The Power of Perseverance

Around this time of the year, it’s common for people to take a step back from the goals they set for themselves in early January. Perhaps they wanted to eat a healthier diet. Perhaps they wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. Early in January, it can be exciting to start new routines and try out new things. It’s harder, though, to keep going for a long time, and all too easy to slip back into doing what they’ve been doing for years.

Many districts around the country have set goals for implementing their science standards. When standards are first adopted, it’s exciting to learn about new ideas and try them out in the classroom for a few days. Soon, though, it can be easy to tire of learning new routines; to want to go back to the way school systems and classrooms used to run.

Whether we’re trying to learn a new language or implement phenomenon-driven learning in classrooms, making sustainable changes requires discipline and planning. There are thousands of books, articles, videos, and seminars focused on helping people achieve their goals; all of these principles can be applied to science education systems. For example, let’s look at these five principles adapted from the Harvard Business Review.

Remember the “why.”

Photo of students in a classroom

Students are focus of what we do.

Why is it that we are going to all the trouble to organize a robust curriculum review process? Why do we spend so long figuring out schedules for differentiated professional learning? In this field of work, typically the long-term vision is about students. Knowing how our goals connect to students — and keeping this connection at the forefront of our minds throughout our work — helps us keep going. For example, we could remind ourselves once a week “I want to organize a robust curriculum review process so all of our students see themselves as scientists.”

Break your goals down.

Just as we want students to be able to break down engineering design problems into smaller, solvable pieces, it can be helpful to break down our goals. An overall goal like “Prepare all teachers to use the new instructional materials with fidelity” can feel overwhelming. Instead, a manageable goal for the first semester might be to “Ensure all teachers are familiar with the design of the new instructional materials.” In the following semesters, it might be realistic to start adding a professional learning focus on one or two specific pedagogical strategies at a time.

Start small.

Even after we break goals down into manageable bites, the actions necessary to reach those goals can still seem large. Where do we start if we have a goal of “Ensure all teachers are familiar with the design of the new instructional materials”? Maybe the first step is to identify one supporter in the district office who is willing to help advocate or plan for adequate science professional learning time. Whatever that first step is, it is one step closer to the goal.

Identify and remove (or work around) obstacles.

Obstacles — either real or perceived — can prevent us from reaching our goals. These could be concrete, such as lack of class time for science, or mental, such as fear of negative consequences to our job if we rock the boat too much. We can’t control everything in the education system, and it’s easy to feel powerless faced with obstacles. However, we often have more influence than we feel like we do.

If we explicitly identify the barriers that seem like they will stop us from reaching our goals (by applying the “defining the problem” SEP to our own work!), our next steps can seem much clearer and more feasible. It’s possible that what we perceive as a policy barrier might simply be a common practice that could be changed. Or perhaps there are ways to work within the constraints of the system, such as time for professional learning. For example, after seeing how high-quality science instruction could help students, an elementary school principal converted some staff meeting time to become science professional learning time.

Celebrate small (and big) wins.

In this line of work, it can take a very long time to see our vision become reality. It’s therefore important to recognize and celebrate even when small goals are achieved. For example, when teachers try using new instructional materials with students for the first time, perhaps a note of praise or a recognition in a staff meeting could help encourage them to keep going. Let’s support one another, since none of us can do this alone.

For more ideas on steps toward implementing science standards, see the NGSS District Implementation Workbook.

How about you? Which goals do you have this year?

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