Replacement Practices

“Is most of students’ time spent practicing and applying what you have been teaching, or is a disproportionate amount of time spent following your directions? Is most of your time spent putting up bulletin pard displays, planning elaborate projects, and marking papers, or is most of your time spent thinking and reflecting about teaching and learning to move students forward?” – Regie Routman, Teaching Essentials

A few years ago, my wife and I were looking for a new house. One place we visited had lots of updates one would expect of a slightly older home. When the realtor told us the price, I thought it was a bit high. His response: “They put in $30,000. The asking price reflects this.”

I don’t believe this is necessarily how realty works. Homeowners are expected to keep up their property with periodic maintenance. What updates were made? Did they make the home a better place to live? Or was it merely cosmetic and necessary, replacing the same with the same?

This metaphor could be applied to teaching.

Some of us continue to favor a few older practices, even when new ones are being introduced that are a better alternative. This may be one of the reasons for feeling overworked and subsequently stressed out. What do we give up? What do we add? Focused conversations with colleagues, deep reflection on the part of the individual, and a willingness to forgive oneself for past actions could help this process, referred to as “replacement practices” (Stephanie Harvey?).

I know a teacher who gets to school every day around eight. She leaves shortly after students are dismissed. In between these times, the students are doing the work. The teacher provides quick, explicit instruction using authentic text. She spends the majority of her day conferring with readers and writers. Her purpose is to ask them questions, notice what they are doing well, and guide them toward the learning target. The assessment occurs during the day by both the student and the teacher, and less often at night in the form of papers to grade. Technology is used to support and augment her instruction. She gains time back with efficient use of these tools. Very little of her time is spent on _____ that do little to impact student learning (fill in the blank).

I don’t know if the metaphor works, but this is my vision of a 21st century educator.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

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