Using the Right Tools: Drop the Teaspoon and Pick Up the Shovel!

Published January 7, 2012 by Susan Woodward

One thing that all teachers try to do is give their students the right tools to be successful in completing tasks.  We can give them the tools, but it is totally their responsibility to pick them up and use them.  Many are so comfortable using what they have always used that they resist anything new.  When it comes to writing and analyzing, I want them to dig deeper.  If the assignment is to dig a hole three feet by four feet and five feet deep, it’s very frustrating to give a kid a shovel only to have him try to complete the job with a teaspoon!  He may eventually complete the task, but it will take much more effort, require a hell of a lot more sweat, and the desire to quit will be at an all time high.

What is it about letting go of the old that is so difficult?  Hanging on for dear life to old patterns that have long outgrown their usefulness really leads to a lot of anger and frustration… but the idea of leaving something behind is also frustrating.

Part of making those long-term changes for 2012 will require me to let go of comfortable, yet destructive behaviors.  There are better tools available to me: healthier foods, reaching for a bottle of water instead of another cup of coffee, picking up a pen instead of a cigarette… all tools that will serve me well if I can just let go of the old stand-bys.   We are eight days into the new year, and so far my cigarette usage has decreased a bit.  It hasn’t ceased, but it has decreased.  That’s a bit of progress.   I’m still working on the healthier food alternatives.  My next grocery shopping trip will involve some changes in what goes into my cart and what doesn’t.  Not Earth-shattering, but a start.

One thing that I will keep in mind as I begin reaching for better tools is how I can help make the same transition for my students.   I work hard to give them the writing skills that will help them be successful.   Everything I give them is something else for them to add to their toolbox, but if they never open that box on their own, the tools will just sit there.   By using the tool analogy with them in the classroom, it will help to keep the idea forward in my own mind to do the same.   Like no one can take my old, comfortable tools away from me without resentment on my part, I can’t take their teaspoons and force them to use the shovel.   It’s something that each of us has to do for ourselves.   I see many who are becoming much more proficient with their new tools, and a few even astound me by bringing out a backhoe and going even further than asked!

That’s what I want to hang on to and learn from myself.   I need to be strong enough to not only stop picking up the wrong implements, but getting rid of them altogether.   But, like my students, it will happen a little at a time.

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