The Importance of Push-Back

flickr user mikka22
flickr user mikka22

A while back, I wrote about the changes to my grading policy (which are still ongoing and producing exciting results) and I mentioned how important it was to my development as an educator to have colleagues that question my practice.  I don’t necessarily mean critics, but rather individuals who ask me tough questions and force me to reflect on and evaluate the way that I teach.  I said,

Their Devil’s Advocate has helped me to crystallize my own ideas and clarify the “why” and the “how” of this dramatic change to my grading practices.  One teacher in particular, has been a sounding board for my quotes from Ken O’Connor and has pushed back with real and necessary criticism of what I am doing. I haven’t wavered in my resolve to make this change, in fact, I feel stronger knowing that she has helped me to consider the issues in play.

A couple of commenters appreciated this little turn of phrase, and one even suggested that I turn it into a blog post of its own.  This idea intrigued me, particularly because I didn’t see anything special in those words.  It was only after speaking with some of the educators in my school that I realized how revolutionary it can be to welcome “push-back”.

My biggest frustration lately is with my peers who make a conscious decision that what they do every day of every year is good enough.  They stop making attempts to advance their content knowledge and fail to stay current with pedagogical developments.  Some don’t even seem to think about improving their lesson plans.  It’s as if, in their minds, they have reached mastery.  This scares me.

I do not consider myself a veteran teacher in most regards because I constantly see gaps in my abilities.  I sometimes lose sleep considering the many things that I am not doing with my students.  This is just the kind of guy that I am, and I understand that many people are not like me.  But, what I can’t seem to get my head around is how someone can enjoy doing the exact same thing every day, year after year.  It would drive me crazy.

So, this brings me back to the benefit of being surrounded by people who disagree with you, even if its only about the little things.  For me, these people force me to face the weaknesses in my logic.  They lay bare the aspects of my practice that don’t make sense.  And, I am left with a powerful choice: defend my decisions or change them.

Either way, I am a better educator for it.

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Push-Back

  1. Regarding those who think they are “Good enough.” All “Burn outs” do not leave education:) We seemed to reach a point in this country, about 50 years ago, where “Perfection” became a dirty word. What nonsense. I reach perfection lots of times. Everytime I got it perfect, I found I had just set the standard for “Perfect” higher:)

    When you stop trying to get better. no matter what your body temp, YOU ARE DEAD!


  2. Mr. Science Teach,

    As a (if not the primary) source of the Push-Back Devil’s Advocate members of your school & team that you reference, I’d like to point out that I don’t feel I fall in the category of those who decide “okay – it’s good enough.” I don’t feel like a “Burnout” either, although certainly there are times when my “flame flickers”. 😉


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