How To Turn Your Classroom From Failure To Excellence
Although in the moment it doesn’t seem like a big deal, accepting less than what you ask of your students is a form of failure. It’s a lowering of standards that communicates that you don’t mean what you say.
It tells students that they can’t, that they’re a lost cause not worth fighting for.
Many teachers spend every day moving from one failure to the next, which is—make no mistake—absorbed into the heart and psyche of every student.
Talking over students.
Allowing poorly performed routines.
Conceding shoddy work.
Ignoring off-task behavior.
In fact, moving on in the face of any deviation from what you expect is inviting an accelerating decline of standards.
If not nipped in the bud immediately, and reaffirmed or retaught, the result is a worsening of behavior and performance. The argument against such precision, of course, is that you don’t have the time to fix every instance of poor or failed execution.
The opposite is true.
Nothing saves time more than well-done routines, transitions, activities, group and independent practices . . . you name it.
Moving from one success to the next also grooves the habit of excellence. It allows you to continue to raise the bar instead of continuing to lower it out of necessity.
Demanding success, no matter what it is, is the secret to extraordinary teaching due to its transference to everything you do. However, it can be a disaster in the hands of a teacher who doesn’t first set students up for success.
This is key. Your students will never give you what you want if they don’t know what you want. You must teach it.
1. Be highly detailed.
Details are interesting to students. The more specific and exacting you are, the more readily students can picture themselves performing well.
Details also leave nothing out and nothing to chance. It’s comforting to students to know everything they need to know to succeed. No guesswork, just freedom to focus on doing.
Nothing is more effective in communicating your expectations than modeling. It shows students in the clearest way possible what you want.
It also allows you to test their understanding by asking individual volunteers and groups to model after you, which proves to them and to you that it can be done.
Reminders after misbehavior are always bad (enforce a consequence instead). Reminders before misbehavior can happen are good and most effective.
It’s just smart teaching to review your behavior and academic expectations, and check thoroughly for understanding, before sending your students off on their own.
If in the rare case your students perform poorly after following the steps above, stop immediately, rewind back to the previous transition, and start again.
You must hold firm to the message that you will never accept anything less than excellence. This doesn’t mean treating students like soldiers (your routines can be as relaxed as you like).
It means you expect your students to perform how they were taught.
It’s best to over-teach, review, and remind than to do the opposite. Try never to send students off unless you know they will succeed.
If you have any doubt, then wait. Model again. Reteach. Make them prove to you with personal whiteboards, assurances, nods, thumbs up, etc. that they get it.
Only then will you give your ‘Go’ signal.
Never moving on until you get what you want saves weeks and months of time otherwise wasted on interruptions, lazy distraction, and bad performance.
Once you develop the reputation for accepting only excellence, then that’s what you’ll get. Success begets success. It becomes a habit and a feeling students crave.
It gives them purpose and meaning. It’s addicting and intrinsic. Plus, over time it takes less and less work from you to ensure it.
Your unwavering commitment transitions at the start of the year from a hassle students may resist, to a drive that becomes part of who they are. The desire to be part of something special is universal.
Belonging and connection to what is good and uncommon is exhilarating. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
For you and for your students.
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