— Dan Jones —
“You have to be odd to be number one!”
“Do what is right, not what is easy.”
“A mistake is success in progress.”
“Don’t stop until you’re proud.”
“Struggle is just another word for growth.”
“I never lose. Either I win or I learn.”
“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
Educators love inspirational quotes. We love to create them, post them on our classroom and social media walls, and annoy our students with them. But what do all of these inspirational quotes have in common? They are merely words and nothing more. I have never come across a single inspirational quote that changed my day-to-day actions, responses to students, methodology, classroom management, or improved my tolerance levels, organization, or time management. Each one, though, for a moment, made me say, “Wow!” and then I moved on with whatever I was doing. The moment passed. I was inspired in the moment only. The same can be said for 1,000 other intentions that cross educators’ minds during the summer. How do we determine what will change our educational practices? How do we determine which of our educational practices needs to be changed?
I can’t help it, but each summer I begin to think about how I am going to completely change everything in my classroom: desk arrangements, organization practices, bulletin boards, supplies, the structure of lessons, discipline, positive reinforcement strategies, grading methods, and the list goes on and on. I have grand ideas of building the most engaging classroom environment EVER! I sketch plans for a stage with lights that glow from a floating platform that doubles as a storage unit for kleenex and other classroom supplies, and a mirror that students can look into and open up to receive an encouraging word for the day. I read books about improving my classroom management strategies, and I join some new groups on Facebook to engage with other educators. But what has changed in my classroom…not a single thing. Though I am inspired, encouraged, and filled with knowledge, nothing has actually changed. Why?
I am suffering from pain points. I can feel it in my bones that something needs to change, but I just can’t put my finger on it. The pain is a dull ache that has been there for a long time, but on the surface, everything looks fine. There is no traumatic injury that needs immediate attention. My pain points and your pain points may be very different, but their purpose is the same. They position us to examine what we need to address. When you feel your pain points, it is time to evaluate the symptoms. It is important to identify, specifically, an area that needs to be supported. But, we’re all in luck! We don’t need to diagnose our symptoms in isolation. The Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning (GEEFL) works like an x-ray machine. Hold it up to your pain point, and it will highlight specific things that need addressing. Though my instinct is to change EVERYTHING in my classroom, the GEEFL will help me to see more precisely what needs to change. It is through this process that I can be encouraged that I am engaging my students’ parents well and that my individual space is working because I am already implementing educational best practices. However, what comes to the surface is that my Group Space is struggling, especially in the area of promoting collaboration and group work. Now I have a focus. Instead of wanting to change everything, I know exactly what I need to explore to address the pain point I am experiencing. So, what now?
Just knowing something doesn’t mean that the knowledge has been internalized or will instill change. Knowing what needs to happen is no different than a quote that inspires for a moment; we need to take that knowledge and give it feet. The hardest step is the first one, but that is because it is the biggest one; it is a change in direction. Where to start can sometimes be overwhelming, but the important thing is just to start.
Your struggle is not unique, so there is no need to think that you have to start from scratch when addressing your pain points. There is no certificate that you will earn because you tried to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It is so important to gain some perspective when addressing any pain point. Finding individuals with more educational experience than you is an important first step when starting your journey to make a change. Koel Chatteree, author of the article 5 Reasons Why Seeking Guidance Means Seeking Progress, writes, “the truth of the matter is, I only ever feel a sense of relief after having talked it out with someone. It’s taken me many years to get to the point of feeling comfortable speaking about my issues (even with friends and family), but I found that once I did, their perspectives on my situation often dragged me out of my own vicious thought-cycle.” He goes on to say, “They provide different opinions, perspectives, and input drawn from their own unique experiences that can be invaluable resources for you. The process of stepping back and viewing your situation from the outsiders perspective can help you reflect on things differently than you have.” It is important to know that you are not going through the school year by yourself. Team up with other educators, whether in your building or in an online community and learn from their experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask for help as you begin to address your pain point.
Often when we begin to address a pain point, we think that the solution must be tailored to our unique situation, environment, or issue, but the truth is, numerous people have already gone through what you are going through. As I mentioned above, learning from others’ experiences is crucial to the cure for your pain point. Look at specific tools that they used to move through the area you want to address. Are there resources that have already been created? (Typically, those resources can be tailored to reflect your classroom or your personality.) Knowing that you don’t have to start from scratch can be the exact thing that stimulates that first action step towards addressing your pain point. Seeing what others have already created can sometimes be the spark that ignites an idea stream that really gets you moving. And sometimes, someone has already created the exact resource you need.
Now that you know your pain point, how would things be different if it was fixed? Knowing where you want to go is a great place to begin. Education is about building a process, and we, as educators are always in process; we are always evolving. Knowing our end goal allows us to step back and create action steps to achieve our goal. Pain points aren’t solved with a single step. They take time, and you need to give yourself time to address them. Dr. Stephan Covey said, “People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren’t getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope with all of their might.” The action steps that you create will give you manageable steps to provide you with clarity to achieve your vision. Pain points don’t vanish overnight, but you are equipped to address the pain point. Our past molded us to be who we are today so that we can face the challenges of today. However, we must understand that today’s challenges are preparing us for challenges that lie ahead.
Pain points: everyone has them, but it is important to identify them, address them internally and intentionally, and take action steps to remedy them. Leaning from the experience of others and learning from their journey helps us to know that we are not alone and that there are ways to overcome our pain points. Time is necessary for any growth, change, and progress to occur. It is important to give yourself the time to address your pain points in healthy, meaningful ways. Change is not a saying that you stick on a wall or a pin that you find on Pinterest. Change happens internally and is born out of our pain points. It is time to get moving.