Want To Become A Better Teacher? Try Slowing Down

adselwoodWant To Become A Better Teacher? Try Slowing Down

by Terry Heick

The gift of my fifth year of teaching was patience.

Every year something new occurs to me as an educator, and for year five it was the insurmountable scale of process. This was partly a response to beginning to see the things that were in my control, and the things that were not. To see the sequence between this thing and that place with that student clarified it all quickly.

All year I worked with my students to loosen them and wake them up—to get them agile and responsive and able to move laterally in their learning as they consider task, purpose, technology, and place. To look first inside themselves, and move outward from there.

On a daily basis I fought my instincts to plan and control and cause, and their instincts to be “finished,” listless, and compliant. There were times I thought we were dead in the water, but a few months ago they started to respond, and just in the last few weeks started moving through ideas and projects faster than I can chase them.

Which is exactly what I want.

So many times I almost quit. I blamed culture, literacy, technology, myself, Minecraft, Justin Bieber, and everything else that didn’t jive with my “vision.” But it was growing the whole time–I just couldn’t see it because I wasn’t looking in the right place.

As a teacher, you may come across a strategy, technology, or learning model that knocks your socks off, only to give it a shot and be underwhelmed at the results. It very well could be that you’ve got a crappy idea.

But it also might be that you’re teaching students so accustomed to other ways that everything you say sounds like crazy talk. That you teach on a “data team” that wants you to be more streamlined—to teach just like they do. That you’re trying to lead an entire school of fish upstream, which is real work.

Trust yourself to figure to know when to cut your losses, and when to stick it out.

For one, there is always an implementation dip–a period after integration when things go south. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, you probably don’t fully understand this “great new thing” as well as you think you do. Which means you probably explain it clumsily, use it inefficiently, and aren’t sure how to trouble-shoot when things go awry.

Like your students, you need time as well.

In an era of pressure, maps, PLCs, and pacing guides, forgive yourself for not having all the answers. For learning on the job. For not being able to fully explain why a student is struggling. This doesn’t excuse “accountability,” but rather honors the teaching and learning process as something greater than scientific collision of students and standards.

Rather than an excuse, patience can keep you from overreacting. It can force you to sit with the assessment design, or assessment results just a bit longer to see if something reveals itself. It can keep stress from shutting down your creative thinking and resorting to crazy-panicked teacher mode where no one wins and you’re exhausted.

All of education may seem like it is trying to exert its will on your classroom. Let it push.

You’ve got work that is both creative and scientific. Human and technology-based. Two minds that can’t possibly be rushed.

You’re growing things, after all.

This is an updated version of a post from 2014

Image attribution flickr user adselwood; The Wisdom Of Patient Teaching; Want To Become A Better Teacher? Try Slowing Down


  • Last year I was at a new grade level, in a new school, and doing a new method of instruction. There were times when I wanted to toss it the towel and return to “old” methods because it was very much swimming upstream….but not with my students…with their parents. One in particular was insistent I abandon my methods and teach how she had been taught. Thankfully, I managed to keep the course and will continue to hone my craft this year using similar methods. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • I love the thought process behind this post! Unfortunately, education seems to constantly be playing catch up with technology and social/political trends, so that districts seems to jump from one program to another, constantly changing ideas. While many of the new ideas have merit, we rarely stick through the rough growing stage to see if they will bear fruit before either starting fresh, or simply piling on yet another program. I appreciate the idea of simply slowing down. we are professionals, and so we generally know when something will likely work. It’s important to give things time to develop. No program has instant success, not one that is sustainable in any case.

    The same holds true for the classroom. Many times the first time I try something it is unsuccessful. It’s up to me to decide if it was unsuccessful because it was badly conceived, ineffectively presented, or poorly received. Then I have to decide my next steps. With all the emphasis on data, sometimes I worry that we’ve lost the spirit of reflection and collaboration. I think personal and professional reflection is the most important tool I can utilize as a teacher.

    I often tell my students that we learn more from failure than success, and I truly believe that. When a lesson doesn’t work, I need to take time to figure out why it didn’t work, how to improve it, and whether it is worth fixing in the long run.

    I think the point you made about not always seeing the growth is important as well. The first steps are always the hardest, and students are often resistant to change. Newton was not wrong about inertia. One of the things I have to remind myself at the beginning of every year when I compare my current class unfavorably to a previous one is how much work I put into that previous class to get them where they were by the end of the school year.

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