Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Trying Anything

I sat with a teacher a few weeks ago that was confronted with a very common classroom challenge - how to create more differentiation in her classroom to better reach all of her students. She was worried that her struggling learners were not receiving adequate support from her. I could tell immediately from our conversation that she was a committed teacher - hardworking, diligent, dedicated. Her issue was not lack of effort or desire.

I learned that she was spending the majority of her class time in the whole group model of instruction - with very little time available for more targeted small groups. As this was a school that recently rolled out a blended learning initiative, I recommended that the teacher consider trying a Station Rotation which would allow for various grouping strategies by skill, modality, independence readiness, or interest. This would help her achieve her goal of more differentiation and targeted, small group instruction.

While I shared this strategy with her, I began to see a look of angst and frustration come over her face. Then she shared almost in anguish, “everything you’re saying sounds great and I think I could do it but it would take me five hours to plan a lesson like this. I have my own two kids and a husband at home who need my attention.”

This wasn’t the response that I was expecting, but I knew exactly how the teacher felt. When moving into a new kind of practice especially one that requires a different type of planning or in some cases more initial set up, it can seem daunting with already limited time and resources. This situation was further complicated because this was a teacher who was highly-esteemed in a high-achieving school. Doing anything in her class that was short of impeccable felt like a nonstarter.

This wasn’t a teacher that was resistant to doing a Station Rotation model in her classroom. It was a teacher who was resistant to doing a Station Rotation imperfectly in her classroom. This was a case where her desire for perfection had become an impediment to trying something new.

In the Model of Generative Change, (Dr. Arnetha Ball, Stanford University Graduate School of Education) one of the key stages of professional development is internalization. This is the process through which a new skill or strategy is attempted enough to become a sustained part of our practice. It is also the recognition that the first times we try anything new, we will likely not be very good at it. For internalization to happen, we must be willing to accept and even reward ourselves for not being immediately great and still choosing to innovate. Trying a Station Rotation, Flipped Classroom, Playlists, or any new practice is just like when we were learning to ride a bike or learning a new instrument. It takes some time to become proficient and this is an uncomfortable place for any person, especially one used to being confident in her skill set.

For the next few minutes, we focused on what it looks like to try something new and confronting the discomfort. We also discussed that in a blended classroom, perfection is not the goal, but instead generativity - where we are in a continuous state of reflection and iteration in our practice. We discussed some strategies in which she could incrementally practice a Station Rotation classroom through small group pullouts, starting with a fewer number of stations, and spreading the stations out over a couple of days. This could allow her to start with a little less of a daunting lift in the beginning.

We closed out the conversation reaffirming what could be possible for those struggling learners if she were to try some of these strategies. Her reservation was replaced with a cautious optimism and a commitment to trying this new practice. It is amazing what becomes possible when we don’t let perfect become the enemy of trying something new.

Learn more about how Learning Innovation Catalyst is empowering educators through the methodology of Generative Change.

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