Don’t let fear stop you from doing what’s best for your students.
When my sister was in high school, she struggled with some pretty crippling anxiety. I vividly remember, however, when she decided that she was not going to let that anxiety rule her life. She made a decision that in order to conquer this fear she would do something every day that scared her. This could have been a small challenge, like taking a risk on a class assignment. Or a much greater challenge like submitting her college application.
No matter what, my sister made it her mission to push herself every single day despite ambiguity and fear.
Seeing her make this decision and struggle through her fears had a great impact on me as a developing young person. It is to her that I owe a large chunk of my success as a teacher.
Flipping Your Fear
I remember the first time I truly took her philosophy to heart as an educator. I had been teaching for several years and found myself in a new position as a seventh-grade math teacher. A few weeks before the school year started, I was reading about flipped learning and the flipped classroom. As a math teacher, I thought this could be the perfect way for me to have more time working one-on-one and in small groups with my students, to help them with their struggles and push them further when they needed it.
This was only two weeks before the school year started. Conventional wisdom told me I should take more time to sort out the decisions. Not being a big fan of conventional wisdom, I chose to ignore this advice. I made a decision. Despite my fear of failure and lack of experience with flipping a class. Despite my lack of knowledge on how to create video lectures for my students to watch at home.
I decided I was going to leap.
I dove into this adventure wholeheartedly and flipped every single math class I taught that year, both general education math and honors math. I stumbled my way through it, spending a significant amount of time recording and rerecording videos. My students and I learned together how to make a flipped classroom work. I saw unbelievable growth with my learners, not only in their academic progress but also in their enthusiasm for learning! I leaped before I looked. I did not have it all planned out. I had no idea the specifics of how I was going to make it work. But I knew it was good education practice and I knew that it would make a difference in my students’ learning.
The Grid Method
Fast forward a few more years and I found myself in a position as an elementary school gifted education teacher. Once again, this time in the middle of the school year, I was introduced to a new method of instruction called The Grid Method. I had a long conversation with the creator, during which he gave me a rundown of the basics. I decided, even though it was October and I had already established a classroom routine, that I was going to once again dive in head first and put everything I had into this new strategy for teaching students based on mastery learning.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I had never run a mastery learning class before and I really didn’t have a clue as to how to go about doing it, outside of the information I gleaned from my conversation with Chad.
Did I Stumble and fall a few times? Of course.
Did I have to work out the kinks and make adjustments as I went? Of course.
Did my students once again experience growth and enthusiasm for learning in a way that I had not seen before? You better believe it!
Again, I leaped before I looked. I didn’t have an exact plan, I didn’t have all the details worked out, but I knew that what I was going to do what was best for my students.
One last story for you. This summer I learned about something called gamification; a process by which you can incorporate elements of game design into your instruction to increase student engagement and relevancy of their learning. Once again, I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t have the details worked out. I am still figuring out how this is actually going to work in my classroom, and I anticipate many adjustments, many modifications, and a lot of learning on my part over the next several months. But I’m going for it because I see the power it has. The potential it has to help my students learn.
As I dive into this new adventure, I recognize that every great success I have had in my as a teacher has been when I leaped before I looked. It has come when I say, “I know this isn’t how I’ve done it before. But I know that this is right for kids.” 0r “I know that this is going to make my class better. I know that if I don’t do this I will wonder what if.”
So here I sit, ready to face fear, ready to do something that scares me a little bit, ready to dive in, ready to leap before I look.
Whether you are just starting your school year as you read this, or you’re already halfway through, or even if you’re finishing up another exhausting Spring, I encourage you (in fact, I beg of you), take a chance and leap before you look.
Build your plane as you fly it and try something new.