But I Do Worry!

Last week, I read a blog post by one of our Board’s superintendents, Sue Dunlop, that really resonated with me. In this post, Sue talks about visiting schools and talking to students. Having worked in one of Sue’s schools before, I know that her school visits always include classroom visits. She mentions in this post that sometimes students don’t explain work as teachers expect them to, or they do things that teachers wish they didn’t. It happens. Often teachers worry when students don’t respond as we’d like/hope that they would, but Sue assures us that her time spent in classrooms is not to evaluate teachers, but ultimately to connect with kids. I appreciate this! The thing is, I am the teacher that Sue talks about in her post.

As comfortable as I can be with vice principals, principals, and superintendents, the minute that these visits happen, I feel my heart rate go up. I feel my hands start to shake. I feel the nerves. I hear every question that gets asked. I hear every word that my students say. I hear every comment made by both the students and the adults in the room. I can’t help myself. I tell myself not to worry. I tell myself that there’s nothing I can do now. I tell myself that I have great students that have so much to share. And yet, on many occasions after unexpected classroom visits, I feel as I did today when I sent out this tweet to Sue: 2015-04-23_19-22-35 While I understand Sue’s reply … 2015-04-23_19-29-56 I’m really struggling with following her advice.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why that’s the case. I think that things would be slightly different in other circumstances. I’ve been very lucky in the past ten years to work with administrators that visit classrooms all the time. Do I feel like throwing up every time they come in? Yes! But do I appreciate their visits? Absolutely! I reflect a lot after they come in and from the discussions that we have while they’re there, and I regularly make changes based on these visits. Today though, someone visited with the principal. I know that my students could have discussed more about their learning. I know that they could have shared more of their work. I know that they could have shown more than they did. I even know the reasons that these things didn’t happen, and I know what both the students and I could have done differently to make this short visit a more meaningful one. I want a do-over, but I’m guessing that the visitor that came today, will not be coming back again. Now what?

It is as I write this post, that I begin to better understand the problem with tests and/or complex culminating tasks. What about the work that led up to this final point? What if a student has an off day, struggles with such a complicated assignment, or does not showcase the same quality of work that he/she has done the whole year through? I am this kid. It may seem worse in my head than it was in reality, but for me, I feel like the visit could have been so much more. I want all of us to be seen for our “every day,” not that “one moment in time.” While I realize that my principal has had numerous visits beyond today, the other visitor hasn’t, and so, I can’t help but wonder what impressions were made after one look. It’s not about just what was seen and heard … but what wasn’t seen and heard?

Sometimes I think both students and adults need second chances. And while I want to “not worry,” for my own professional growth, I also want an opportunity to try again. This may not happen though, so what should I do? How do you reflect, learn, and move on? Tonight, I’m in need of some advice. Can you help?


11 thoughts on “But I Do Worry!

  1. I can completely relate Aviva. I just wrote a blog myself tonight and I can’t help but think you are channeling the “White Rabbit who feels he needs to serve the Queen of Hearts well” when you should be basking in the fact that you are the “White Rabbit who inspires young children to follow you into the Wonderland of learning”. I get it – it sound weird – but read this: http://goo.gl/c0mO4v Hope it helps!

  2. Aviva, nerves will always set in when someone visits a class…regardless of who it is and what “rank” they are. It is natural as you are having an different element thrown into a mix that you are in flow with. Realize that you are human and no one expects miracles. Even if someone walks in on a lesson that is flopping badly, don’t worry about it. Everyone has been there…you don’t have to impress all the time. The more comfortable you become with no needing to impress others, the more natural you become…and that leads to even more success. You are an impressive person to begin with, let your natural talent and focus just be. If you worry about why you worry, you are creating a problem out of a natural reaction. It’s ok to stress, don’t let it make you a mess 🙂 Keep smiling my friend!

    • Thanks for the comment, Glenn! I was actually not directly “teaching” at the time. It was our Language Block, and the students were working around the room, while I conferenced with various students. The principal and visitor actually only spoke to me for about 15 seconds and were only in the room for about 2 minutes, but I still wish that there could have been more from the visit. I applaud all of those that can stay relaxed when visitors come. I love having visitors, but I still feel nervous. Maybe it’s because with a quick visit, it’s so hard to provide the context for the learning, and I think that this context is so important. Maybe one day, these visits won’t bother me so much. I’ll keep working on it.


