Treat Every Lesson Like an Experiment

I’m just going to put it out there. I don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to making videos. For the last six weeks, I’ve been experimenting and trying things out. Every time I get ready to publish a video, these fears swirl around my mind. What if it’s not good enough? What if people don’t like it?

But I continue to make videos because I’m convinced that the only way I will improve on my craft is by making more videos. See, I believe in a philosophy of beta. No, not the crappy old video tapes we had in the 80’s. I’m thinking more along the lines of beta releases in software platforms.

It’s the idea that you release your work in beta, knowing that it’s not perfect and perhaps it’s not even very good at all. However, you’re going to send it to an audience so that they can see it, experience it, and play around with it to let you know what you should do to improve it. This feedback leads to self-reflection, where you ultimately change your design and then release a new version. As you move through multiple iterations, you eventually reach a place where your work is pretty good. Eventually, it’s great. But you never stop creating those iterations. You always experiment.

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This same philosophy works in teaching. When you take on a “beta mindset,” you are willing to take creative risks. You know that a lesson might work. It might tank. But it’s always an experiment. Through tons of tiny iterations, your lessons grow more and more innovative.

The beta mindset says “I’m not going to wait until I know it’s perfect. I’m going to try this out even though I’m nervous about how it’s going to work. Because ultimately this experimentation is how I figure out what works.”

But it also means you are listening to your students. You are open to their feedback. You might pull students aside for conferences or you might create student surveys to see what elements were successful. This feedback is what fuels your self-reflection as you redesign your lessons and “release to beta” again.


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Six Reasons to Experiment

Here are some of the benefits I’ve seen when I observe teachers who take on the beta mindset and continually experiment:

  1. When they model creative risk-taking, they create a classroom climate and culture where students aren’t afraid to take positive risks.
  2. When they solicit student feedback, they are more humble and approachable. Students are more empowered while also showing the teacher more respect.
  3. Teaching remains fresh. They don’t fall into the zone of having it all figured out.
  4. They are less likely to experience imposter syndrome because they have been open about the fact that every lesson might tank. In fact, they are honest about what is not working as they push forward to improve.
  5. They avoid the crushing perfectionism that can lead to teacher burnout. I’ve seen so many great teachers leave the profession because they were convinced that they weren’t good enough. They would work insane hours and push themselves beyond exhaustion only to grow risk-averse in their teaching and never actually reach their full potential.
  6. The lessons are ultimately more creative and innovative as a result. There’s a very slow, normal, almost unnoticeable element to innovation that happens when we continually move through iterations. When teachers are “releasing to beta” they are constantly making little adjustments and testing out what’s working.

If you see a cool strategy or you have a new project idea, and you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out, go for it! Test it out. Experiment. Release it in beta. It might not turn out perfect but that’s okay. Kids don’t need perfect. They need real. They need you. And over time, it’s going to become even better and more creative.

listen-as-a-podcast

This post is also available on my Creative Classroom podcast. If you’re someone who enjoys listening to podcasts on the way to work, this might be a great way to “read” my blog. (Note: if you enjoy the podcast, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or Google Play). You can also listen to it below:

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

5 responses

  1. Well, I feel your pain, I teach pre-service teachers and 1/2 of them are online only. So each week I make a little video introducing the week. I have let go of making it perfect and just try to be myself. But it makes me crazy!!

    I watched your Harry Potter teacher series, it was GREAT and your Ditch Summit, truthfully, they are extremely impressive. Love what you are doing, in fact, am curious as to what “tool” you are using to create.

    Please keep it up, I always learn from you and share your stuff frequently many with my students.

    YOU ROCK!!!

  2. Every class period is an experiment — I totally agree. A lesson evolves from the beginning of the day to the end. I’ve always believed that your idea for what will happen probably won’t happen and you tweak all day. Sometimes you throw it out all together. I can dream too big and fast for the kids sometimes 🙂

    Loved the Potter series by the way.

  3. About the beta video. There is s spectrum with perfect at one end and rubbish at the other end. I agree with your plea to move away from the perfect end and take more risks in the belief that future iterations will move it back towards the perfect end., but it needs dome debate about how far to move.
    Clearly we don’t want to release rubbish and just hope somehow it will get fixed. So what are the acid tests to know if it’s ready for release or we’re just being lazy and leaving the job half done?

  4. Keep taking risks with your videos. I LOVE your video about librarians. I generally prefer to read a post then watch a video, but your videos really work for me — thanks for sharing. I too would love to hear about the tool(s) you are using.
    Onto my question about your risk taking post and video — how do we convince admins to not only allow but encourage risk-taking? How do we get away from the viewpoint that those experiment lessons might be wasting our students’ time and that we must “stick to the script?”

  5. This is amazing! Everyday as an educator you are experimenting. We need to find the techniques that work and the ones that don’t. Each day we have new challenges and we have to experiment to see what works. It is also important the we keep practicing. It will take practice to receive the outcome you are expecting. This is great advice for any educator! Thank you for sharing,
    Mindy Cress

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