8 Guiding Principles For Reaching Educational Destinations

Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.

David Foster Wallace (2005)


As educators, our days are fraught with distractions. Time is precious, attention spans short. Less is more, but which less? To what—and how–should we pay attention?

Here are some guidelines that help me when I feel overwhelmed by all the options—and by all the limitations.

  1. Choose connection. Take time for students. Validate them. Laugh together. Cultivate moments of light. Trust me, you will not get to your destination faster by skipping this step.
  2.  Choose to breathe. Relax. Be clear but do not rush. You will not get to your destination faster by talking faster.
  3. Choose deep meaning. Foster debate, discussion, comparison, reflection. Allow students time to wrestle with an idea. You will not get to your destination faster by covering a topic superficially.
  4. Choose lucidity. Plan carefully, understand thoroughly, explain succinctly. You will not get to your destination faster by talking more.
  5. Choose the arts. Research shows that the arts support academic achievement. You will not get to your destination faster by eliminating them.
  6. Choose physical education. Daily PE is necessary. You will not get to your destination faster by having kids sit all day.
  7. Choose structure AND creativity. Structures (routines, graphic organizers) provide the framework for productive creativity. Without structure, you will have chaos; without creativity, you will have tedium. You will not get to your destination faster by using just one or the other.
  8. Choose risk. Try something different. Dare to fail. There are no ultimate right answers. Taking a serendipitous path could be a shortcut or long detour. Taking chances is one way that you just might get to your destination a little faster.

So what are your guiding principles? Have I missed something obvious?

Leave a comment!


5 thoughts on “8 Guiding Principles For Reaching Educational Destinations

  1. Great, great post. Great post. So much to say here, but I will leave it at: the teachers who connected with me on a personal level were far and away the ones from whom I learned the most, including in my adult life.

  2. Choose to love them. They are every iteration of you. They will teach you as you teach them. This does not mean you have to let go of your class and order. It means you have to let go of fear and anger.

  3. I agree. On my most challenging days of dropping all my ‘plans’ to meet the actual needs of my crew I feel lucky to be in my shoes showing them what respect looks like-calm, what being lovable feels like-the wink and nod of individual recognition for effort. Teachers act as life coaches to a multitude simultaneously while carrying an agenda. It is demanding work but the heart of it is simple. Sometimes my goal for a student for a whole year comes down to trusting an adult. I’m asked what I expect. I expect to plant seeds of trust so that when in their teens my students find themselves in crisis and a helping hand is extended they can considor that that ‘crazy person’ is like Ms. S. was and grad hold. I’m content with that.

  4. choose to examine your self. one can only bring these 8 elements into the classroom when one has personally discovered their infinite value. the educator brings the reality of these possibilities–deep meaning, structure, lucidity, connection–into all her interactions when she ongoingly examines herself and the issues she has that are impediments to her growth. she must choose to pursue physical, artistic, emotional and psychological health in her own life in order to serve as a model for authenticity in the classroom.

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