Continuous Improvement

A bullshit workplace notion. Midway into artistic or athletic activities, jobs, careers, relationships, life, we plateau. Shortly thereafter, energy ebbs, and our performance erodes.

We improve for a bit, we plateau, we decline.

I observed a good second year math teacher today at the independent middle school. Then we conferenced. After listening to him reflect on the pre-algebra lesson, I listed his many strengths. Then I made a few suggestions. Call on Ben as soon as he puts his head on his desk. Give Robin your marker, take her seat, and have her teach everyone her prime factorization method by illustrating it on the board. Have two more students explain and illustrate their methods and then ask, “Which is most efficient and why?” Let the kite string out a bit and “guide from the side” for awhile. Remember, the educative effect is greater when students do something than when something is done to them.

He told me he likes it when I observe because he’s reminded of effective teaching methods that he has let slip. He’s a good second year teacher who has started to plateau because he’s rarely observed, and rarely gets to observe other, more accomplished teachers.

A small number of the very best teachers, artists, athletes, and people continue improving considerably longer than their peers by seeking out expert, critical feedback; by investing progressively more time and energy; and by surrounding themselves by other positive, hardworking people, who are trending upwards.

And the wisest teachers, artists, athletes, and people have a sixth sense for both when they’ve plateaued and when their performance has begun to decline. And then the wisest, most selfless, most financially secure of them, step aside to provide the next generation opportunities to improve, plateau, and decline.

4 thoughts on “Continuous Improvement

  1. Thank you for this. I was JUST hearing my internal voice tell me lately that “I’m running out of steam. How long can I keep at this pace, keep hitting it out of the park each year (or, be expected to)? I’m 47. I shouldn’t be this plateaued in the job, but I’ve been at it, year after year in the same role, for about 25 years. But then yesterday, I was reinvogorated working alongside 30-somethings who needed my consult and were excited when i joined their workgroup. I “guided from the side” and it was exhilirating. Guess I just have to keep that forward and sideways and present perspective, in balance. Thank you. Glad I’m not alone in this.

  2. I think a great way to keep creative is to teach with someone else. I have had a great rejuvination of spirit and ideas working with another swim coach. Also, it would be productive if high school teachers could take sabbaticals– the first half would be do what you feel you need, the second half could be spent visiting other classrooms etc… (Nothing like interval training). This could be combined with contract renewal: every seven years “tenure” is extended or not before the sabbatical. If it is extended, then the sabbitical is used to refresh, if not, it could be a time to find a new job.

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