Modeling What We Expect

Have you ever seen that meme that says, “If I die, I hope it’s during a staff meeting because the transition to death will be so subtle”?

One of my favorite chapters in Katie Martin’s book, Learner-Centered Innovation, states that “Teachers create what they experience.”

Every single moment in our schools and organizations is an opportunity to model effective practice. When administrators hold staff meetings or districts hold professional development sessions, let’s make sure we aren’t talking at the staff the entire time. Let’s foster opportunities for connection and collaboration. Let’s see how a version of station rotation model and small group instruction might be appropriate for our adult learners. Let’s greet people at the door and use their names correctly.

I’ve heard it said, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” This makes it critically important that we not only model what we expect, but we also name that is what we are doing, so people see it that way.

It’s very easy to become critical of others in our schools. In part, I think many of us feel inadequate because this work is so hard. So, it’s easy to want to find fault in others as a way to cope. And the more we do it, the more inclined our brains are to choose that negative thinking pattern.

For example, I think it’s easy for administrators to criticize teachers for not moving throughout their classrooms and connecting with students. And yet, how many of us as administrators are using our own proximity by visiting classrooms every week and connecting with teachers? Do teachers know that we value proximity? If we value it, we should model it consistently and name it. If district office administrators expect principals to be spending time in classrooms every week, are those same district office administrators spending time visiting principals and schools every week?

Similarly, I’ve seen surveys where we ask students if they have at least one adult in the building that they feel knows them and that they are comfortable going to if they need something. What about our adults. Do we know if all of our staff have someone in the building that they feel truly known by and comfortable going to if they need something?

When we as teachers see students disrespecting each other, have we taken a step back to reflect upon whether we as a staff are respecting each other and modeling that respect in front of students and with students?

When evaluating teachers, we often look for things such as high levels of questioning that encourage students to think about their thinking and explain critical reasoning. Are we as administrators and coaches asking teachers good questions? Questions that promote high levels of thinking in a manner that also promotes psychological safety?

I’m not writing this as someone who has this all figured out nor as someone who is perfectly modeling what I expect. I’m also not writing this as someone who never becomes critical of others.

I’m writing this as a reminder to all of us. What would happen if instead of jumping to criticism, we instead paused to ask ourselves: how we are modeling what we expect? What would happen if we were ridiculously in charge of our own learning, personal behavior, and growth?

Because there is a lot we don’t control right now. But we can be ridiculously in charge of ourselves. And there is something about that which feels good. Something about that feels better that criticizing others and complaining.

How might you model what you expect from others, and how might you find ways to gently name what you are practicing, so others know to look for it?

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