Teachers Matter


There are days when teachers feel down, powerless, ineffective, used up. The great plans have gone sideways. It feels as though our students have taken every ounce of strength and energy from us.

We often ask yourselves whether we matter in the lives of our students. We ask ourselves, “What impact do I even have?”.

It is during these days that we must remember that what we do has an affect on our students. Teaching matters. It has the largest impact of any factor of school.

Teachers have the power to change lives. What they do with their students is more important that any other thing at school. What power and what responsibility!

We recognize there are others factors at play. Our students come from different home situations, they each have their own story of how they came to be with us in our class. These different situations have a big impact on their learning, but we don’t control these factors.

What we control is the school they walk into and at school the teacher is number 1. Let’s make it count, because teachers matter.


Stepping Back

There is a time in every initiative when you need to step back and release it to others to own the work. This moment is the real test of whether the initiative will be successful. Will the change be seen as practical? Helpful? Is the work worth doing? People will vote with their actions.

At our school we have reached this critical juncture, it is time for me to step back from the 2-3 Learning Sprint groups that I have been prototyping with so that we may expand our Learning Sprints to other groups in the school.

Although I am stepping back, it does not mean these groups are on their own. I will still ensure that they have support for their Sprints and will be present during the check-ins to see if there are any barriers that I can work to remove.


I will also be speaking with all groups to learn about their Sprints and see if there are any suggestions or information I can provide. I still want to be able to support in any way I can.

Ultimately there is a balance that I am looking for, between being involved and letting others own the work. I know that balance is not going to achieved when I am too involved in the professional development process, so am consciously stepping back.

I think we have all had experience with leaders who over-manage professional development. I believe when people feel micromanaged they become demotivating in the extreme. When they see that they have no power, they check-out from decisions as they believe that they don’t have power to make them in the first place.


I would be lying if I said that I am not nervous about stepping back. We as leaders are invested in any initiative that we put in place and hope for success. I have seen the improvements that have been made in classes over the last 5 months, and now hope that the organization we have put in place will be seen as worthwhile enough to continue. I have confidence.

If not, it does not mean we are done. We will adjust, we will seek feedback, we will pivot, and seek to make it better. In the end, we know that an integral part of our jobs is seeking improvement for our students. We are committed to making sure we are meeting their needs and getting better.

What are the things you need to step back from? What are the initiatives that need to be owned by others for them to continue to improve and free you up to do other work?

Choose to be Brave

Here is one of the most obvious statements in human existence, people are fearful of change. This is both obvious and frustrating, as it impedes our collective ability to get better. We often focus on fear, and as a society we have allowed this to be accepted. We tend to dwell on the emotion of fear to the point of causing anxiety.What if instead of focusing on the emotion of fear, we created an environment where bravery was the dominant narrative? We would not hide our fear, but rather bring our attention to the more useful feeling of bravery. I believe that this change of paradigm would focus our attention on what we can do to face change with courage and reduce the paralysis that often comes with fear.
The author and former firefighter Caroline Paul talks about this shift in her books and interviews. She was recently quoted in an interview with the CBC as saying “You can choose to look through the situation sort of through a paradigm of fear or through a paradigm of bravery.” when talking about how she, one of the first female firefighters in San Francisco, was able to walk into burning buildings, save children, and face sexism in the workplace.
Why is being brave in the face of change so important? If you are going to get better, you need to change. As you learn and experiment with new things that are going to improve your practice, they will necessarily be different and a change from what you were doing. Speaking about change through the lens of bravery will help you face these challenges with courage, instead of with trepidation and fear. It will help you become better as you persevere with the new ideas you are implementing.
Another important step for being brave in the face of change is to set up change in a manageable way. Be thoughtful about what change you believe will have the highest impact and then build plans for small changes in short cycles. It is much easier to be brave when you are facing a series of small changes over a period of time, rather than a big change that happens all at once. Enter the Learning Sprint.
Two reasons that I believe Learning Sprints has been so successful in implementing improvement in education are: 1) the focus on positive change and improvement, 2) the small changes done over a period of time. If you are looking at leading change for improvement and reducing fear, this structure has been effective for many schools.
I have often personally felt fear when faced with impending change. Having a structure where I feel like I have some level of control, I have made choices around the direction of the change and I have an evaluation system to know whether the change is effective has made me feel much more brave in the face of new initiatives. These are all benefits I have seen from my work with Learning Sprints.
Given the choice between feeling fear and bravery, what do you choose? I choose to be brave.

Learning To Say No

There are days when I feel overwhelmed by the number of people who are asking me to get involved in different opportunities. Some offers are from people who think that I can help their initiative, they are looking for people to get on board to move their initiative forward. In other cases, it is a hard sell they are making on what they see as something that is required for kids. Either way, I personally have a hard time saying no to many of these new opportunities. They often sound as though they would have a positive impact on students. I get caught up in wanting to help. At the end, I often end up feeling overextended and overwhelmed. I believe that accepting to take part in many of these initiative contributes to feelings being overwhelmed. What I have learned is that if I am to be effective and truly make a difference to my students I need to focus on the essential initiatives that will bring the most benefit. In other words, I need to focus and say no. I have used Learning Sprints to help set up the process of choosing what we are going to focus on and also to allow us to pivot when we see an initiative that we believe will have a big positive impact on our students. Here are some essential steps to maintaining laser focus.

Setting the Direction
First, you need to have a deep and honest discussion about what the students that you serve need most in their learning. This leads to choosing the interventions that you believe will have the greatest impact on their learning. If you do not spend the time to discuss what is important and to come to an understanding on what the improvement direction will be, it is likely that you start saying yes to initiatives that arise. Everyone should know what the focus is. Everyone should work towards what you have agreed is the most important things to do. Everyone should have the freedom to say no to things that come up that don’t align with the direction.

“Short” Learning Sprint
Having a shorter time period for your Learning Spring (professional development initiative) is important to the success of your initiative. My experience is that longer initiatives often: 1) Lose their focus, the team members forget what they were working on. 2) Do not have the ability to adapt to new high-quality opportunities that arise. 3) Continue with practices that are found to be ineffective. 4) Encourage team members to start other initiative not related to the main goal.
Keeping a tight timeline and short interval keeps the team focused. It allows them to see what works and scrap what do not work. It allows them to get on board with new initiatives that actually align with their improvement direction. It allows them the ability to say no to new things that come up.

Review & Reset
Having time to speak about the initiatives that we have put in place and to measure the efficacy of the interventions has worked really well for us. Asking “What worked?” and “What did not work?” has allowed us to discover what our students respond to. It is at this time that we decide how to proceed. It there something new to try? It is now that appropriate time to perhaps say yes to new initiative that align. Once this process is over and the new direction is set, we are back to saying no.

Through this process I have seen an increase in positive impact on learning, as teachers are now selecting what they will do and giving themselves the mental time and space to actually do it. I have also seen a reduction in teacher workload, as teachers have the ability to say no to things that come up not related to their main area of focus. The Learning Sprint process has also helped me as a leader to say no to many things that I don’t think will positively impact the learning of our students.