Good to Great, 2 Shifts Any Teacher Make to Overcome Student Apathy

Student apathy is a hot topic. Students today aren’t as attentive in school and the problem continues to grow. One causes might include access to cell phones during school. Another might be economic deficits. However, we have examples of people from these circumstances be successful in school. So, why don’t more students just follow that path?
What is the barrier?
I believe all teachers come into the profession with intention to help all kids. Not some, but all. So what happens? Teachers are worn down by the job, it can be taxing to keep up the positive energy. We all know this challenge, but I think there is another challenge. The challenge what teachers believe about teaching. Didactic contract. This contract has been in place since the early days of school. In this contract teachers pass knowledge to students. Students are to listen, take notes, and practice the lessons. This was a solution in the past when knowledge was useful for decades. Now, we know that the world is changing too fast for this process to work for students. Also, with the amount of choices and access to knowledge, students will lose interest quickly.
How do great teachers handle this?
There are a few differences in how good teachers handle this new challenge, and how great teachers address it. Here are two:
Ask questions, don’t just look for answers. If you listen carefully, good teachers are asking questions to look for a certain answer. While great teachers are curious about student experiences and student thinking. This shift creates students who are more likely to actively participate during class. Students know their thoughts matter and the teacher is really listening.
Use a variety of strategies consistently. Most good teachers use direct instruction. Though this strategy can appear effective, it also creates students who forget how to think. Direct instruction also becomes predictable and soon students tune out because the teacher is doing all the work. Great teachers try to create experiences where students are doing most of the thinking. These teachers are willing to change things up, even though it might be uncomfortable. Students are more curious because they see the teacher as a learner as well, therefore the great teachers model the behavior they expect.
The primary goal of the great teacher is to pull out students strengths instead of trying to put knowledge into students.
How can leaders leverage these skills?
I know we want to highlight the great teacher and leverage them as models for the good teachers. But, consider this. Let’s learn to use the great teacher strategies on our good teachers. Instead of telling them what they can do differently, let’s ask good teachers questions. Questions that are curious about their experiences and thinking around teaching. How do you prepare for challenging students? What strategy did you choose for your students and Why? How would you rate your lesson? What choices would you make next time to make the lesson better? Through questions, I think we can learn more about our staff, show we believe in their ability, and find strategic ways to push them from good to great.
In conclusion, we all struggle with student apathy. As leaders we struggle with teacher apathy. So, let’s make it our mission to learn from our best teachers by asking more questions and using a variety of strategies. If we do this, then I believe we will shift our good teachers to great teachers, and successfully address the challenge of student apathy.


What is Didactic Teaching.  Retrieved from:






True Learning Isn’t Easy

“My kid is an A student.”  This statement makes parents around the county beam with pride.  How do I know?  Well, my parents would brag about me.  I was fortunate enough to be an “A” student during my secondary schooling.  There was a problem with this though my “A” came easy.  Why was this a problem?  Because I learned a few unproductive habits and beliefs that would inhibit my growth as I got older.

Number 1:  success should be easy.  Because of the continuous experiences I had during school, when things were hard, I would sometimes quit.  I shied away from challenges, especially in college.  I recall my senior year, I had to present a mini dissertation to the math department.  I did all I could to avoid class.  I did end up completing it, however I tried to avoid the entire thing.  We’ve all seen students avoiding class or challenging tasks during our career.  I believe this is a direct result of believing learning should be easy.

Number 2: procrastination of tasks. Since I did not need to work hard, I would wait to the last minute to complete assignments.  I only recall a few times when I didn’t still receive an A.  One of those times was in eight grade.  I had to do a science project involving a natural disaster.  I waited until the last minute and asked my older cousin for help.  He gave me the idea of using a monopoly house, water, a jar, and dishwashing soap.  From this I made a tornado, which was created when I shook the jar (embarrassing). When I did not receive a good grade I was allowed to redo the assignment because I was a “good student” and my mom asked.  I obtained a better grade on the redo, but learned procrastination had no consequences.  We have all had students who frustrate us by waiting until the last minute.  We see so much potential in them.

Number 3:  I learned to be dependent on external praise.  Since making an A was the main goal, I learned to enjoy the attention I received from that outcome.  I even craved it.  I recall my uncle giving me money for getting an A.  I know he was trying to be encouraging, but I think this reinforced my unproductive habits.  As a result, I noticed myself only working hard if it was for others.  For example, I was only getting A’s because I wanted to play sports.  My dad always said, “If you don’t get an A, then you can’t play.”  Therefore, the grade was not for the personal satisfaction for my own hard work, but because I was being rewarded.  Trying to please others always brought anxiety and worry, never true internal satisfaction.  We all have seen students who only care about the grade and not the learning experience.

