Friday, December 6, 2019

7 Things People Think or Say that Reinforce Mediocrity

In my previous post, I wrote how failure is not the enemy of improvement. Failure is actually a healthy part of learning and growth. The enemy of excellence is apathy or mediocrity. It's being content, either intentionally or unintentionally, with how things are.

That's how people, schools, organizations, etc. get stuck in mediocrity. They become content with just good enough.

There are lots of reasons people embrace mediocrity, but here are a few of the mindsets I've noticed over years of working in school leadership and reflecting on my own attitude when I fall short and observing the attitudes of others as well.

I think by reflecting on these things, we can learn to recognize them in self and others and explore ways to move past them.

1. "I already do that."

Rather than approaching a topic as a learner and looking for ways to adjust and grow, we defend our current practice and imply there is nothing more we can learn about this idea, practice, or approach.

2. "I tried that, and it didn't work."

Since I tried this already, and it didn't work, then clearly there is not room for me to explore this idea or topic again. I have eliminated any future possibilities based on my own personal experience. 

And the thing about this one is that often people didn't execute the practice or idea effectively in the beginning, or they don't give the idea enough time to determine if it could be effective with further practice and/or adjustments.

3. "That won't work with these students."

This way of thinking is extremely limiting and dismissive to students. Effective educators believe in their students, and they aren't the ones to determine if students can or cannot do something. They create the conditions where students have the opportunities to stretch their limits. They think, "If I get the conditions right, I believe my students can and will succeed with this challenge."

4. "What will the other teachers think?"

I remember hearing Ron Clark speak about how, in his first teaching job, his exciting, enthusiastic approach was getting wonderful results. Kids were learning more than ever, and they were loving it. 

But other teachers in the school were not loving it. Clark's principal came to him and said, "You're doing great, but you're making the other teachers very uncomfortable. Would you mind closing the door to your classroom?"

There is a serious mediocrity problem if teachers are not willing to learn from each other and cheer each other on. 

5. "We've always done it this way."

It's been described as the most dangerous phrase in the language. It preserves the status quo. It protects comfort and limits growth. It shuts down new ideas. 

This phrase reveals thinking that is closed minded, inflexible, and possibly even stuck in the past. We can't think creatively or make progress if we're not willing to try something new.

6. "I don't have time for that."

It seems like everyone in education feels the pinch of not having enough time, so in a way, this is a legitimate concern. However, it's also one of the strongest messages we say to ourselves that keep us stuck, that prevent us from moving forward. 

We all have exactly the same amount of time in each day, 1440 minutes in each day to be precise. If you truly "don't have time" to improve something, does that mean you are not currently wasting any of those 1440 minutes? Does that mean that there is no room for growth on how you prioritize the use of those 1440 minutes?

Not having enough time is one of the biggest excuses I know for not doing anything to grow, learn, or change. You may not have time to do everything, but you do have time to do something to grow, learn, and change.  

We make many decisions each day how we use our time. We should use it wisely.

7. What if something goes wrong?

The fear of failure is one of the biggest deterrents to progress and growth. It feels like a big risk to try something that isn't as familiar. It feels like a big risk to try something new or different. It feels safe to try things that have predictable outcomes. 

But the big risk is staying comfortable and avoiding new possibilities. Excellence requires positive risk taking. 

Can you think of any other phrases or messages that keep us stuck in apathy or mediocrity? Share your thoughts here or on Facebook or Twitter. I'd love to hear from you.

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