Navigating the Sea of Shoulds

Welcome to our adventure. Please keep your hands, feet, and shoulds inside the bus at all times.

Should is a word that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Every time I hear, think, or say this word, I cringe. I’m trying to change my mindset, by first changing my vocabulary.

I don’t run a makerspace. I don’t fully integrate robotics and coding into my science curriculum. I haven’t tried flexible seating in my classroom. I don’t [insert edu-buzzword]. I’m not certified in every app, tool, and program out there.

Some of y’all are thinking, “oh my gosh Mari, you really should try __________.”

Should. Should. Should.

I know I am a great teacher. I build great relationships with my students, I design engaging lessons, I empower my students to be curious learners, and we have lots of fun in our class. I try new things and take risks, and I am transparent with my students on my successes and shortcomings. I want to be the best version of me.

One of my favorite authors and experts on the topic of shame and vulnerability is Brené Brown. She has published some phenomenal books (Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, I thought it was just me (but it isn’t), and more), as well as done some incredible TED Talks. I highly recommend them, especially Listening to shame (TED Talk).

My favorite takeaway from Brené Brown is when she differentiates between shame and guilt, “Shame is, ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is, ‘I did something bad.’” I feel guilty when I forget to submit my attendance. I feel shame when I’m not doing all the things in my classroom and with my students. After reading her books and watching her TED talks, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one struggling with attaching self-worth to what we do and don’t do.

When I get excited about a new tech tool or idea, I immediately sail out onto the Sea of Shoulds with the Shame Sharks ominously circling my boat. I’m 100% sure I’ve sent subliminal shame messages to friends and colleagues as I’m trying to get them to use this “Awesome New Tool” that they just can’t live without. When I say, “You should try this!” it becomes less about the tool, and more about their shortcomings as a teacher.

When I start attaching “shoulds” to my suggestions, I am also unintentionally adding shame to the conversation. Me telling you, “you should try this!” inherently attaches shame–the hidden message here is “You’re not doing enough. When you try _____, you’ll have more value in this edu-world.” I apologize, and hope you’ll give me another opportunity to share…in a different way.

I am working hard to reshape my language and approach. Rather than telling people what they should do, I am taking time to hear their needs and ask how I can support their needs. When I am beyond excited for the “Super Awesome Thing,” I’m shifting my language to “I just learned about the Super Awesome Thing, I’d love to share with you how it’s impacting students in my classroom.”

Thank you all for being on this journey with me!

9 thoughts on “Navigating the Sea of Shoulds”

  1. This post is so on point and important. I think it's really hard to feel good about your teaching when shoulds are coming from every angle…Twitter, colleagues, admin. and of course, myself. This year I'm trying new things but also trying to stay mindful of the things I do well. This post serves as a nice reminder that I'm not alone in needing this mindset shift not only when speaking to colleagues, but also when I'm speaking to myself. I don't want to be in “The Sea of Shoulds with the Shame Sharks.” (Love this)


  2. Mari, this post is spot on. For me, what resonated the most is the self-talk. As educators, we know when we're meeting out students needs. But when the self-talk starts, the shoulds take center stage. Thanks for the reminder to believe in ourselves. At the same time, our excitement for our craft can get the best of us as well. I'm on board to be mindful of the language we use as we share our enthusiasm in sharing and encouraging others. I can't waite to read about your next . . . Super Awesome Thing. Marilyn . . .


  3. Love Brene Brown! I first heard her many, many years ago when she was a keynote at our Ohio Educational Technology Conference (although she was not speaking about technology). Her talk was easily the most impactful thing I heard at the conference. I have since recommended her books and videos to everyone. Thanks for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s