5 Simple Ideas That Can Transform Your Teaching

Teaching is impossibly complex. There is no way to be the teacher so many begin their career striving to be. You will simply never be able to fulfill everything that each learner needs, no matter how hard you work, how much you read, and how persistently you collaborate. That’s not meant to be discouraging, but empowering. Start with what’s important, what is in your reach, and what you can do, and begin your Sisyphean push from there.

Below are five simple ideas that can transform your teaching. The post is intentionally brief, meant only to get you thinking and perhaps start a conversation in your PLN.

1. Don’t grade everything.

This will not only save your sanity, but protects the students from always fearing failure. The goal of assessment is not a grade, but a snapshot of understanding based on a given assessment format. That’s all. Grading everything also sets a tone of compliance and measurement, and encourages extrinsic motivation.

2. Not all ideas—or standards—are equally important.

Be clear about the big ideas in your curriculum, and make sure they show up over and over again via iteration.

3. The school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints.

You have longer than you think to help students learn. Don’t rush—prioritize and move intentionally forward. Consider instruction anchored by themes and projects rather than genres or standards, no matter how often you’re advised to be “standards-driven.” You can be standards-driven and still aggregate content by something more compelling—and something more conducive to long-term retention.

4. Difficult things take practice.

See #3. Constantly spiral the most important, most transferable big ideas in your content. If you’re filling a jar with various size rocks, you fit the big rocks in first, yes?

5. Curiosity, uncertainty, and confusion are crucial ingredients in learning.

You may know this, but make sure you students do as well.


  • I really love and use number 1. I can’t physically grade everything, but I can take a look, get a good overview of student responses and then address them in the next day or two. I’ve also created a log that helps me to see what students think on a given situation, but that adds another step to the whole process. I admit to using a sticky note to remind me which class said what about a given topic.

    Lastly, I preach #4 constantly to my kids, which is why I only grade summative assessments rather than formative. I don’t want kids refusing to take risks because a formative assessment might bomb their grade. Kids need practice before demonstrating their skill.

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