You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
It was my first day as a teacher at an urban school, and I had a plan. It was a foolproof plan, inspired by hundreds of hours of studying education strategies and techniques. I read The First Days of School by Wong and Teach Like a Champion by Lemov. I read Classroom Instruction that Works by Marzano and The Essential 55 by Clark. Given the environment, I read both Amazing Grace and Savage Inequalities by Kozol. I had a plan and I was ready for anything.
I gathered my first class in the hallway, and when I opened my mouth to speak I delivered, in a strong voice, my unabridged vision for our class. I was firm, but nurturing. This would be a class that they would remember forever. I talked about how we would have a dynamic learning environment suitable for every kind of learner, but that most importantly we would develop character. I told them that we would be building knowledge and knowledge is power for anyone who has felt powerless. I would make them work harder than they have ever worked before, but in the end they would look back and know it was only because I cared. It was a goosebumps kind of moment. They had never had a teacher like me before.
At the end, I delivered directions to enter the room, and I swear that Ernest Hemingway himself could not have written a cleaner and more concise transition than the one I described, but when I said “go,” nobody went. They all just stared at me. I started to sweat. Just at that moment, a student came bouncing down the hallway and into the back of the line, dropping books and papers out of his binder, and singing an R&B song under his breath just loud enough that everyone could join in on the chorus. When everyone stopped and looked at him, he said, “Why is everyone staring at me?” The whole class cracked up laughing, and three fell on the floor they were laughing so hard. Other teachers stuck their heads out of their doors to see what was the matter.
At that moment, I had to make a quick decision, the kind that educators have to make in a split second a thousand times a day. The way I handled this fracas would set the tone for the future of our class. Should I admonish the student who came late? Or maybe I should address the students who cut up and fell on the floor? Should I just ignore the nonsense, and move on? Or would I lose all credibility if I didn’t show force right here.
I needed more time to weigh the gravity of this decision, yet every second of inaction on my part eroded my credibility further. My reaction was to usher all of the students into the classroom as quickly as possible to avoid the scene in the hallway. No one ended up in their assigned seats. With a nervous stutter, I tried to start all over, but the damage was done, and no one could hear me as they each relived what had just happened outside.
How can I get them back? Do I turn off the lights? Ring a bell? Holler? It’s the first day of school, I can’t holler on the first day of school, can I? I just started back in with the same speech from the hallway. This time, without so much gusto, putting my fully shaken confidence on display and talking over students. Some of the students looked at me and scrunched their foreheads in disapproval. The momentum that I thought I was building died, and when I finally got them all into their seats, I could not recover for the rest of the class. Honestly, I don’t think I fully recovered from that scene for months.
Can you think of a time in your professional career when you found yourself in an unexpected situation, and made a snap judgement that you regretted in the future? What if there was a way to train yourself and your team to respond to any situation with laser like focus on what matters most? What if you could learn from the mistakes you make, without actually making them in front of the school staff, the parents, the board, and the students at your school?
We have found a great tool to share with you that aims to do just that. The Education Leadership Simulation is a tool that we have started using with large groups, leadership teams, and individuals to provide a platform that lays out difficult and realistic scenarios for you to navigate through. Every decision you make unveils additional unintended consequences, and results in a more complex scenario. At the end, however, instead of walking away from a difficult situation with the burden of fixing the mistakes you made, you only leave with the learning that resulted from navigating the simulation.
The best part about learning from a simulator, in my opinion, is learning as a team. When a group of educators brings all of their wisdom together and discusses their decision making, each individual gains the experience of all of the rest. That acceleration of learning can pay huge dividends.
The growing library of simulations includes the following scenarios:
- Dress Code (Difficult Conversations)
- Academic year goal setting (Common Core)
- The Faculty Bully
- Angry Parent (High School Sports)
- New Teacher Evaluation Post-Observation Meeting
- Superintendent Managing Board Member-Principal Conflict
- Student Safety and Playground Protocols
- School-Based Budget Cut Decision-Making
- Student Death
- Small District in Budget Crisis
- First week for an Administrator
- Difficult Conversations: Race
- Community Partnerships: Digital Readiness
- Running an EdCamp
- Special Education IEP Team Meeting
- Community Partnerships
- Zero Tolerance – Weapons
- Student Death (Day 2 – follow-up)
- Finance and Compliance
- Community Racial Event
- The Teacher Affair
If you would like to see a sample of one of the simulations, click here to watch the video.
This blog was written by Geoff Gorski. Reach out with feedback, or to discuss a facilitation of the Education Leadership Simulation at your school: email@example.com.