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Control what you can and buffer yourself from the rest

By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

Question: I work in an educational setting, where some instructors operate under the “old school” system of “I do what is best for me when it’s best for me” rather than focusing on those they serve and pursuing continual improvement. How can I be effective in this environment?

Answer: Determine what you control, and develop ways to buffer yourself from the effects of the aspects you don’t control.


Start by acknowledging your feelings about the situation. While frustration, even anger may seem appropriate, these emotions will interfere with your ability to be effective. They’ll also keep you from gaining a deeper understanding of the situation, so settle in, take some deep breaths, and set these feelings aside.

Now, consider the situation objectively. What do you control? As a teacher, you can set the tone inside your classroom, and also influence your colleagues outside the classroom. However, you can’t control the tone others bring to their work, and accepting this is essential to your ability to be effective. You can, however, control your response to these folks. More on that later.

Next, look at the world through the eyes of an “old school” instructor. What are their fears and challenges? What gets them up in the morning? Seek insights that help you view them with compassion, not so much for their sakes, but for your own.

Finally, create a vision for success. It may include the experience you have in your room, or may be broader. You may define it in terms of the energy level you have each day, or the contributions you make. Regardless, it should revolve around aspects of your work that are within your control.


Let’s start with controlling the aspects of your experience that are within your domain. In your classroom, what steps can you take to create an optimal culture for yourself, your students and others within that realm?

If you aren’t consistently doing so, consider the dynamics or factors that are holding you back. One important one may be resentment against your more troublesome colleagues. You may find that these “old school” folks are energy vampires for you, and if you aren’t vigilant, the energy drain may be happening without your knowledge.

Also, you can control your responses. When encountering their “me first” frame of reference, focus on ways you can sidestep them; think of it as a “tai chi” approach to interaction. If you find this challenging, take small steps in this direction — this is a classic “simple but not easy” lesson to learn.

Strive to be influential in the school overall so that the old dynamic will become marginalized. Build the power of the student-first approach through your example and by engaging on committees that affect the broader culture. This will also connect you with allies who will be able to help you maintain positive energy.

And remember the difference you make. Let the people you’re serving be a source of inspiration and energy, especially when the old ways are dragging you down.


Old ways will change when you maintain your focus on a new, better way.

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