Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: If Successful … #SOL18
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Slice of Life: If Successful … #SOL18

Last fall I started using a ritual to begin my professional development sessions. I don’t remember how it started. I remember where, when, with whom and why, but the how still escapes me. It goes like this…

So, we have between now and 10:30 today. If we are successful, what will we accomplish between now and 10:30? Turn and talk it out with a partner. Let’s share out and chart it.

If Successful …

The timeframes change, the participants change, but the question I ask at the beginning of each session has remained the same since October. It has been a game changer for me. It typically takes about five minutes and the payoff is immeasurable. Here are the benefits I notice:

  •  Begin by listening
    As a staff developer, coach, or teacher I always have goals in mind for my instruction. I think through how I want to focus my time and make connections between my sessions. I am clear on how I want to be successful. When I begin sessions by listening to what the participants want to achieve it gives me a different point of view. It helps me adjust the goals to the needs and interests of my learners.
  •  Give people time to shift focus and engage in professional learning
    I always have time to set up and get my head in the game before a group of teachers joins me. The teachers, however, are typically coming from the classroom. Their minds and hearts are not always in the room when we begin. This ritual gives them a few minutes to shift attention and orient their minds for the work we are about to begin.
  • Frame the time and focus of the session
    So little time and so much to do! Teachers want everything done yesterday. It is helpful to connect success with the amount of time available. It helps set real but achievable goals.
  • Prioritize goals
    Sometimes the list gets too long. The group can prioritize the goals to make sure we discuss what is important to them based on our shared focus.
  • Reflect on the session and seek feedback
    It is a great way to set the group up to reflect on the process of learning. When we end by asking ourselves if we were successful it provides an opportunity to give and receive feedback to improve how we learn together.
  • Celebrate
    It is great to step back and recognize the work accomplished … before everyone starts worrying about next steps. Taking the time to be in the moment and celebrate is energizing and motivating.
  •  Document
    It is easy to save the list and refer back to it or use it to plan future sessions.
  •  Laugh
    It is rare that someone doesn’t say (and add) something funny to the list. Laughing brings us together, reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously and releases creative energy.
  • Connect
    There are times when something is going on in a school, among a team or with a person and I am unaware of the situation. Teachers, being the professionals they are, often carry on with a session. When I start with asking this question, it does provide an opportunity for me to connect with the group in case there is something they want to share with me or each other.


I have also used this ritual in my personal life when my to-do list feels overwhelming or when I am planning something for a group whose members have varied agendas. Recently I even tried it out on my family – I think it would work to think through a weekend, a vacation, a project, the next two hours together – but it was rejected since it violated the “no teacher talk” rule in our house.

It is so simple. It is so quick. It really works.   If Successful … I would love to hear how it works for you!


Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebMelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year.

  • Avatar
    Ashley Brown
    Posted at 11:14h, 02 March Reply

    I can’t wait to use this with my grade level team this morning! I do often find that one person (sometimes me and sometimes one of the teachers) has in mind a goal but it isn’t clear or doesn’t matter to the others. Thanks for the tip!

  • Avatar
    Kendra Limback
    Posted at 12:14h, 02 March Reply

    A ritual that could be used many places in education. Thank you so much for this reflection. This one will swirl a bit in my mind today.

  • Avatar
    Rose Cappelli
    Posted at 12:16h, 02 March Reply

    I love this! I usually start by saying what I hope to accomplish and giving the group a heads up on what will be covered. But this…this is so wonderful for all the reasons you mention. Thanks for sharing such a powerful strategy, Clare!

  • Avatar
    Ashley Tice
    Posted at 13:03h, 02 March Reply

    Clare – first of all, I am happy to have discovered your blog. I participated in your professional development session at the Penn State York location’s Summer Institute two years ago. Some of what you shared with us I still use in my classroom today!

    I think that the phrase “if successful” is very appropriate for how I approach my classroom instruction. If successful, my students will take something away from my daily lesson. Of course, I hope for this to be an educational tool, but if I was successful in reaching them in any way, even if it was with a new perspective on a topic or a new vocabulary word, then I have done my job.

    To me, “if successful” translates into passing on knowledge, no matter its shape or form.

  • Avatar
    Karen Terlecky
    Posted at 13:51h, 02 March Reply

    Cracking up about the part where you tried this out with your family, and they pushed back!! I absolutely love this guide to PD; thanks for sharing.
    And yes, yes, yes to a trip that allows us to see one another soon!

  • Avatar
    Tammy Breitweiser
    Posted at 14:45h, 02 March Reply

    Great post!
    I am using these ideas next week!
    Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Michelle Nero
    Posted at 17:41h, 02 March Reply

    Ah, brilliant suggestion, yet again. I feel asking “if successful …” always for some ownership to your audience — teachers, students, or family! (I also thought was brilliant and may try it at home as well!!) Thanks for always sharing!

  • Avatar
    Susan M Kennedy
    Posted at 19:43h, 02 March Reply

    While I have also seen the difference in using “If Successful…”, I am most amused by the family model of “no teacher talk”. As you may guess, it’s similar at our home. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Leigh Anne Eck
    Posted at 23:20h, 02 March Reply

    If successful…I will have our yearbook done by Monday! 🙂

  • Avatar
    Cathy M
    Posted at 11:03h, 03 March Reply

    Love the simplicity – and power – in this question. Smart!

  • Nudge #sol18 | readingteachsu
    Posted at 04:33h, 14 March Reply

    […] the changers have to be able to envision what better looks like.    Clare Landrigan wrote in her blog a few weeks ago about her own miracle question,  If successful we will…  That envisioning, […]

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