Read Part I of Millie’s story HERE
When Millie told me that some of her “little darlings” would never be successful, I have to admit that I got angry. In fact, few things make me more angry than running up against low expectations for “those” kids or seeing a teacher cheat kids of the opportunity to learn because of soft or hard stereotypes.
“Tell me what you’ve tried so far to help your students,” I asked as I struggled to overcome my annoyance and focus on helping Millie.
“Oh, I’ve tried just about everything,” she answered proudly. “I’ve been teaching a long time so I know all the little tricks. But sadly, there are just some kids who can’t learn no matter what you do.”
I should say the same about some teachers, I fumed silently. Aloud I asked, “Of all the strategies you’ve tried, which one seemed to make the biggest difference?”
She shrugged. After a moment, she answered, “Repetition I guess. But I can repeat some things a thousand times and some of my little darlings still don’t get it. “
If she says “little darlings” one more time…
“Why do you think repetition is at least somewhat effective?” I prompted.
“Oh I don’t know,” she started fiddling with her pencil. “I guess some students need to hear things more than once in order to get it.”
“When you offer them repetition, do you explain things in the exact same way?”
“Well, sometimes…” she hedged. I could tell she really wished I would leave her alone.
“So maybe that’s the problem.” I went on to explain that repetition was great for practice but not the most effective strategy to use during acquisition. I also explained to her how to use acceleration instead as a way to leverage the power of repetition without merely repeating the same explanation over and over again.
To my surprise, Millie actually was listening. She even asked a few clarifying questions. We took another look at her unit and suggested that she build acceleration into each stage of her unit and left her to work.
When I checked on Millie 15 minutes later, she excitedly showed me her revised unit and it really wasn’t half bad. She worked diligently the rest of the day and told me how excited she was to try acceleration with her students.
Does Millie still need work? Sure. Have I erased all of her low expectations? Not yet. Did I transform Millie in a single afternoon? Of course not.
But does Millie have a better way to try to reach more of her “little darlings?” Yes she does. And, if she finds success with that strategy, perhaps she will start to see their potential. At least I hope so.
As I got on the plane that afternoon, I thought a lot about Millie. After I got beyond my own personal offense at her attitude, I had to admit that I was in many ways no better than Millie. The moment she started with her “little darling” speech, my expectations for her dropped and I was fully prepared to dismiss her as a “bad teacher” and move on to someone I felt I could actually help. It would have been very easy to believe that there are some teachers who will never get it and should really find other careers. In fact, many of you would have fully supported me in thinking that way.
But if it is wrong for Millie to have low expectations of her students, isn’t it also wrong for me to have low expectations of Millie?
That’s the hard part about leading. You actually have to walk the walk. If I would never allow a teacher to give up on a student, I cannot give up on the teacher. Never.
Walking the talk ain’t easy. I struggle all the time to hold high expectations for all teachers no matter how much they are struggling at the moment, no matter how egregious I find their attitude, no matter how far they are from mastery. But the thing that makes me continue to support them, to hold them accountable yes, but to give them everything I’ve got to help them succeed is this:
I owe it to the students. And I cannot ask a teacher to give their all to their students if I am unwilling to give my all to them.
Maybe this makes sense in theory but you’re having a really tough time right now in your school walking the walk. Perhaps you have your own Millie and you are struggling to find a way to reach her.
I get it and I can help you. Come join me this October at our Leadership Lab where I show exactly how to get all the Millie’s in your life moving towards mastery.
And if YOU are Millie or you know someone who, like Millie, has lost your own motivation along the way. I can help you too. Join us for the Motivate Your Students, Motivate Yourself intensive this fall where I can help even Millie find a renewed passion for teaching.