One of the great mysteries in my life has its roots in my laundry room: the inevitable collection of socks missing their mates. Time and time again, I set these lone socks aside in hopes that the match will suddenly appear in the next load of laundry. It doesn’t and the pile grows until I can’t stand seeing them taunt me each time I enter the laundry room and I toss them away. You see, I like things to match. I like things to fit. I like things in neat packages and piles. And I spend much of my energy at home trying to make that happen.
Ironically, as a teacher educator and literacy coach, this need to fit, to match and to package things together neatly is not as present in my professional life. In fact, my work is right smack-dab in the middle of multiple mismatches: a mismatch between what we do as adult readers and what we require of our students. A mismatch between the kinds of writing practices we say we value, but then are required to engage in another. A mismatch between the hands-on-minds-on approach to learning that seems to be pushed aside in favor of so-called high-stakes and high-leverage practices. As educators, we often face a mismatch between the kinds of literacy practices we know students need and deserve and the kinds of literacy practices that are often evident in classrooms. I think this is especially true given the testing season may of us are in. But here is my professional secret: This mismatch is important to creating change. Why? Because it is real. Because it is honest. Because if we outwardly acknowledge the mismatch, we can then do something about it.
Let’s return to my missing sock example. Rather than set the problem aside and remove the evidence of it once it becomes too large or unwieldy to deal with, I could acknowledge the mismatch staring right back at me. I could think about why the mismatch happens: the kids dropped a sock on the way to the laundry hamper, the dog ate them (yes, this has happened in my house with a $2,000 vet bill to prove it), they are stuck in the laundry chute, etc. Once I name the possible reasons why, I can match (yes, pun intended) each with a solution: connect socks together before adding to the hamper, check under the kids’ beds, etc. I could invite my family into the conversation and ask for their insights and ideas until we come up with a solution that we could try (other than starting a new mismatched-socks trend).
Let’s connect to our lives as educators. What is your mismatched pair of socks, professionally speaking? Is it the mismatch between creating joyful reading and students who also demonstrate their proficiency on assessments? Is it the mismatch between cultivating students’ writing identities as well as their academic language? Is it the mismatch between harnessing classroom curiosity and covering the content? Whatever the mismatch is, own it. Name it. Make it visible. Don’t set the evidence aside as I did by tossing my mismatched socks. Instead, outwardly acknowledge the mismatch to bring you a step closer to doing something about it. And share your thinking with colleagues. Start conversations on how to align what we know and what we practice and seek support. Brainstorm in your notebook. Cover your wall with ideas written on sticky notes. Post and tweet your thinking online for ideas and possibilities.
So much of our work as coaches lives in the mismatch, mismatches that often are unspoken or accepted as unchangeable. But here is what I have learned: the hardest thing to do as a coach is to help others see and acknowledge the mismatch. But when we do, we can acknowledge that feeling stuck in that mismatch is actually a sign that it is time to grow and change, a lesson I learned from Mel Robbins. That is when the real work can begin. So, what mismatch is on your mind right now? How can we collaborate to tackle it and finish the year strong together?