The path ahead was clear. I was a brand new teacher hired in late August, and having a few days to get my classroom ready for our early September start. I was handed a new teacher book to guide me through the first days of school, and a district handbook, which outlined all of our school’s policies and procedures. I had a clear path, and several new colleagues, mentors, and administrators to point me in the right direction and guide me along the recommended route.
The path was supposed to make it easy for me to fit into my new role as a novice teacher. It was designed to be the path of least resistance. But, it’s a funny thing, the design process. Those using the design loop should consider the user experience. Unfortunately, many of our college and university teacher prep programs, student teaching experiences, and district-provided mentoring programs don’t consider the user experience.
I was recently reading about landscape planners and their work at universities. A new trend has emerged where planners wait until students have started to walk the campus, and then formalize the paths that students use to get to and fro.
While you can design a path that you want people to use, sometimes the user experience is going to dictate what path is actually used.
As I look back on my first years of teaching, I realize that this holds true. I was handed the book which was supposed to lay out everything for me. I was given advice by well-meaning colleagues like “Don’t smile until Christmas.” (HINT: This doesn’t work!) I was enrolled in the mandated district mentoring program which required me to attend extra meetings when I was already overwhelmed. It was a nearly impossible year. The designed path to becoming a successful teacher didn’t help because my user experience was completely different.
And so, in year two, I decided to forge my own path. I learned from the mistakes I made in year one. I learned from some exceptional colleagues. I found the people who would help me grow as an educator. (HINT: It’s not always the people you assume will help you grow – You may need to seek them out!) I made a ton of mistakes, and reflected and learned from them.
Over time, the path that I forged helped me to find my own SECRET SAUCE. I came to the realization that teaching doesn’t have to be so difficult. I figured out that the path I discovered allowed me to focus on what mattered to me and my students. I focused on classroom culture, and building relationships. I gave students opportunities to take part in authentic learning experiences, held them to high expectations, and supported them every step of the way. I rethought what my classroom looked like, and focused more on how the classroom functioned. (A classroom design HINT: It’s doesn’t matter how pretty or color-coordinated it is, what matters is the user experience – Does the classroom design work for students?) I made mistakes and connections. I found those that could help me and asked questions and emulated the exceptional educators I met. I embraced everything that went into finding my SECRET SAUCE. While it wasn’t the intended path that was designed for me, it was still the path that worked for me.
And I want you to find your own path. It doesn’t matter whether you are a novice teacher, or an experienced teacher. You can still diverge from the prescribed path. Find your own SECRET SAUCE. Discover the path that you need to take. It may not be the path of least resistance. There will be peaks and valleys, struggles and successes, but ultimately, you’ll be able to make a difference for every student every day. Get started today. Discover the path that fits your user experience.
Discover your SECRET SAUCE.
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