Dear Sarah,

I’ve watched many of your videos at the Teaching Channel and love them. But how come the students are always so well-behaved and on task? I have tried the same strategies, but most of the time they just talk or are off-task. What am I doing wrong?


Why Doesn’t It Work for Me?

Dear Why Doesn’t It Work for Me?

If you’ve never heard yourself asking this question, you might not be a real teacher. Hasn’t this happened to every single one of us? We read about it, hear about it or even see it in action and try to record every single move in our minds (or through copious notes) and we rush to our classrooms only to discover that didn’t work for me!

Of course, there are probably just as many of the opposite examples. You know the ones. With a little trepidation and a whole lot of hopefulness we leap into something new and the pieces place like bits of little magic.

These are the extremes. But we actually spend most of our teaching time, living the reality that lies in-between these two separate points: the struggle. It’s sounds horrible doesn’t it? The struggle. But it’s the most real work we do. And we don’t have to evade it because it also carries creative solutions, unexpected clarity and a little bit of everyday magic. It also holds the answer to your question about why that strategy didn’t work for you: you hadn’t made it your own yet.

Think of it like the difference between musicians who cover songs with the intent of sounding as close to the original as possible and the ones who cover songs and end up giving their listeners a whole new experience. The strategies are important, but they come alive when we closely understand the people in our classrooms and are in-tune with a purpose for learning that matches their needs.

Here are a few things you can do to rely less on collecting strategies and become more strategic.

  • Think about the strategy, not as an isolated task or protocol, but as part of the larger vision for learning you’ve already established.
  • Keep engaging in the complicated work of finding the real learning purpose of the lesson. Ask yourself what you want your students to learn today. Not what they’re going to do today.
  • Continue reading each student’s learning story. What does Olivia need today? How does she best learn? What about this strategy will work for her and what will you need to revise?
  • If your students seem off-task and unengaged, it may be because they see this as a strategy, as a task, as something to get through instead of something to learn from. Be sure you’ve told them over and over why they are using this strategy and make sure your reason is real to them. (Remember, “because it’s on the test”, doesn’t count. That’s still an extrinsic reason.)

When you take on these tough components of planning and teaching —  congratulations — it means you’re struggling and you know that finding purpose for learning is really about paying attention to people.

Teach openly,

With Teacher2Teacher



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