The Wall

“I started to ask myself why certain techniques worked and others didn’t. I soon noticed that when a strategy was wildly successful, it had more to do with the fact that I honored a principle than the strategy itself. When a strategy was less successful, that too could be directly related to a principle I violated.” – Robyn R. Jackson

I have three ladders in the garage: a couple of extensions ladders, wood and aluminum,  and a 16′ step ladder. They have all come in handy through the years, depending on the job at hand. My choice of ladder is based on different  variables including height of the job, duration of the project, and my present threshold of risk.  Occasionally, I’ll drag out an old chair or step stool and leave the ladders hanging in the garage rafters. The ladders themselves are not my focus – the paint job, leaf removal, or frisbee retrieval are the end game.

Using strategies in the classroom that do not address my students’ growth is like hauling out one of my extension ladders to unplug a stopped-up toilet. It’s kind of neat to play with the ladder once in awhile, but it does not help me with my plumbing.

Teachers spend hours talking about, brainstorming, blogging/tweeting and conferencing classroom strategies. I liken it to my brothers and I; we spend a lot of time talking about tools and gadgets but our homes are monuments to the unread honey-do list. Tools, like teachers’ strategies, have value when used appropriately for the job. Otherwise, we are hobbyists in the fashion of Home Improvement’s Tim Allen.

In the classroom, we decide what wall we need to scale, and then we choose the appropriate ladder. The successful instructional strategies that I have used in the past were not successful of their own accord; it was most likely that these strategies lined up with an overall principal I attempted to address. Likewise, my failed strategies most likely violated a key principle.

My strategy snafu? There are many, but a recurring mishap is my use of a sledgehammer to apply paint. Through intonation, posture, or syllabus mandates, I find myself pushing a nine hundred pound horse that would be much easier led to the proverbial watering hole. My students recoil when I am too passionate, and too little demonstrative of my goals. Better tools are my enthusiasm for the task, and my obvious belief that my students are equipped for the challenge. Leadership has often beat out management in my toolbox.

It takes more than a hammer,

P. Suave


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