Have you ever headed out to the car in a rush and can’t find your keys? You search all around and retrace your steps and you are about to call a friend to give you a ride when you take that one last look outside and you find that you left your keys dangling in the lock on the outside of the door?

Well I have.  And it’s usually when I’m trying to do 1 million things at once!

(Side note: Some of you are from rural areas and thinking, “What is she talking about? I don’t even lock my door at night!  If that’s you, just go with me here…I’m a California girl where we set the alarm when we’re home during the DAY!)

We work so hard to protect our homes from flood, from fire, from mold, from asbestos, from intruders, from earthquakes…but when we leave the keys dangling in the lock outdoors, we undo all of our security work and put ourselves at risk…all with one careless move!

I find that I have the “keys dangling in the lock on the outside of the door” talk with many educators that I work with, but instead of talking about intruders like I might at home, I find myself saying things like this:

  • “What do you mean you stopped doing your interventions two weeks early because of state testing?”
  • “Huh?  You allowed a presenter to come to your school and tell the teachers that SBRR is a thing of the past?”
  • “You’re kidding me, you haven’t followed through on monitoring the pacing plan and two teachers are two units apart?”    
  • “I must be hearing things…did you say that you haven’t had a leadership meeting in three months because things ‘got hectic’?”

Let me be clear here.  The people we work with are not dumb, they’re not ignorant, they’re not frivolous or silly in their pursuits, BUT they do tend to leave the keys to the kingdom dangling in the lock and allow intrusion into areas that they should be protecting like their own homes (see bullets above!).  Let me explain.

Most of our clients come to us because they have a problem to solve: low literacy and reading scores.  So, the nature of our clients literacy work is this: something isn’t working right and they need help figuring out how to fix it.  (We’re kind of like personal trainers…you want help to become more fit but then sometimes you fight the trainer because you don’t want to do the work.)  This is a common occurrence and we know how to deal with it and keep everyone on track!

What I find that successful schools have in common is this: they stay the course no matter what – they do not leave the keys dangling outside allowing someone or something to take control of them within their knowledge.

What I find that less-successful schools have in common is this: they are easily side-tracked and tend to veer off track if something sounds like a better idea.

So, if you are an educator who works in a less-successful school or classroom, you have to ask yourself – are we leaving the keys dangling in the lock and allowing any ol’ fool to come in here and tell us what to do or how we need to change our plan?  Are we falling for “flash” over substance when it comes to curricular materials or techniques?  Are we doing the “knee jerk” dance, flip flopping everywhere when something pops up as interesting?

If any of the above things sound familiar, then you’ve probably left the keys to the kingdom outside.

How do we become less knee-jerk-ish (new word, I quite like it!) and more stay-the-course-ish (new word, I like IT too!)?

Here are 4 simple steps to getting back on track by bringing the keys into a safe place:

STEP 1:  When you are working with a consultant or attending a training/conference, when there is new information presented, ask yourself,

  • “What is the research base?”  or
  • “If I were to implement this technique would it cause me to get off course with the task at hand?”  or
  • “Do I need to file this idea under ‘great idea, just not now’?”

STEP 2: When you are looking at the data and it’s not looking like you want it to and you’re tempted to dump everything and start over, ask yourself,

  • “Have I honestly worked all aspects of the current plan I have in place?” and
  • “Have I given the current plan enough time to have effect?” and
  • “Am I jumping to another idea because I’m frustrated, bored or tired?”

STEP 3:  Slow down. Oftentimes we allow outside intruders to enter our school when we’re so busy we don’t even know they’ve snuck in.  Aim to work more methodically and not fall prey to all of the fires that need to be put out – sometimes they go out on their own.

STEP 4:  Give yourself a timeline when you implement anything.  I find that when we say, “We are going to work with this plan for 2.5 months before we make any alterations, this tends to get rid of the falling-for-the-flash, knee-jerk, abandon-the-plan behaviors that derail success.  This is such a simple but powerful step AND a cool side effect?  When we know we have to buckle down, we tend to not even look at other ideas.  And that’s a good thing!

So, here’s the question of the blog: Are your keys dangling outside just waiting for some ugly and awful intruder to infiltrate your school?