Don’t Try Too Hard

lessons from a strikeout king

Note to Self:

You’ve been reading up on research and engaged in the conversations about how teachers need to be using the “best practices” in teaching. You really want your lessons to have all those components. You’ve planned the units and set up brainstorms, stacks of them, and now you’re attempting to create an algorithm for yourself: this strategy plus this topic times this skills set divided evenly among . . .

Let it go. 

You’ve been reading up on authentic education and listening to conversations with un-schoolers and alt-schoolers and the insights of STEM camps and “this worked for me.” That’s not a bad thing. The summer is great for getting perspectives. Still . . .

Let it go. 

The reason you became the Strikeout King as a kid had little to do with mechanics. You wanted advice. You sought out advice. You treated the game like it was a research project. You set up a regiment. You tried way too hard and the minute you walked up to the plate, your brain swirled with ideas and concepts and a mental checklist of eyes-on-the-ball, shoulders lowered, what-pitch-would-he-most-likely-throw. You didn’t know how to . . .

Let it go. 

So, you’re going to step into the classroom and if you’re not careful, you’ll listen to the spectators. You’ll try and double-check whether your approach matches what you claim to believe on blogs and on Twitter chats and in conferences. You’ll step up to the plate with voices swirling in your head and you’ll over-think it.

Let it go.

You teach best when you teach intuitively, when you interact relationally and you adjust in the moment. You teach best when you have fun. Your best days occur when you calm down and realize that linear equations and plot mountains might not be life and death. Some people don’t take teaching seriously. They treat it like a joke. That’s not you, though. You over-analyze it. Seriously. Don’t try too hard. Have fun.

Let it go.

photo credit: Professor Bop via photo pin cc

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

21 responses

  1. Love the photo of the baseball.

    Well said. I would also urge that one use and develop one's strengths.

    To use a baseball analogy, not everyone has home run power, but a single, a couple of stolen bases, and a sacrifice fly gets a run across the plate too.

    1. Agreed. I need to remember my place, my abilities, my identity. All of that makes a difference.

  2. Thank you for giving me just the "dope slap" I needed as I was creating my multi-integrated, practically four dimensional unit plans to reflect this summer's coursework and common core…Remember why I do this, remember that the greatest gift of teaching is never knowing exactly how I am going to use the ideas and skills I have acquired, but knowing for sure I'll have them when I do. I need to think about what others know but trust my well-educated gut about being open to the community that presents itself this fall.

    1. Often that "gut instinct" is just learning that you've internalized. People are quick to dismiss it, but I've found that it can save your lesson.

  3. Pretty subversive stuff in this age of collaborative group think/teach.
    Be prepared for needs improvement 😉

    1. Ha ha! I've been fortunate enough to work with principals who give me enough freedom to take some risks. My evaluations have been good . . . so far. But I'll keep that in mind 😉

  4. Dear John,

    Wonderful, as always–the Sonny Rollins vinyl behind the baseball is sublime.

    Dear Greg,

    "Collaborative group think/teach" is poetic–such a wonderful flow of sounds, such a subtle, but deep, cut that needs to be spoken.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. It's summertime and if I'm not careful, my sense of what I can accomplish gets way too bloated. Baseball saves me in many ways from this. It's a game where being one out of three is considered a success.

  5. Thanks Coach. I needed that. :o)

    1. Thanks!

  6. It's a good lesson to learn, for sure; if you're interested (or have the time), here's my version: Make room. Interestingly, one of the commenters interpreted it as "let go".

    1. Thanks for the link, Malyn. I think we're on similar wavelengths.

    2. I added your post to mine….along with others I've recently read which are on the same vein. I love that this can be viewed and told in many ways, like a good story.

    3. Thanks, Malyn. I think that's a great idea. I love the notion of seeing connections between blogs.

  7. This is great advice for me as I begin a new position working with four schools in three different school districts. My charge is to build capacity in these schools. Trying too hard is certain to limit my impact. As with most processes, there seems to be a fine line, that if met, brings out the best in everyone.

    1. What exactly will you do in terms of building capacity? Sounds interesting.

    2. "Build capacity" is a kinder, gentler way of describing my work as a regional School Improvement Specialist. I will be in schools to serve and support, and certainly not to "tell" them what to do. I'm excited about the new gig after spending the last 32 years in various school-based roles.

  8. Love this piece. It reminded me of a quote from a book I am reading right now! It comes from the fictional writing of Aparicio Rodriquez's book The "Art of Fielding"by Chad Harbach. When I read it, I immediately thought of standing in the center of a classroom instead of a ball field. "The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond."

    1. The source of stillness. I like that.

  9. Thank you for another essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a complete way of writing? I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information.
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  10. Toddler art projects can help children to get rich through the process of creation. These young minds are creating ways of how they will experience and understand the world. The unseen benefits are in the process of creating art class for children

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