  3. Hey Aviva! Stressing when someone visits, regardless of position, rank or other. It is natural, as it interrupts your current flow, thoughts, etc. Even if the visit didn’t go as you would have liked, you look at it as a stepping stone. It’s like those lessons to the class that they don’t get as well as you would have liked – you reflect, adjust and try again. You have done some amazing things in your 10 years, be proud of that. If something doesn’t go the way you want, let yourself be human. If you become more comfortable with saying “Darn (or other words)! THAT didn’t work the way I wanted. It’s ok. Next time I’ll do this”…then you are not beating yourself up, you are moving forward. If you stress, you will make a mess of it and yourself…doing more damage than good. We are all students of life, and learning and growing is a continual part of it – no matter who you are and what age you are. Change is good, reflection to instigate change is better. Worrying about why you are worrying is a loop you don’t want to get caught in.
    Try this:
    Once, when I was back as an executive (before teaching days), I had my top managers come into a meeting. I asked them all to write down the number one thing they were worrying about at work that day. Then I asked them to rip up the paper and stomp on it (it was funny). Then, unless it was an emergency that would hurt someone, they were asked not to do anything about it or worry about it that day. Only to focus on the other things that they could accomplish. By putting it out of their minds for a while, and focusing on the other things, many found that by the end of the day, they not only got a lot more accomplished, but they often found solutions through other means that helped with the issue they were stressing about (their minds were clearer). It’s ok to let things go, and revisit later. You may even discover that it is not worth coming back to.
    Sometimes we get caught up in worrying for the sake of worrying. So, as I babble, I just have one last piece of advice: REFLECT on what you doing and RESPECT what you have done. If you do both, you will stress less. Welcome to the human race (lol), we love you for being an influential part of it 🙂

    • Thanks for all of your comments, Glenn! In many ways, I think that this blog is like that piece of paper. Writing about my thoughts help me make sense of them, and then leave some of my worries behind until I want or need to revisit them. I’ve never been really good with a paper and a pen 🙂 , so this blog is like my modified version. I can’t quite stomp on the computer, but the “writing component” is still there.

      I really appreciate your advice as well. Even though these visits don’t always go as I want, I always learn something new from them, and for that I’m grateful! Many thanks for the vote of confidence as well. That means a lot!


  4. The worry is a natural reaction, I think. Completely unfounded and unnecessary, but natural. You of all people are completely transparent in your practice and that visitor who wants to see more only has to click to find lots of video, picture, blogging evidence of your practice. However. As someone who gets to visit classrooms, I’m going to be very honest with you: it’s not really about you. It’s about your students. And most visitors who come through know kids well enough to know that they don’t really perform well under pressure. You learn to see around it, ask questions (my favourite!), and if you are lucky make return visits. Plus, you said the visitor came with your administrator who does know your practice well. I have full confidence that if the visitor didn’t see what they expected, they would ask the administrator for more information and I am confident your administrator would provide it.
    It reminds me of Adele Stanfield’s post yesterday. Teachers seem to be weighed down by teacher guilt. It doesn’t make us better. Admitting we are all on a learning journey, have good days and bad days, makes us human and good role models for our students. I agree with Sue. Let it go. Live on.
    Besides, observing a perfect class is always a little too good to be true. I want to see real kids and real teachers. Be real, Aviva!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! Adele was right: teacher guilt is a very real thing, and I do feel it … a lot! And while I know that Sue’s advice, like yours, is good, I struggle with “letting it go.” Maybe this blog post helped. Somehow writing down my thoughts and feelings make a difference.

      I think that maybe a part of the problem was that the visit was so short. I think that the principal and visitor were in the classroom for less than 2 minutes (total), and only spoke to one or two students. I know how many questions you used to ask last year when you visited our classroom — my kids, like me, loved your “hard questions” — but I think it was difficult to get deeper today in such a short time. So hopefully my principal could share more, or the visitor could see more online, because today did leave me feeling like there was “more” to share.


  5. The only thing that I will add to the above comments (and I doubt that it will help you stress any less) is that I believe that the focus of administrators while visiting classrooms has changed tremendously in the past 10 years. I know that it has for me. I completely understand that we are all on our own learning journeys (even our weakest students) and that any comments shared with me are simply a snapshot in time of one person’s journey. My visits are really celebrations from my perspective. I see so many things that have improved and I see how we are reaching students in ways that we had not even considered 10 years ago. I often have to laugh when I reflect on my own teaching style and I often leave classrooms saying “Wow! I wish I would have considered teaching this way with my classes.

    I learn so much from watching great teachers like you, Aviva. So I agree with Glenn… get past the stress and look for the celebration!

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul! I understand the need to celebrate, and I often do celebrate change and growth (in both my students and myself), but it’s hard not to look critically at what we do and how we could do better. I struggle with this. I think reflection is good. I think we can learn from both our successes and our failures, and I’m a big proponent of “daily reflection,” regardless of if I do it publicly on the blog, privately with a “critical friend,” or even more privately, talking aloud to myself and making sense of what I could do better. I guess that I like that opportunity to improve, and while I know that I’ll get this opportunity with more admin visits, I don’t think that I’ll get this opportunity with this visitor coming back. But I also think that the opportunity to blog and reflect, makes me feel better, and so in some ways, maybe this post itself helped me work through some of my own problems. 🙂

      Thanks for your continued support and words of advice! I appreciate them!

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