One-size-fits-all Support Doesn’t Work | Mindsteps Inc.

One-size-fits-all Support Doesn’t Work

One of my first contracts as a consultant was to design a support plan for teachers who were struggling to teach Advanced Placement courses for non-traditional AP students. Many of these students had never taken an AP course before and were really struggling with the rigorous material and the fast pace of the course.

It’s something I had struggled with myself as an AP teacher and had figured out a way to help my students not only pass the AP course, but pass the AP exam as well, so I was confident that I could help these teachers.

I started by designing what I thought was a pretty comprehensive support plan, replete with an initial training, a plethora of resources, a monthly coaching call to troubleshoot any difficulties, unlimited email support, and classroom observations and feedback.

I mean, doesn’t that sound amazing?

And yet, not everyone LOVED the “amazing” support I was providing.

  • Some didn’t find the resources I provided helpful.
  • Others resented my monthly coaching sessions and felt they were a waste of valuable time.
  • Some appreciated my resources and wanted more, but really didn’t want my input into their lessons.
  • Others were doing well enough in the classroom and didn’t feel they needed such an intense support program. They preferred to work on their own most of the time and call me when they felt they needed me.
  • And some wanted even MORE support.

I was baffled. Here I was giving them support I would have killed to have in my own classroom, and they didn’t appreciate it. What’s more, a lot of them found my support intrusive.

​Note: Want to learn how to give teachers support they will welcome and actually use to improve? Join us at Builder’s Lab 2018 where I’ll be sharing my Surefire Support System which gives teachers the exact support they need without creating more work for you. You can register for Builder’s Lab here.

As the year progressed and their polite tolerance turned into murmured complaints, I started to feel a little resentful. I was working so hard for them and they didn’t appreciate my efforts. What’s more, I knew they needed the supports I was giving them.

One day, I visited one of my schools to work with three of their AP teachers. The first teacher showed up 10 minutes late for our coaching session and hadn’t gone through the resources I’d given her the last time I was there.

This was the second time she was unprepared for one of our meetings and I was frustrated. I asked her why she wasn’t prepared when she knew that I was coming? She threw up her hands and said, “Robyn, it’s just too much! I have enough to do as it is and this doesn’t feel like support. It just feels like more work!”

During my session with the next teacher, I handed her the resources I bought. “This is great,” she murmured as she hungrily poured through them. “Next time, can you also bring me something on practice exams?” she asked. I assured her that I would. Then I shared with her some feedback on her lesson and she eagerly took notes. As our session drew to a close she said, “I wish you came here more. Our sessions always seem so short.”

In my session with the last teacher, I handed her the resources I bought and she thanked me. “This is exactly what I needed!” she exclaimed. We then worked on a unit she was planning for the following week and I shared my feedback. “That was perfect,” she smiled at the end of our session. “Thank you so much. You always have just what I need.”

When I drove home that afternoon, I reflected on my visit. I’d offered the same support to three teachers. For one teacher, it was too much. For the second, it was too little. For the third, it was juuuust right.

Oh great, I thought to myself. I’m living my own version of the three little bears.

Note: Never give one-size-fits-NONE support again. The Surefire Support System gives teachers the exact support they need without creating more work for you. You can get it at Builder’s Lab 2018. Click here to get your ticket.

But that’s the challenge of one-size-fits-all support isn’t it? For some it’s too much. For others it’s too little. And others think it’s just right.

Think about it. The trouble in the three little bears story isn’t that Papa Bear’s chair was too big or that Mama bear’s chair was too soft. After all, the chair wasn’t too big for Papa Bear or too soft for Mama Bear. For them both chairs were just right. They just weren’t right for Goldilocks.

And that’s okay because the chairs weren’t made for her. She was trying to fit into someone else’s chair.

One size does not suit all.

We know this intuitively. But, while we’d love to give everyone the support that’s right for them, who has the time? Besides, you can’t please everyone all the time.

Or can you?

Just for a minute, imagine what would happen if you could give every teacher the exact support they need. What if you could design a support process that was “juuust right” for every teacher?

What’s more, what if you could do it in a way that doesn’t create a lot of extra work for you or require a ton of extra time?

And what if you could track everything, see teachers progress and grow, and most important, see a real and lasting change in the classroom.

Sounds like a fairy tale doesn’t it.

At least that’s how it always sounded to me until one day, I had an epiphany.

​Note: Never give one-size-fits-NONE support again. The Surefire Support System gives teachers the exact support they need without creating more work for you. You can get it at Builder’s Lab 2018. Click here to get your ticket.

I was working with a teacher on developing a more differentiated approach to preparing her students for the AP test. You see, some of her students were ready (indeed, they had been “born ready,”). But others of her students were far from prepared for the test. I explained to her that she needed to plan a differentiated approach for the rest of the year.

She rolled her eyes. “I barely have time to plan one lesson and you want me to now make 3 lessons?”

“Oh no,” I shook my head. “Absolutely not.” Then I showed her the differentiation approach I had developed for my own students. I called it “iPhone” differentiation where I created ONE lesson but multiple access points to the lesson (in much the same way that the iPhone was one device with multiple apps people could use to customize it to suit their needs).

As I was walking her through the process, it hit me! If I expect teachers to find ways to differentiate their lessons to meet each student’s needs, shouldn’t I differentiate my professional development to do the same thing?

I couldn’t wait to get home that night to work on my PD plan. I approached it the same way I would a differentiated lesson plan. I had to modify the process a little but, I was really pleased with myself and my plan when I finished.

On my next visit to the school, I sat with each teacher and deployed my plan. The first teacher who had been so resentful of my visits, actually smiled during our conversation and thanked me for my support.


The second teacher also thanked me and told me that I’d given her exactly what she needed.

I’ll take that!

The third teacher was thanked me and asked me when I’d be back.

Three out of three!

I was ecstatic! Here I was thinking that maybe these teachers were just ungrateful or unwilling to grow, when all I needed was to give them the right kind of support – support that actually matched their needs.

Over the years, I refined my methods to make them work better for the professional development context and ultimately came up with a Surefire Support System that I still use today and teach others how to use as well.

Over the next several posts, I’ll share with you a little more about that system and how you can apply it to your school. [Note: I’ll be teaching the entire system at Builder’s Lab 2018. You can get your ticket here.]

But for now, I want you to take a look at the way you currently support teachers. What is most frustrating about the process for you? What is most frustrating about the process for them?

Let me know in the comments section and I’ll try to address some of these frustrations in the next several posts.

​Note: Never give one-size-fits-NONE support again. The Surefire Support System gives teachers the exact support they need without creating more work for you. You can get it at Builder’s Lab 2018. Click here to get your ticket.