5 Phrases I’m Letting Go

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As found on nextbeep.com

The Issue…

This summer I began my 22nd year as an educator and during this time I have made many comments about our profession. Some of the things I’ve said were “trendy” and short-lived; other things were simply “jargony” and ultimately unsustainable; and finally, there were the comments that only perpetuated negativity and didn’t contribute positively to the profession or my work with students. These phrases were the problem because they kept me from seeing challenges as opportunities and so I am officially letting them go (cue the Disney soundtrack… Let It Go!

To be completely transparent, I am guilty of using each of the following phrases at different points in my career; in fact, a couple of them I used for years. In the end, I realized they never helped me arrive at a solution; instead, these phrases allowed me to push the blame for the problem onto someone or something else (personalizing an issue or problem can be so destructive) and the end result was no improvement for kids or my colleagues or myself. So, I am officially letting go of the following phrases and replacing them with more “solution focused” approaches!  

5 Phrases I’m Letting Go…

The phraseThese kids can’t/don’t/won’t do this because… (replace kids with teacher or parents and it creates the same problem)! 

The issue with this phrase: Phrases like the one above, which I used at the beginning of my career, only perpetuated a deficit mindset and set such low expectations for my kids, colleagues and myself. Can anyone say self-fulfilling prophecy? I learned early on, when I was teaching in NYC, that my “inner city kids” (as described by those around me) were capable of so much even though I was led to believe I shouldn’t expect much from them. Well, guess what? That year my kids read Shakespeare, did high school math and wrote their own books! The truth is, that only happened because a colleague suggested that I push and support my students because they could accomplish anything if I believed in them. This experience taught me to focus on the strengths of my students, colleagues and families and build on those because that is how we grow and improve. None of our kids wants to fail; none of our teachers want to be unsuccessful; and none of our families want to disengage. No! My job is to set high expectations/goals and offer the necessary scaffolds to achieve those goals. Whether an academic goal for students or a professional learning opportunity for educators, I need to understand everyone’s readiness level and provide them an entry point for learning and engagement!

Instead, now I use… “This child’s strength is…” OR “This teacher’s passion is…” OR “This family member can engage in these ways…”

The phrase: There is just too much to do and not enough time to do it! 

The issue with the phrase: Yes, there is a lot to do but our task is to figure out what we can let go of when we are adding something new that we believe to be in the best interest of our students and staff. As a building leader I learned quickly to be mindful of “initiative overload”; in fact, my job as a building principal was to ensure that we were not overburdening and taxing our teachers with “just one more thing” to squeeze into the day. My work as a building leader was to collaborate with students, staff and families to identify the experiences/skills we determined to be essential for our students and focus on those initiatives and goals. For example, at Cantiague, after we embraced writing workshop as the way to help students grow and develop as authors, there was no longer room in the schedule for Daily Oral Language, which was a resource some educators used to teach grammar, vocabulary, etc. So, Daily Oral Language needed to be “weeded out” to make room for the workshop model (which has decades of research to support its effectiveness). When I was a teacher, I also learned that I had to work like a thoughtful and intentional gardener who can step back and determine what needs to be “weeded out” to make room for something new and hopefully better. This is the work I had to engage in so I could “weed out” unnecessary practices/activities/routines to make room for something that had been identified as better for my students.  Yes, certain practices are sacred because of their effectiveness but I also know when to let go and weed our garden!
Instead, now I use… “Ok, so we have determined that this new practice/resource/approach will help enhance the learning experiences of our students; what can we let go of in our schedule to give our students this new opportunity?”

The phrase: Our focus as educators has to be on content, not pedagogy! 

The issue with the phrase: WOW! REALLY?!? Yup, I did use this phrase at some point in my career and have subsequently heard it several times in different settings. While I understand that educators need to be masters of their content, the pedagogy is critical to the delivery of the content and the learning experiences of our students. Sound and effective pedagogical practice can be the difference between learning that is only reflected in a test score (a moment in time or a destination) versus changing the way a student sees the world (forever or a journey)! After engaging in many powerful professional learning opportunities as a teacher in NYC, I came to believe that pedagogy trumps content every single day.

Instead, now I use… “How can we provide our educators with meaningful professional learning opportunities that will not only support them professionally, but will also compliment content mastery while resonating on a personal level?”

The phrase: Staff morale is low/down!  

The issue with the phrase: This is a phrase I used several times in my career without giving it a second thought. People feeling stressed? Staff morale must be low. Too much to do and not enough time to do it? Staff morale must be low. Too many changes happening at once? Staff morale is down! That was how I experienced the phrase and heard it used throughout my career. Well, when I moved into administration my experience with the phrase changed dramatically because then it was being directed at me and I felt like low staff morale was my fault. Anytime I heard that phrase as a building principal or district administrator, I literally felt sick to my stomach and my mind started racing trying to figure out why morale might be down and how I could fix the issue. At some point, though, I stopped to think about the times I used or heard the phrase and I came to some realizations about its use… 

1) I never knew if the majority of the staff’s morale was really low because I was only going on what a few people around me shared; 

2) I often used the phrase when I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed;

3) The people who commonly used the phrase around me weren’t necessarily the educators who were respected or trusted within the school/district;

4) Some of the people who used the phrase around me were often pushing back against a new initiative or resource that they did not want to engage in; in fact, in some instances, they just didn’t want to do the work so they projected that onto others and qualified it as low staff morale;

5) Staff morale was often not the issue but instead of identifying the specific issue and suggesting solutions for said issue, it was easier to use this phrase and focus on a unidentified problem that generally only affected a small group of people; 

Yes, maintaining a positive culture and morale are critical to the success of any learning organization and that maintenance is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. For that reason, if there is a negative vibe spreading throughout a school or district, I pause and try to identify the specific issue or people affected and work from that place instead of generalizing it and using low staff morale as a way to avoid the issue at hand.

Instead, now I use… “It seems that some people are feeling stressed (overwhelmed/ frustrated/ disappointed/ etc.) because of ___________ so let’s brainstorm some ways we can acknowledge the problem, support everyone at this point and continue to move forward.” 

The phrase: What reading level is this child? 

The issue with this phrase: Oh gosh, I used this phrase so many times and I am not proud of it. It was so easy to talk about kids as levels because it allowed us to focus on data points instead of really thinking about the reader. What I slowly came to realize (thanks to the talented members of my PLN) is that kids are not levels; yes, we can level books to support some of our work during guided reading or to help match a student to a book where they might be able to practice specific strategies or skills but we should not be leveling kids. Kids are readers, not levels. Kids grow and evolve as readers; levels are fixed. Kids have specific interests and we should tap into those to support their growth as readers, not just force them to read books at specific levels. My goal eventually became nurturing and supporting the readers who walked into our classrooms each day; not to assign them a level and lead them to believe that is who they are as a reader. Nope – kids are not levels; kids are brilliant readers and thinkers and my job is to give them access to books that will inspire them, excite them, engage them and allow them to see the world in a different way!

Instead, now I use… “How can we enhance our classroom libraries to better support our readers?” OR “How can we better support this specific reader based on his/her interests and strengths?”

These are just five of the phrases I am letting go as I continue to learn and grow. There are dozens more that I have already let go of and others that I will likely let go in the future. Are there any phrases you want to let go of moving forward? Join me and LET IT GO!!