Lessons from the Dentist

For thirty years, I went to the same dentist. He always made me feel well-cared for, so when he retired, I was happy for him and sad for me. I tried to give the new dentist a try, but it just wasn’t a good match, and it was too far of a drive to feel that way. I had a friend who was a dental hygienist and worked close to my home, so I started going to her office. She soon after left and that office struggled to find a hygienist to replace her.

So, I made a change. Again. Change can be hard. I was nervous to try another new office after a lifetime in one and the comfort of a friend in the other, but my teeth needed to be cleaned, haha.

What an incredible experience. Sine I was new to the office and nervous, I was keenly aware of everything. I don’t want to forget that feeling. That’s how students often feel in school. New to their school or district or starting a new school year or a new semester long course. New raises our awareness of our surroundings and how things sound, look, and feel. May we always handle with care but handle with special care in these moments.

We can learn so much for other industries as educators. Here are a few of my takeaways from the dentist this week:


When I arrived at the office, they greeted me by name. I had never walked into the office, and yet it felt like I instantly belonged with their warm smile and care. In preparation for my visit, they had gathered some information about me. This helped them prepare to make my arrival seamless and enjoyable. Research indicates that greeting students at the door can increase student engagement by 20%. Research also shows that it can reduce disruptive behavior by 9%. When looking closely at the increase in student engagement and reduction in disruptive behaviors, researchers drew the conclusion that greeting students at the door has the power to add an hour of instruction back into a five hour instructional day. Feeling like we belong and like people are glad to see us matters in a big way!

Listening & Conferring

The dentist and hygienist both took the time to hear what my goals were for my visit. Isn’t that interesting? Have you ever thought about going into a dentist with goals other than a hope and prayer that you don’t have a cavity? Or simply because you crave the satisfaction of teeth that have been professionally cleaned? I thought about it and told them that I clench my teeth at night and that I’ve been told that I have gum inflammation despite flossing every day. Did we still clean my teeth and check for cavities? Sure. But while they were doing the cleaning, they kept my goals in mind, and they conferenced with me at the end for a few minutes regarding those specific areas of interest to me. This made my visit feel a little less like something done onto me and more like a collaborative dialogue. Sometimes, school feels like something done onto our students when in fact, when we listen and make even just a little space for their specific areas of interest and concern, the energy in the learning can change. Alongside a small group of teachers, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Tim Kubik this week. We talked about leaving one row on a rubric blank to make space for those things that really matter to a student. Allowing a student to determine what they want you to notice in their work and how they want you to measure their success in that key area sounds incredibly empowering.


So, not to get too personal, but I mentioned my gum inflammation. Which mind you, can be stress-related. Shocking, right? An educator with stress?! However, another factor can be flossing. I’m not lying when I say I floss every day and make a point to go up and down the sides of each tooth. So, I shared that with the hygienist. She asked me what type of floss I was using and then suggested I try a different floss. She gave me samples to try when I got home. So, I’ve been trying it this week and wow, I cannot get over the difference. I don’t want to gross you out, but this floss is able to pick up so much more than the other floss I was using. Same amount of effort – better result. Some criticize teachers for sitting at their desks during class, but many of our teachers have their technology tethered to that one spot in the room. So, if they are trying to play a game with their students or show them something, that’s the spot they need to be in to make it all happen. There is technology that isn’t expensive that can free teachers up pretty easily, so they can move about their room. Most teachers want to be closer to their students. They know that proximity matters – but the tools are holding them back. The tools matter, and teachers should be provided with what they need. Same with our students. We must remove barriers to learning. The hygienist gave me the floss to try at home. I didn’t have to hunt for it and buy it. I could focus on doing what I needed to do- not on the supplies needed to make it happen. Much like our students who show up to class without something to write with. Many students come to us with different challenges and different things weighing on their minds and hearts which can make learning challenging. What doesn’t need to be a challenge is a having access to a writing utensil. Remove the barrier to learning. Life is hard enough. I find lots of pencils and pens on the floor at the end of the school day. Win win.

As George Couros has said, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about the dentist, but it turns out that a trip to the dentist was not only good for my teeth, it was good for my professional practice in the education space too. Inspiration is all around us. What we look for, we find.

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