Saturday, September 5, 2015

Trouble and Difficult.... Are they words we should bury?

So I have had multiple conversations with students this week in multiple grades.  I pull from these conversations as all of them centered around "difficult/hard" and "trouble".   It is still the mindset of many of my students where these words are prevalent, but through hard work we change the mindset. Including the words we use.

What "WE" are trying to build at Carrie Downie addresses these.  I want to address these 2 words.  For the rest of this I will refer to difficult/hard as difficult as my students say "hard", but difficult is a good substitute.


This is what students think when they say difficult.  I have spoken to many of them and know this to be true.  So we need to switch the mindset to think difficult is not impossible or even hard, it is a process.  Difficult is a challenge, a game, learning, and a process.  As a teacher or admin we face difficult all the time, attack it like a game.  It can be fun!   I played many games growing up and found hacks or advantages.  All of that was fun, and the reason I played.  Let's make difficult fun or a challenge!  Teach students that difficult is not impossible, the process of learning is making impossible, possible, but with practice.  The process is so much more important than the finish line.  Think gaming, we try to finish a level, we fail, and we try again, over, and over.  If education was like a game, difficult does not scare us, it is expected.  Who would buy a game you finish the first try?  Give students multiple opportunities to make difficult fun and not impossible.


"Am I in trouble?" is asked so much in my office, I don't even want to address it.  Sometimes it is clear, but many times it is not.  In either case, what does "in trouble" mean?  Did you do wrong? Did you distract the class? Did you harm someone? So many questions.  At the end of the day are you with us for the long run... the answer to that is always, "YES".  You are a #cddolpohins, so that being the case are you in trouble?  Being in "trouble" is not a finish line but a speed bump.  I don't like the word, can you learn from your mistake? YES.  Let's get rid of that word, we are learning together, you made a mistake, and there may be serious consequences, but we need to learn from that.  The problem with "trouble" is when students start to think it is not a learning process, but an end game, we all make mistakes, some repeatedly.  How do we improve?  Practice and consistency in implementation.  Students need to understand that they are not "trouble makers" but at times make mistakes and wrong decisions.  This is our job as educators to teach them what are good choices.  

This all might not be groundbreaking, but I think we get rid of the words "difficult" and "trouble" from edulanguage.  They should not exist and should be replaced with "not yet?" and "was that the right choice?".  By asking students questions vs. telling them, creates thought and reflection.  Without that we are dictating what we think and not personalizing their learning.  Put the thought on them, let them think through what is going on, don't tell them what we think, that is not important.  What is important is what they they think about "not yet?" and "did I make the right choice?"   


  1. I think difficult is hard and something that demands your attention. It's hard work to overcome something. But rather than avoid it, I think we should teach kids to embrace it, anticipate it even. I teach my kids to view difficult as an indicator. Similar to feeling hungry which means you probably will need to eat soon or yawning which means you're tired and should consider taking a nap. When something feels difficult, recognize the symptoms and purposely act on it. In class, when we feel like a concept or idea is difficult that's an indicator that it's time to dig deep because pretty soon some great learning is about to occur!

    I agree with you that trouble is not the end but rather a pause. However, instead of asking, "Was that the right choice?" I think I'd go with, "Could you have handled that better?" or something along those lines. Although I would agree that there are definitely instances where there is clearly a right or wrong choice, I think by asking for a better choice lends itself to having multiple ways to handling a situation whereas the "right choice" almost makes it seem like there's only one way to do something. That can be daunting for kids who struggle with making positive choices. Talking about different ways to appropriately handle situations and feelings makes it more manageable and hopefully easier for them to do next time. And absolutely ask questions! Ask questions in all aspects when working with kids! Not just in the area of behavior/discipline but also in teaching academics, talking about character traits, everything.