Stick with it or Abandon Ship: The Lesson Plan Conundrum

Teachers, how often has something come up during a lesson and you freeze: Do I forge ahead or just scrap the lesson and address what’s going on?

Illustration of a stick figure sitting on a chair holding a piece of paper. Their face looks concerned, and above their head is a brain, a blue anchor and a red ship wheel.

You have more options than you may think! Striking a balance between sticking with the plan and changing course is about seeing the range of possibilities and making a choice that will help most in that situation.

Check out the video for more:

Balancing patience & push—the video!

Balance Challenge on YouTube!

It’s been a minute, er four years, and Balance Challenge is back and now in video form!

Check out the first Balance Challenge YouTube video: supporting someone you care about by striking a balance between supporting them with patience and with a push.

Let me know what you think here or on YouTube!

—Aaron 2021

Take it easy, or take it seriously?

Modern life is often stressful, and it is rightly advised that we slow down, take some time for ourselves, and relax. But have you ever found yourself heeding that advice—relaxed, completely at ease—only to realize that you’re getting further and further behind in your work and your home is an utter mess? We can take that good advice to relax too far, and it might be time to put some more effort into our responsibilities.

relax-work hard zoom in out come on....gif

Or do you find yourself hyper-focused on work, trying to live up to your or other’s expectations of your absolute best effort? But after time, you burn out and struggle to keep up the pace…

So what are we supposed to do, relax or work hard? Well, both are important—it’s a matter of knowing when to focus more on which.

Understanding the Relax ~ Work Hard Dichotomy

We don’t always recognize it, but there’s a continuum that stretches between these two endeavors—from relaxation to hard work—with a lot of space in between. Sometimes we need to slow down, zoom out, and take a look at where we are, so we can then make some adjustments.

relax•work hard 50-50

It’s important to recognize a couple of things about this dichotomy:

  • Both endeavors are good: Relaxing and working hard are both positive things in their own right. It’s not that we need to avoid one or the other entirely.
  • Too much of either is bad: Cranking the dial all the way to Relax may mean that we shirk our responsibilities. Similarly, going whole-hog on Work Hard can lead to that feeling of burnout.


So what is the sweet spot between these two endeavors? The Relax ~ Work Hard Dial can help you figure out just how much to push yourself to focus on work, and how much to kick back and relax. But before you make a change, figure out where you’re starting from.

Evaluating Your Starting Point

It’s unhelpful to offer blanket advice, devoid of context: “Stop and smell the roses” may be good words of wisdom for a hard worker, but what about for the super-relaxer?

Before you decide to make a change in your actions, honestly assess your default mode. Do you tend to stress yourself out with hard work, or do you lean lazy if allowed? Try to gauge for yourself, and even ask others you know well and trust for their take—they may have a challenging, but helpful perspective.

relax-work hard more work

Time to recognize you’re slacking and get to work?

If you typically relax and take it easy when there’s work to be done, consider when you need to crank up the hard work. You want to avoid people seeing you as unreliable, or receiving repercussions from school or work.

Or, are you the kind of person who constantly stresses yourself out about expectations? Do you need to get every responsibility done, on time, at your maximal effort? Maybe you could benefit from nudging the dial towards relaxation from time to time. It may help you feel less stressed and enjoy your free time.

Of course, different situations will call for different adjustments. It all depends on the context.

Consider the Context and Adjust

For specific situations, we can consider the context to figure out what to change.

You’re a high school freshman, and a decent student. You get most of your homework done on time. Today it’s Sunday, and you have a geometry test in two days. You know the content pretty well, and you’ve just done your latest math homework, and are considering calling it a night. You could stop and catch up on the latest show you’re binge-watching. After all, you’ve been seeing so much about self-care on social media lately… But you actually have a bit more attention and energy left, and spending another 30 minutes studying will likely help you get your grade up before midterm progress report. It probably makes sense to nudge the dial a bit towards work.

relax-work hard situation.gif

To make this (hopefully) helpful decision, you’ve considered the important context of you circumstances, like:

  • how important is the task?
  • how time bound is it?
  • what have you been doing lately?
  • what do you have energy for right now?

