Friday, January 5, 2018

The Problem With "I Already Do That"

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post Eight Things Successful Educators Never Say. In the post, I explained how words reveal so much about our attitude and mindset. 

Our words reflect our thoughts. And our thoughts often become our actions. And then our actions determine our destiny. The words we use tell so much about who we are and what we value. 

Words matter.

In that earlier post, I was thinking about things that I could never imagine hearing from a highly effective educator.

I'd like to add one more phrase to that list. 

"I already do that."

Over the years, I've heard this phrase quite a bit, but rarely if ever have I heard it coming from the most successful educators. Let me unpack the context where I've heard the phrase used.

After a teacher/administrator shares an idea they tried that worked in their classroom/school, a colleague replies, "I already do that."

After a day of professional development that involves learning about a practice or method, an educator boasts, "I already do that."

When an administrator or instructional coach suggests a change that might be helpful for a classroom, a teacher responds, "I already do that."

Often the phrase is followed by an explanation of ways the educator is already doing that practice. And it could be that the educator has done something similar, or maybe even something almost exactly the same. Maybe it's true.

But regardless of whether the educator already does that or not, these words seem very dismissive to me. It seems to imply that I already know what you're talking about, and there is nothing more I can learn from you on this topic.

Like many seasoned educators, over the years I've had hundreds if not thousands of conversations about teaching and learning, and I've participated in untold hours of formal and informal professional development.

And even when it was not my choice to attend the workshop or session, I tried to have the attitude that I might learn something from this. 

There were times that I didn't fully engage, but I always tried to take away something. Sometimes I even learned what not to do. We've all been to bad PD sessions or uninspired training. But there can be learning nonetheless.

At other times, I heard ideas being expressed that were very familiar. Some of the themes in education remain the same. It's been said there is nothing new under the sun. And at some level I think this holds true. Even our most innovative practices are built on fundamentals that might be familiar.

But even when I encounter ideas that are not new to me, I try to remind myself not to be dismissive or think, I already know that or I already do that. Hearing good information again and again is not a bad thing. It reinforces knowledge and ideas that are important.

And it can help us to feel validated and confirmed in the good work we are doing.

Sometimes I will share information on Twitter or even in my blog that may seem obvious. For instance, I occasionally share that "kids learn more from teachers who smile" or "every child in every school should hear an encouraging word every day." Sure, these are simple truths, but they are also important reminders.

Recently, I had someone on Twitter push back, "Why are you talking down to teachers? Surely you don't intend this for experienced teachers. Do you even know what teachers do?"


Certainly my intent is never to talk down to anyone, especially teachers. I have the greatest respect for teachers. I may be a principal, but I identify as a teacher too. I'm not teaching lessons day in and day out, but I always want to lift up teachers and make the teaching profession stronger.

Even if an idea may seem obvious, sometimes it's still helpful to put words around it and help bring it to the surface again, to make it fresh, to shine a light on it, to celebrate it. 

Some people may encounter even a simple idea and be validated, encouraged, or inspired. Others may encounter the same idea and think, "I already do that."

I think those are two very different kinds of people. Which kind of person are you?

Do you hear this phrase often? How should we respond when someone says, "I already do that?" Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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