I'm a big fan of Lebron James, partly because of his basketball abilities, but mostly because of how he has conducted himself over two decades in the public eye. How often has a prodigy (in any field) entered the public sphere only to underachieve relative to expectations—or worse, waste their potential with poor decisions and a lack of focus?
No one is perfect, and we are all subjected to criticism, but I especially admire Lebron's ability to lead his teams to the NBA Finals and title contention. Earlier in the season, in a post-game interview, Anthony Davis, Lebron's co-superstar on this year's LA Lakers team said in a postgame interview that "We don't need a loss to learn." I was immediately struck....
It is often said that failures are the best teachers, but I say otherwise. Failures hurt, thus they get our attention so that we can learn the necessary lessons in order to prevent the sting of future failures.
In my view, that's a less intelligent way to learn. It isn't proactive, and it is fundamentally avoidance-seeking which isn't likely to sustain the focus and energy necessary for continuing to do the essential work for continued improvement. But like Lebron, I think teachers are wise to recognize that their best learning for the growth of their pedagogy is found in successful learning experiences. The key is that one's teaching practice must be focused and ambitious—meaning that to learn effectively from one's wins in instruction requires that we think carefully about how we can stretch our practice in the interest of rigor and engagement. A key is to imagine on the front-end of instruction what those indicators of engagement might look like so that we are better able to recognize the evidence of student engagement when we see it, and later, backward-engineer those snapshots of engagement to learn better what was working for kiddos and what that requires of us.
This is going to be the most challenging year in the career of many teachers. Much of what we know about teaching has been developed in a person-to-person instructional paradigm. Teaching in a virtual or hybrid world means we have to develop new muscle memory, new reflexes, and new insights for determining the practices that best support students' learning. It can feel like an overwhelming task—especially if we hyper-focus on our failures.
My advice is to channel your inner Lebron (though you may not have known that you have one.) Be creative in how you think about your pedagogy. Design learning experiences in which you can anticipate what the indicators of affective- and cognitive-engagement might look like... and then when you see any engagement of the sort, capture the evidence and study it. Consider it a win. That win is data that, if considered well, can lead you to greater insights. Mined well, even fleeting snapshots of student engagement can be the bridge to richer and more dynamic pedagogy. Learn from these... because you can learn so much more from a win than you can from a loss.