Checking a Box or Checking a Mindset? Tackling Complex Tasks in the Classroom

Box Mindset Hero

While I know this social platform sometimes gets a bad rap, my new favorite form of professional development is Twitter. I love connecting with friends, colleagues, and experts while exploring articles and videos that interest or influence me. Information that I may never have encountered through my own online searches and typical behavior is displayed and peer-reviewed by people I trust and admire. I even appreciate the “You May Have Missed” feature, because I know information is being served to me based on my recent likes and clicks.

I recently read a post by Rosa Derricott (@RosaDerricott), an elementary behavioral coach. She wrote that focusing more on rules than the impacts of those rules on students is like “forcing a rule at the expense of students’ emotional well-being.”

This immediately reminded me of the strict rules I enforced as a new teacher. Papers had to be submitted at the beginning of the block as soon as the bell rang, or the student would receive a penalty.

I look back on my mindset as a new teacher as educational immaturity. I was not thinking about how my rule No. 1 set the tone for the entire instructional time. However, I had checked off the box that there were rules and a structure in place, visible on a poster and through my actions in the classroom. In hindsight, what I had actually accomplished was emphasizing rules over the quality of learning.

One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou states that “when you know better, do better.” Well, I am definitely thankful for that reflection as it does support maintaining confidence. As I evolved to thinking outside the box, I allowed for flexible submission times and multiple opportunities for revision. If I spoke with students right this minute, I would stress this as a gift—I have revised this latest blog post five times.

Education has always had its share of buzzwords. Each buzzword allows teachers and administrators to check a box easily. Have you heard some of these?

  • Differentiation: Tiers, small group instruction, varied instruction in content, process, or product
  • Technology: Technology should go beyond substitution to create significant instructional redesign
  • Engagement: Instruction encourages collaboration, includes frequent feedback, and ensures relevance and rigor

Boxes Checked?

Teachers can execute most instructional practices by following specific guidelines. But what happens when it is important to address social/emotional development or culture and bias in the classroom? These complex tasks go way beyond just checking a box. These tasks require changed mindsets, beliefs, and behaviors.

Coach Quotes (@CoachMotto) recently tweeted a quote by Mike Krzyzewski reminding us that culture must be a natural occurrence that is taught and made a part of our everyday routine.

Education Week (@EducationWeek) posted a similar tweet explaining that conferences and books have no significance unless they reflect our daily practice.

Meeting Struggling Students’ Needs in Literacy

The book Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living With Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress by Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes states that a program we use to meet the needs of struggling readers can also effectively address culture and bias while meeting social and emotional needs. Teaching to Strengths cites five specific strategies, and three of them directly relate to READ 180 Universal:

  1. Students have voice and choice in matters that pertain to them. During daily independent reading, READ 180 allows students to select books that are of high interest but respectful of their reading level. One of my favorite project managers, Paul Feucht, always says, “Giving students reading material that is way beyond their reading level is not rigor; it is just plain disrespectful.”
  2. The physical environment of the classroom responds to students’ learning preferences. The READ 180 classroom with its computer, small groups, and independent reading learning centers is ideal for all students. Whenever I visit a READ 180 classroom, I love seeing the creativity of the independent reading nooks.
  3. Routines and practices have a predictable rhythm. Students learn the routines within the first week of class. READ 180 teachers generate flexible learning groups, establish clear expectations, and use timers to move students from center to center.

Even with these instructional elements in place to meet the needs of all students, none of this would be effective without carefully chosen teachers. We look for teachers who remember to discard all opinions and bias about race, religion, and social and economic background and purposefully choose to embrace and learn from the individuality of each of their students.

This requires much more than checking a box; it also requires a different way to observe classrooms and learning. As I continue my quest to develop professionally through Twitter, I plan to move beyond box-checking and focus wholeheartedly on addressing classroom culture and the social and emotional development of all students. I look forward to sharing my professional learning and continued leadership development with you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Interested in learning from other school districts' success stories and discussing innovative approaches to impact results? Register and join the "Using Blended Learning to Maximize the Impact of Coaching" webinar on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET. During this webinar, blog contributor Dr. Monica Robinson will share how she has implemented virtual coaching to support more teachers across their district.

Related Reading

Reading Intervention Elementary Hero

Amber Silverman

Shaped Contributor

Teaching Writing to Elementary Students Hero

Kristen Eannetta
Instructional Coach

teacher watches student work out math problem
Melody Jacklin, a math teacher at Stevenson Middle School in Westland, Michigan, watches on as a student works out a problem. Jacklin says Math 180 allows students the time to demonstrate understanding and explain their thinking.