But of course considering these same factors—given different context—you may arrive at the decision to adjust the dial towards relaxation:

You’re in 8th grade, and you have a history test tomorrow. Every time you have a quiz or test, you spend hours reviewing the textbook, your class notes, and doing extra research online, days in advance. In this current unit, you know the information inside and out, but occasionally get tripped up on a specific date you should know. Do you keep plugging away, or just go to sleep? Maybe you can study for another short while, but give your brain a rest and take some short rounds of Drop 7 (or your phone game of choice). So you make the adjustment to relax more, but to a degree that will still make you comfortable.

relax-work hard situation less work 1.gif

Let the Dial Be Your Guide

All work and no play makes Jack… you get the point. It’s not good. But all play is not the answer either. To find the sweet spot between relaxing and working hard, first understand that this dichotomy exists, and then evaluate your starting point to see if you can catch yourself in an old habit. And then, finally, adjust how much you relax or work hard according to the context. Hopefully, with this level of thoughtfulness, you’ll be happy with your decision you make.

Correcting people’s’ grammer



via Brainless Tales



Who did you send that to?


This sentence is grammatically incorrect. It seems innocuous enough, but it is wrong. What to do?

Should you correct people’s use of who versus whom, misusing literally, or saying nucular? This is an interesting social phenomenon—many people have very strong feelings about correcting other people’s language use. The company Grammarly recently posted a poll to its twitter feed asking:

It immediately struck me: share thought-hold thoughtthis is a total share your thoughts ~ hold your thoughts scenario!

There are times when it is helpful and expected to share your thoughts with others, and there are times when it will be considered rude and could upset people. So when do you hold which thoughts?

First, let’s look at the results:

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Teachers—Do we let em fail?




If at first you don’t fail, then fail, fail again

The discussion around failure in education is often a contentious one. What is a teacher to do when a student fails to meet expectations? Educators have strong feelings about whether failing students sends a message and builds character, or sets them up for a vicious cycle of continued failure.


Two Sides to Failure

On the one hand, teachers cannot give constant extensions and extra credit, lest students come to expect these exceptions always be made. As noted in Edutopia’s When Helping Hurts, doing so may “raise a risk-averse generation whose members lack resilience and the crucial ability to rebound from failure.” The argument is that it’s enabling to cut students slack if they perform poorly—they have to work hard and rebound from failure as practice for the real world.

On the other side of the argument, many argue that experiencing failure does not prepare students for life after school. According to the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews:

There is virtually no research or evidence to suggest that higher incidents of failure in school produce higher levels of responsibility, greater academic achievement in college, or a higher likelihood of success in meeting the demands of adult life.

Letting students sink doesn’t teach them to swim

In fact, educator Valerie Strauss shows research findings indicate that experiencing failure can become a vicious cycle for students:

We may want kids to rebound from failure, but that doesn’t mean it’s usually going to happen…  studies find that when kids fail, they tend to construct an image of themselves as incompetent and even helpless, which leads to more failure.

Do kids really learn from failure? Why conventional wisdom may be wrong

Teachers on this side of the argument say that students who are doing poorly in school need support, not a failing grade.

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Let it go, or no no no!


stick-dont sweat

Stick to your guns – or – Don’t sweat the small stuff

Well which is it?!

Should I stick to my guns and be persistent… even if it causes me anguish?
Should I not sweat the small stuff and just let things go… even if they are really important to me?

The answer is, of course, that it’s best to find a balance!


“Sticking to your guns” is advice people give when they are suggesting that you persevere. Persevering is when you keep trying to do something, accomplish something, get your way—no matter how hard it seems, no matter what obstacles you face. Thinking about perseverance, you can imagine a fist clenching onto something tightly.

And there are times when it’s beneficial to persevere. For example:

perseverePersevering a little helps when you’re stuck on a math problem and you need to just try another solution to get the right answer.

Persevering a lot can be necessary in certain situations, like pushing back against a company that’s overcharging you for something you’ve bought and hoping you’ll just give up and pay the unfair amount.

But persevering too much, or at the wrong time, can often make situations worse. If you persevere and insist that a classmate change a word in a paper you’re writing together because you don’t like it, even though her word is still right… and she’s explained it to you… and it really just comes down to a difference of opinion—that could end in a damaged relationship with your classmate.

Sometimes it’s just not the “right fight.” Maybe that was a time to let it go.

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Teachers—How do we be both firm and flexible?




No talking without raising your hand.

It’s a common classroom rule. But do teachers expect it to be followed always, every time, under all conditions? Really?

What about the times when that one student who never participates calls out an answer? Do we risk not hearing from her after insisting on reminding her to raise her hand?

Or during that magical moment when a class discussion gets going beautifully and you can step back and watch students discuss and debate? Do we stifle the discussion by stopping each student and pointing to the “no calling out” reminder on the board?

Teachers need to be firm in enforcing their expectations. But we also need to be flexible when the situation calls for it. How do we do both? Strike a balance!


