to what you need, not try to force my agenda on you.
  8. When there is an issue (anything, including missing a magical lollipop lady), I will listen, reflect and work to solve the problem with you.

At the end of the day, it is better that we have contributed to creating amazing humans  than to have taught a vast curriculum.  Is teaching knowledge to students part of that formula? 

Absolutely.

But if you ask me what to prioritize in your school I’d choose deeper learning and relationships over being able to say I covered all the content any day.

dyer quote 2

(Quote by Wayne Dyer)

2 comments on “Sometimes Small Wins add up to Big Losses”

  1. I enjoyed your commentary on Alexandra’s tantrum. I like the philosophy of choosing your battles.
    I also agree that covering everything is not as important as meeting your students needs.
    Good article
    I think your teaching staff will appreciate your philosophy.

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