So, what can we do to counteract these?

I believe we must provide more opportunities for our students to experience challenges during class.  Think the earlier, the better.  By providing these opportunities, students can learn the true satisfaction of working towards a goal.  Life is about challenges and learning to face and manage challenges effectively.  Think about your own personal challenges you have overcome.  I have learned much more from my challenges, than I did from anything that came easily.  Another benefit is ownership.  I relate this to doing chores at home.  I know I don’t like chores now because as a child I didn’t do many chores, but if I had done them earlier I would probably take more pride in the opportunity to do and complete a chore.  We all would like students to take more ownership and pride in their work.

In conclusion, as educators our responsibility is to provide students the skills needed for success in the future.  I believe this starts with the experiences we choose to give students.  We often want to give students things they “can do”.  An example would be our hesitation when saying “my kids can’t do that”.  We must also provide students with challenges that push them beyond their comfort zone.  I realize we all (teacher, student, and parent) might be uncomfortable with the change.  There might be pain, fear, and anger.  However, we must provide these opportunities so our students are ready for their future.

Let me know what you think!

1 Mindset Shift to Effective Classroom Management

“Don’t smile until after Christmas.”  Have you ever heard your colleagues say these words? At the age of twenty-one, I was unsure about classroom management, as this would be the first time I would have my own classroom of students.  When I heard these words, I was confused.  I thought our goal was to build relationships with our students.  Smiling and laughing is a huge part of who I am, so could I build a relationship without smiling.  What would I do?

I listened and did not smile until Christmas.  So, what happened?  Even though I worked hard, it was hard to connect with my students.  I felt like I was in control of the classroom, but I wondered if this was the right way.  Despite my thoughts, I continued to use this strategy early in my career.  Now reflecting back, I believe this choice had a negative effect on the success of my students.

So, recently I started thinking about our mindset as teachers.  Control of the classroom is perceived as a valuable teacher skill.  However, does control mean respect?  In particular, I have loose my cool when a student talked back during class.  I don’t think students could respect my anger, nor would I say my students could felt safe in a classroom where they couldn’t express themselves.  So, I have to change.  I decided I needed to share more about myself.  I needed to share my strengths and my challenges.  I needed to make a mindset shift and be more vulnerable.

As educators, we use the word mindset in many different forms, so in this blog I will use the following definition:

Mindset – a mental attitude that determines how a person response to situations

Key Shift:  Vulnerability

As a young teacher, it was a challenge for me to be vulnerable and I still struggle now.  Our challenge is knowing the line between revealing too much and sharing too little.  However, if we want to build relationships with students and effectively manage our classrooms, then we must be willing to share who we are and why we are teaching with our students.  Think about it, are you more willing to take advice from someone you know , or someone who is a unknown to you.  We listen more to people we know.  We also share more with people we know because we feel safe.

We all struggle with being vulnerable, but I have learned a few skills that help me with my fears.  For me, I learned to reveal who I am upfront and what I am about upfront. This way when problems occur, I can remind students where I stand, instead of trying to hide my needs. You may think you do this at the beginning of the school year, but most of us spend this time going over rules (syllabus) instead of stating personal principles.

Here is an example:  I use to say “Rule number one is respect, respect teacher, materials, each other and yourself.”  Now I might say, “I value each of you as individual, therefore if you have a concern with me or any other student, please address me one on one, before or after class.  This way, I can give you my full attention as we discuss the concern.”  In the first example, I was very vague and closed in my communication.  What does respect mean?  How would a student show a teacher respect?  However, the second communication was clear directions to what I care about (valuing students as individuals), and when, when, and how to address any concerns.  Clarity in who we are, and how we operate can be essential to vulnerability.  Through vulnerability you1 Mindset Shift to Effective Classroom Management build respectful and open environment for students to learn.

This is one component of vulnerability, however there are others that you might consider:

a) Being a curious more than certain

b) Talk about what students can do, more than what students can’t do

In conclusion, I think we all can have effective classroom management through vulnerability.  We all want our students to succeed academically and beyond.  So, for students to reach highest potential, they must feel safe and respected.  Strategies like refusing to smile before Christmas or stating a set of rules, my have some benefits, but ultimately can leave us without the connection needed to impact student learning.  So, let’s all take a deeper look at how we can be more vulnerable in our classrooms.  If we do, I believe we can have the classroom environment we have always desired, where learning, not control is at the center of the experience.

What shift do you believe supports effective classroom management?  Please share your comments below.  Looking forward to continuing the conversation.