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Problems = Opportunities

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Many years ago, a young community organizer met a man who had worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi. This man told the community organizer that the key to Gandhi’s success was that he viewed every problem as an opportunity rather than a setback.

That community organizer took the advice to heart, applying Gandhi’s attitude to all areas of his life ever since. His name was Larry Ferlazzo, and you’ve probably heard of him because of his many books for teachers, his popular blog, his “Classroom Q&A” column for EdWeek, his writing for major media outlets (e.g., The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Huffington Post), or his radio show. And, most impressively, Larry is still in the classroom, working as a high school English, social studies, and IB teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, CA.

Why Larry’s story matters

The more I think about what makes a great teacher — what the difference is between those who flourish and those plagued with frustration — the more I arrive at hypotheses that involve attitude. It doesn’t seem to be style or personality. I struggle to find strong correlations between how many theories or strategies we know and how well we teach or reach students.

Nope — it just seems like the great teachers have an internal orientation that sets them on the path of greatness [1]; they have an attitude, like the one Larry acquired at a young age, that effectively says, “This problem offers me opportunities.” Which sounds so trite and naive — until you meet someone who has lived by it for decades, like Larry has.

Why Larry’s story matters for professional development

This attitudinal hypothesis about teacher greatness, if you will, factors heavily into how I approach my professional development and keynote offerings. I obviously strive for classroom applicability and audience engagement, and toward these ends I bring the stuff my own favorite PDs are made of:

Yet, while these are great at helping teachers with techniques, frameworks, and an enjoyable day of professional learning, they don’t guarantee that we’ll leave with any lasting strengthening of our attitudes. That attitudinal impact, to me, is the high target of great PD, and of great teaching.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 2.24.50 PMIt’s also the target I try to hit in my latest (and first digital) PD offering, Teaching with Articles. [2]

In this new workshop, I’m trying to make available to more of you what, up to this point, has only be available to those whose schools or events I visit in person. In the Teaching with Articles Workshop, we will:

  • Attack a specific set of problems teachers across the content areas encounter regularly;
  • Analyze what works and what doesn’t, keeping forefront in our minds the need for focus, simplicity, and improvement; and
  • Cultivate a “Problems = Opportunities”-style attitude along the way.

Click here to learn more about the workshop, and here’s advice on asking your administrator to invest in this PD for you.

Footnotes:

  1. A very different thing than the impossible path to perfection.
  2. Available with bulk discounts for teams of 4 or 8.

Thank you to Larry Ferlazzo for speaking with me today and sharing the “Aha” moment from early in his life. Larry is one of several nationally prominent educator “experts” who I’m interviewing for the Teaching with Articles Workshop. That interview, along with all the others, will be available for streaming and downloading to all workshop participants.

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