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My Way Of Teaching Makes Students Quit

As I prepare to start the school year, I remind myself that my way of teaching makes students quit. I know that students come into my class with preconceived notions about teaching and teachers based on their years of experience. No matter how much I try to prepare, or how much research supports my teaching strategy, some of my lessons will lead some students to reach a Quit Point and give up on learning for a lesson.

Students tend to see the lessons their teachers plan as a personifcation of their teacher. For example, if lessons are technology dependent they assume their teacher is "techy." Many teachers feed into this personification of teaching strategies by explaining to students how THEIR way of taking notes is better than what they've learned in the past, or how THEY are defending the virtues of traditional teaching against fads or how THEIR tests are better assessments of learning than other teachers provide. In the worst cases, colleagues with different styles of teaching will argue about who is better and even try to recruit students into their cause.

Given the deeply personal nature of teaching, many teachers try to explain the rationale or research that supports their preferred method and strengths as an educator in an attempt to get students to "buy-in" to their approach. The problem is that students don't necessarily have sufficient metacognitive skills to assess how every lesson fits into their needs. Instead, they look for keywords that indicate how their new teacher will compare to their previous experience. Homework policies, technology use, cellphone policies, late work policies, etc. lead students to make assumptions about what kind of teacher we are.

That's why I've learned to embrace the fact that MY way of teaching makes students quit. It takes time to gain the trust of students and to help them understand that my decisions as their teacher don't necessarily mean that I'm going to replicate any positive or negative experiences from their past. I've also learned to stop thinking of teaching as something that is part of my individual identity.

Just as Adam and I co-wrote Quit Point, we co-plan our lessons. In fact, this year we plan on expanding our collaborative planning to include teachers from multiple schools for 3 different subjects. It's so much easier to try new things and adjust when the lesson we teach is something that was designed as a group. If things don't go well there is less risk of taking things personally and becoming furstrated. I regularly try things that Adam designed that fall outside my comfort zone, and he does the same with some of my ideas.

This has helped us to stop thinking of there being a "my way" and also demonstrated the benefits of trying things outside our comfort zone. Teachers tend to lean into their strengths and resist dhanges that seem to come from a different "style" or "personality" than they are used to. Our goal is try to follow the example of what makes athletes learn to be elite.

Kobe Bryant credits a large part of his early success in the NBA to his childhood playing in Italy. He was expected to learn to use both hands equally well to control the ball and was better prepared than some of his peers when entering the NBA. If he just used his strengths (like his dominant hand) he would eventually be put in a situation where he was no longer successful because he didn't train and practice to overcome his weaknesses and his opponents could limit his strengths.

I try to take that approach as a teacher. I will regularly attempt things that I know are outside my strengths because that's the only way I will develop more skills that will fit more situations. That way when a student quits because they don't feel comfortable with a lesson, it is easier to pivot and scaffold and support them in hopes of helping them push past their Quit Point, instead of deciding that they can't learn my way.

Adam and I have learned to embrace the wisdom of deleting work when it loses it's impact and trying things even if it risks chaos or discomfort on our part for a day or two. The end result is that our stuudents learn that they can't necessarily predict what our way of teaching will be because our way can be so many things. As long as we make our choices about how to teach based on what is most effective for each individual in our class we can gain enough trust to also help students learn to expand their comfort zone and create more learning opportunities.

As this year begins think about if it could help you to admit that your way of teaching also makes students quit.

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