Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guarding Your Benches

There is a story I heard at a conference last summer that I'd like to share today.  

… in the middle of the courtyard of a barracks was a small bench. Next to the small bench, a soldier stood guard. No one knew why the bench had to be guarded. It was guarded around the clock – every day, every night, and from one generation of officers to the next the order was passed on and the soldiers obeyed it. No one expressed any doubts or ever asked why. If that’s how it was done, there had to be a reason.

And so it continued until someone, some general or colonel, wanted to look at the original order. He had to rummage through all the files. After a good bit of poking around, he found the answer. Thirty-one years, two months and four days ago, an officer had ordered a guard to be stationed beside the small bench, which had just been painted, so that no one would think of sitting on wet paint." (Thanks to Cris Tovani for the excerpt)

So this begs the question, what benches is your school, department, etc. guarding that should be abandoned? Is there a certain assessment or program that should be abandoned? Is there a tradition that continues merely because it "has always been done that way?" Are their habits or practices you picked up in undergrad or student teaching or a conference along the way that should be evaluated more closely to see if they actually align with your beliefs about teaching and learning?

And perhaps the more important question is what benches do you guard that DO matter?  What principles of good teaching are you willing to invest time, energy, and resources in, even if others question or abandon them??

Here's my list of benches I hope to always guard as long as I'm teaching:
-student choice, as often as possible
-time for authentic reading and writing
-the best mentor texts and book selections 
-teacher mentorship and being plugged in to professional communities 
-energized & organized lessons
-investing in interpersonal relationship with students and colleagues
-hearing parents, percolating, and responding with empathy
-remembering that my students are still children
-developing class community by infusing laughing & listening
-showing kids I believe in them, even when they may not believe in themselves
-incorporating fun into learning
-taking moments to rest and be present

What are your benches?


  1. Thanks for e-mailing your link to us OWPers. I had to miss the morning on Wednesday so I'm happy you posted this so I could catch up on part of what I missed. Looking forward to all the ideas I'll get from your blog!

  2. I love this! I have taught for 13 years and it is hard to abandon that bench at times. It is something so important to learn early in teaching and take with you. In recent years, I think we have done a great job abandoning benches that needed to go. I love your list of what you won't let go and agree with you on so many. I will always foster a relationship of respect and community with my kiddos. They will feel like one of my own when they leave. I will also always write handwritten notes to my kids (thank yous and kudos) with heartfelt words because we all know the power and gift of writing.