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Scaffolding balance


Goldilocks and math instruction. There is a connection.

A recent article co-authored by a teacher and an education professor explored the sweet spot of providing support during a math exploration. Rachel Dale and Jimmy Scherrer describe finding the right amount of support by looking at two extremes and finding the “just right” level in between, like Goldilocks eating porridge that was neither too hot nor too cold. They give detailed examples of providing too much and too little scaffolding in a exploratory lesson on fractions, before landing in between, on what they call “productive struggle”—

The right amount of scaffolding: Productive struggle

This approach of Goldilocks discourse is an example of productive struggle (Kapur, 2014). The key to making student-struggle productive is providing the right amount of scaffolding.

Source: Goldilocks Discourse — math scaffolding that’s just right | Kappan Common Core Writing Project

This is a good concrete example of an earlier Balance Challenge, that of providing support and encouraging independence. You can read the original post on that here.

scale support-independenceProviding supporting through scaffolding is necessary, but too much and students aren’t free to make mistakes and draw their own conclusions.

And we do indeed need to step back and encourage their independence, but stepping back too much leaves students to flounder.

Like Goldilocks finding the not-too-big/not-too-small chair, find the scaffolding sweet spot to help your students achieve productive struggle, where kids learn best.

Teachers—Help students balance class participation


All teachers are aware of the problem of class participation. During whole-class discussions, some students are eager and participate frequently and excitedly—


…whereas others avoid joining in unless called on and try to escape even then—


Students with ASD are like all students who might fall into either of these categories, though the social challenges they may face may make things more difficult. Some kids may “over-share” because they don’t pick up on subtle social cues indicating to wrap up their thought. Others may shy away from contributing due to the overwhelming pace of other students’ conversation.

But this is not an issue just for students with autism. Neurotypical teachers and students can benefit from considering the balance involved in class participation. And teachers of inclusive classrooms in particular can help to support all students have a space to participate.

Jennifer Gonzalez has a terrific post on her blog, Cult of Pedagogy, about what she calls “fisheye teaching,” the trap teachers fall into during class discussions in which,

some students appear “larger” than others. They take up more energy and grab more of our attention, making the others fade into the periphery

This is the phenomenon of a teacher’s perception of what feels like a terrific class discussion, that in reality was dominated by only a few thoughtful, focused, on topic students. Those eager kiddos can cloud our view and prevent us from seeing the many students who did not participate.

A hands up.png

Gonzalez offers some great suggestions of “ways to balance things out,” getting the talkers to listen and the quiet ones to speak. In addition to these strategies, teachers can explicitly explore the balance of sharing your thoughts and holding your thoughts with the whole class. (See more on this Balance Challenge.) Here’s how:

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Humblebraggarts: Pick a side


Rectangle 1 Copy

Oh that thing I did that you could never do – it’s no big deal…

Blame social media, the internet, or human nature—humblebragging is a phenomenon that happens frequently enough that it has a name.

The more or less official definition of humblebrag is, “an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.” It’s hiding bragging.

And basically no one likes it:

the problem with humblebragging is two fold: it involves bragging, which no one likes, and a feeble attempt to hide it, which people easily notice and recognize as insincere

via The rise of humblebragging, the best way to make people not like you

Humblebraggarts—those who humblebrag—seem to be messing up finding a balance: wanting to brag, but not wanting to appear to be bragging. We’ve discussed precisely this balance earlier, that of humility and boasting (you can read the full post here).

This balance between being humble and boasting—like all Balance Challenges—can be hard one to find. But it seems that humblebraggarts are trying to have it both ways: in an attempt not appear to be on the extreme side of boasting, they are cloaking their bragging in humility. That’s not real humility, and other people know it. According to researchers from Harvard Business School,

“Humblebraggers experience the positive effect from bragging and the positive feeling that they are not actually bragging, while recipients react negatively to both the self-promotion and the attempt to mask it.”

In sum:

Humblebraggarts want to brag but not to appear to be bragging, so that others aren’t bothered. But it doesn’t work, because others both recognize the bragging, and are further bothered by the insincerity.

What to do? Bustle has some concrete examples of how to avoid humblebragging. It essentially comes down to this: If you don’t need to brag, don’t do it. If you’re going to brag, brag. Own it. Basically, be honest.

But here again is another case of the “muddiness” of the social world: the lesson seems to be, it’s better to be honest and sincere than hide boasting. Yet be careful about taking that advice to its extreme—there are only too many examples of being too honest that can end badly…