Great Teachers Know When to Cut the Grass

ImageI was cutting my grass this morning, grumbling to myself about how this rainy summer has caused me to mow the lawn at least twice a week since April. And then I thought about last year, when the drought gave me about a six-week reprieve from mowing.

Some summers you mow a lot, and others you hardly mow at all. Isn’t that exactly what good teaching is all about?

In other words, good teaching is contextual. The best teachers know that no formula, no recipe, no set order of things is going to work for all kids all the time. If the grass needs cut, you cut it. If it needs watered, you water. If it needs aerated or grub controlled or any of those other things, that’s what you do.

Those of you who have followed me on Twitter for a while have seen me tweet many times a few similar thoughts. If the dance floor is empty, change the song. Teach for 35 years, not one year 35 times.

No two years are the same. No two classes are the same. The best teachers understand this and constantly adjust strategies for instruction and motivation to get the best from each student.

Furthermore, those teachers who are most successful see each student as a single blade of grass and tend to each student’s needs accordingly. Those who are less successful see their class as a lawn, and give the same treatment to all kids whether they need it or not.

Yes, there are some things that should never change. Great teachers have fundamental core values that are unwavering and guide them in their work. They always maintain great communication with parents. They never use sarcasm with kids. But overall, they understand that each student is unique and should be treated as such.

This all goes for you school administrators too. School leadership is incredibly contextual. School leadership is not as simple as enforcing a rule book. If it were, we would not need school administrators. We could hire a bunch of low-paid clerks who could follow recipes instead of making complex decisions.

The best school leaders know that much of what they do involves shades of grey, and their job is to take a complex situation and make the best, most reasonable decision possible for the given circumstances. And they know that a similar situation may necessitate a different solution next time.

Like the best teachers, the best school leaders have unwavering core values, always treat people well, and never use sarcasm. And the best school leaders know that the students and employees they are responsible for are treated as individuals for their individual needs.

This is not easy work. It involves a great deal of vulnerability. The best teachers and administrators have the ability to admit when they are wrong, the ability to apologize for their mistakes, and the ability to say when they don’t know the answer.

The worst teachers and school leaders are those who never admit a mistake, those who are going to mow the lawn whether it needs or not, all the while saying, “it’s the responsibility of the grass to need cutting.”

So that’s what I thought about while I mowed the lawn today. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

In the meantime, go enjoy what is left of this beautiful summer. Play outside. Spend time with your families. Maybe even mow the lawn.

But only if it needs it.

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7 thoughts on “Great Teachers Know When to Cut the Grass

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 08/06/2013 | doug --- off the record

  2. Mowing gets me thinking…today I sat down at my desk zero times…..I had intended to do lots of to do lists things today to get ready for registration and other returning to school stuff. People needed help, ideas, suggestions, guidance, decisions…etc…..no to do lists items completed…strongly belief our people are our work not interruptions to our work. Tonight, mowing, was one hour of uninterrupted time (and people find it less offensive then closing my office door) pretty much prepared my staff opening in my head and did lots of good reflecting….enjoyed your thoughts…I’ll continue to mow as needed…have a great year

  3. I believe that each student is as unique as each blade of grass. However, I do believe in the complexity of striving to reach each student that there are situations that using sarcasm works. There is no cookie-cutter answer. The analogy allowed me to reflect on how I would like my school year withe students to being.

  4. Dr. Clark: You are correct. John Wooden had the very same philosophy. He kept notes on each of us players and, in time, he grouped us into personality types, roughly of course. When a new student arrived, and he thought he or she reminded him of a former type, he went back to his notes tried the same strategies that worked before. I think it’s important to adjust your strategy for each person but also to take notes so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Swen

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