It’s only natural. We want to know how well we’re doing. If what we are saying or writing or creating is making any sense—if it is resonating with others. We often go about this by counting downloads, likes, retweets, shares, etc. This is okay up to a certain point. But after a while, it can become a distraction. I have been guilty and I’m sure I still will be from time to time.
It is important to measure how effective or impactful our work is—in the classroom and out. But measuring takes time. Time that could be used doing other things. Like creating and thinking and working. Getting sucked into the measuring trap is very easy. Yet, what do we gain by measuring so often? Oftentimes a false sense of pride or unwarranted dejection.
I know that I feel best when I am in the midst of creating. That may mean that I am reading a book. Or maybe I am writing or preparing for a presentation. Sometimes, I am just listening and learning and sharing with others.
Whatever it is I’m doing, I know I am at my best and I feel best, when I am planting seeds. Here’s the cool thing that happens when you spend your time focused on planting seeds instead of measuring vines; sprouts pop up all the time. When you are not even expecting them. Of course, everything you plant doesn’t flourish or even grow for that matter.
That’s okay. Because you’ve planted enough seeds that you are almost guaranteed that something will pop up. And it’s usually when you least expect it. Up to this point I have been talking about social media and hits and likes and such. But this mindset applies to most everything we do.
We spend our days doing everything we can to positively impact the lives of our students. Making every effort to connect with a student that we know has been dealt a difficult hand. Sometimes we see our efforts pay off immediately. Most of the time we don’t though. And it is frustrating. We are measuring every day, every interaction, every reaction. When we feel as if our efforts are in vain, we lose a little hope. It can become discouraging.
This is the time we need to plant more seeds. Maybe try a different approach. Or, focus on a different student. By no means, are we giving up on the student that we couldn’t affect right away. We simply must continue to plant seeds. We’ll be back to measure later. We just can’t measure all the time.
It will happen when we least expect it. Maybe a week later. Maybe a month. Sometimes years. And when we see that growth, we smile because we saw the potential all along. The student who one day is able to write their first and last name without any assistance. The student who can’t wait to tell you that they just finished their first chapter book. Ever. The senior, who struggled in middle school, informing you that they got accepted into college.
If we plant enough seeds, we eventually begin to see the fruits of our labor. But we must not ever stop planting. Because just when you’re ready to hang your head, a bud pops up. One that you had forgotten about. One that you barely remember planting. And you smile as you plant your next seed.
It’s been over 20 years but I still remember quite vividly the day one of my students learned to write coherent and complete sentences. She was in my 2nd grade class, my very first class. This child worked hard. But the words she put down on paper never seemed to come together. Her paper would be full of nonsense words. A typical sentence may look like the following:
Mnft jhnt mrtf trst mng drt.
I didn’t know what to think of it. She was putting the effort in. I was putting the effort in. But the connection was not there. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach her the following year. And I don’t know what it was. All the sudden she was writing coherent words. Not just words. Sentences. Not just sentences. She filled up the page!
I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea what had happened. I wish I could say it was something I did but I can’t. I think it was just time. Her seed had germinated long enough and it broke through the soil. To this day, it is still one of the most incredible transformations I have ever witnessed.
You are always looking for ways to become a better teacher. You read teacher-books while your friends read the fun-books. You attend conferences hours away from home. You take classes that are supposed to help you better meet the needs of your students.
And yet you can’t figure out why your evaluations always come out the same. Your students still struggle on the state assessments. And you don’t feel as if you are any better for all the effort you put in.
Keep planting seeds.
First, evaluations are often unreliable and they rarely, if ever, tell the whole picture. They are a snapshot, of one lesson on one day of one class. The odds are, you’re better than you realize. Maybe the person evaluating you missed it. Maybe you are trying something new and you messed up. On that day. But in the long run it will pay off. And soon you’ll be teaching at a whole new level.
Next, just because your students struggled on the state assessment, that doesn’t mean that you and they are not better. We all know that those assessments don’t measure the majority of what you do in the classroom. Can they measure conflict resolution? Do they show if a student made huge improvements? Rarely. Most of the time, it is either met or not met. Trust me, you are impacting your students more than you realize. Those seeds will sprout.
Finally, it is easy for teachers to get down on themselves. To feel as if what they are doing is not making much of a difference. Folks that work with widgets see immediate results. Teachers, on the other hand, rarely, if ever, witness immediate results. It is frustrating because you are working so hard and you just want to feel as if you are getting better.
Keep planting seeds.
Your Professional Aspirations
You’ve applied for the position for the past three years. Once you got an interview and the other two times you didn’t even get an acknowledgement. Maybe you want to become a content area coach. Maybe you want to become an administrator. Or maybe you want to teach somewhere else. Either way, it’s frustrating because you feel as if you’re never going to get what it is you want.
Or maybe you want to present a certain conference or you want to publish an article in a particular journal. You got accepted to present at a conference once a few years ago. But it was your third choice and only seven people attended your session. I’ve been there. Spending hours and hours preparing for a session in a room that holds 50 people only to have 7 show up is discouraging.
Keep planting seeds.
Because if and when you plant enough of them, they will sprout. But only if you plant a lot. Don’t waste time measuring and don’t spend time feeling sorry for yourself. Just keep going.
I’ll leave you with this short story.
One time I presented at a conference in an auditorium that seats over a thousand people. I was prepared, at least I thought I was. And I was psyched. But as I looked out into the audience, I saw few faces. Not because the light was in my eyes but because there were only a handful of people present.
Nevertheless, I was going to make it the best possible presentation for the people that were there. I started off well. And then the projector cut off. They were able to get it working after a five minute lull. Unfortunately, not long after the projector was up and running again my computer died.
I had forgotten to fully charge the battery and I didn’t have it plugged in. I was able to make it through the presentation and I tried to stay as calm as I could. But I felt like crap. After I was finished, I thanked some folks for coming and stayed around a little while to connect with a few friends.
As I was heading to my car to drive home, I must admit, I was feeling down and was beginning to wonder if it was worth it. I got in my car and decided to check my email before heading home. The first email I read was one informing me that I had been accepted to present at a National Conference. It made me smile. I had forgotten about the seed that I had planted many months before.
And so, I keep planting seeds. Do I stop to measure sometimes? Absolutely. But only for a moment. Because I have seeds to plant. Every day.
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