How do you know?

Often when I’m working with teachers, I get the question: How do you know? This can be in response to a number of things: minilesson ideas, conference teaching points, share sessions, anchor charts, unit planning, blogging, tweeting. Truthfully, the answer is often I don’t know. I’m just trying things that make sense. I’m trying things that might work. And I’m learning from my mistakes.

In this culture of preparing students for high stakes tests, we feel this responsibility to teach as much as possible in a short amount of time. Take a deep breath, because it goes something like this: We think we need to get it right the first time because if we don’t then we’ll be behind, and if we’re behind then kids won’t be prepared, and if they’re not prepared then they won’t do well on THE test, and if they don’t do well on THE test, then there will be consequences, for the child and for the teacher and for the school, so we’d better get it right the first time because… (return to the beginning of the sentence and repeat over and over and over).

No wonder we’re overwhelmed. And stressed. And tired. We put so much pressure on ourselves to get every single thing right. But what if this is impossible?

No matter how much we know about instruction, no matter how thoughtful our lessons are, no matter how much time we take preparing, it is impossible to get it right every single time. This is because it is not about us. It is about the young writers gracing our classrooms. Sometimes they are having rough days. Sometimes, no matter how closely they are paying attention, they don’t understand. Sometimes there is something else, more pressing, they want or need to learn.

It is at this point we have a choice. We can listen to the students in our classrooms and respond to their needs. Or we can continue on the predetermined path, regardless of whether they are with us or not. Which brings us back to the original question: How do you know? How do I know where to go next? How do I know what to post on a classroom blog? How do I know who to follow on Twitter?

I don’t know.

What I do know is I can listen to students. I can feel their energy level. I can respond to their needs. And in doing these things, I come up with possibilities for what to do. Then I take a deep breath. Bravely I respond and boldly we blaze a trail of learning together. My eyes are on Common Core Standards. My guide is the curriculum.  But my responsealways usually sometimes when I get it right, is to the students. When I’m responding to them, I just know.