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IN PRACTICE


The questions below can help teachers determine whether they are approaching their work at a personally sustainable level: 1. How will my actions help my students reach important learning goals? 2. How will my practices help students do more of the classroom’s work? 3. How do the time and resources required for me to enact this practice relate to the short- and long-term benefits for my students and me?


Using these questions to examine teaching practices can lead us to identify potentially unsustainable practices and to consider how we might modify such practices to work smarter, not harder. In the pages that follow, we will draw on our own teaching experiences and those of others to illustrate how reflecting on the questions can lead us to best utilize and conserve our resources benefiting not just our own mental health, but also our students’ learning.


QUESTION 1: How will my actions help my students reach important learning goals? Time is perhaps the most valuable commodity a teacher has at her disposal. Yet precious planning and instructional time is wasted if our actions lack direction or focus. When adopting a sustainable approach to teaching, teachers critically reflect on whether the work they are doing – both in and out of the classroom – will help move students toward specified learning goals.


Teachers must first be able to articulate goals and to determine how to measure if students have met the goals. Beginning “with the end in mind” is certainly not a new idea (Covey, 1990), nor is backward design; many educators have become devotees of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s (2005) Understanding by Design framework. We have found, however, that it is easy to lose sight of learning goals in the hustle-bustle of planning and teaching. Despite what is known about the importance of aligning learning goals, assessments, and instruction, straying off track is surprisingly common, even for seasoned and talented teachers.


One way that we can improve our planning and our adherence to learning goals is to start by envisioning the big picture. We have found that to effectively use the planning and instructional time we have at our disposal, it is necessary to move beyond a “What am I going to do tomorrow?” mindset. Planning only for the short term leads us to make decisions about our teaching that may not be sustainable for the long haul. In his book, Teach Like a Champion (2010), Doug Lemov describes shortsighted planning as “treading water.” It can be helpful for survival, but ultimately doesn’t get us anywhere. In reflecting on his own planning process as a teacher, Lemov identifies the problems with thinking only in the short term, “...I was planning my lessons singly, each lesson vaguely related to the previous perhaps, but not reflecting an intentional progression in the purpose of my lessons” (p. 58). Intentionality


Spring 2011 Vol. 8 No. 1 Virginia Educational Leadership 41


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