We’re deep in the brave new world of remote online learning, and it has revealed a long-kept secret about education: Many of us are quietly competitive and make constant, relentless comparisons between ourselves and the educators around us. It is a blessing and a curse. We are always trying to be better teachers, with better resources, classrooms, and relationships with our families. It begs the question, though: Better than what? Better than whom?
The implication is that we seek to be better than we were before. Before meaning yesterday, last week, last year, our first year. Sometimes, though, I think we mean something else—we mean better than other teachers. Better than the teacher across the hall, the teacher in a nearby school, better than every teacher our students may have had before us. We want to be the best.teacher.ever.
Of course, this isn’t always true. Strong teams of teachers have abandoned any competitiveness between one another; they have scads of trust, support, and collegiality and constantly help one another be awesome. And thanks to evolved thinking (and Google), “sharing” often happens quickly, easily, and without issue.
But remote and online learning has revealed a unique resurgence of competitiveness and comparisons. Sometimes it feels like we’re tripping over one another to post the newest greatest idea, and we’re spending a lot of time worrying that we ought to be doing more, being more, teaching more, and offering more.
It’s not being competitive and striving for excellence that’s the problem. It’s the way we feel when we think we haven’t kept up or done enough, and when we think we aren’t enough. As a principal, I feel it acutely. I will be roaring along, feeling confident I’m doing a fantastic job leading through this crisis. Then I open up Facebook and Twitter and see all the amazing ideas from other principals—TikTok videos, parades past people’s homes, ongoing online shout-outs with prizes, online Principal for a Day, picks from virtual Treasure Boxes, Virtual Spirit Weeks, photo albums, and hashtag challenges, oh my, I can’t keep up.
And then I feel terrible. Less-than. Incompetent. Imposter Syndrome moves in. And stays.
Overcoming Our Competitive Nature
Teachers are feeling the same. They may have built an entire schedule, but it’s not color-coded and planned for interactive responses, complete with sound effects, like the one they saw online. They communicate daily with their students but haven’t launched an interactive blog or made personal phone calls to every child twice a day. They provide excellent books and resources, then see someone who recorded an entire read-aloud of a 500-page novel uploaded to a newly created YouTube channel.
The comparisons are exhausting and impossible.
Knowing this, I decided one of the ways I was going to lead through this was to encourage teachers not to spiral down the drain of competitiveness and comparisons. I decided I’d repeat—on loop, if needed—some reminders for teachers.
- You know your students. Do right by them, not someone else’s students.
- You know your teaching style. Embrace it.
- If there’s something you want to try but don’t know how, now’s the time to learn it—when it fits with other things you’re doing.
- If there’s something that looks cool but doesn’t sound like it would help your students, let it go.
- Grow as a teacher—by considering how this experience can make you a better teacher than you were a few months ago.
- Avoid comparing what you’re not doing to what others are doing.
- Take breaks.
- Don’t live behind your laptop, linking links to other links, swirling online resources around like shields.
- Stay in touch with colleagues you like and respect. Promise to lift each other up.
- Refuse to feel less than. Refuse.
- Remember your own fabulousness and revel in it.
- Don’t fret. If you’re doing right by your students, you can’t mess this up.
I’ll undoubtedly keep adding to this list as this virus continues to affect our classrooms. In the end, I hope it will be a list I use well beyond these confusing, uncertain, unsettling times. I like thinking of how to stop all the competing and comparing and just celebrate how incredibly different we all are in our own unique, fabulous ways.