The Five Temptations of Teachers, Temptation Three: Avoiding Reality Over Confronting Reality
Written by Jim Knight.

Two years ago, I was a side-tracked for a while, feeling a little out of sorts. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, but I didn’t feel quite right–I seemed to be too hyper, a little out of breath, and somewhat light-headed. One day, while leading a workshop I felt particularly out of sorts, so I called my doctor. Upon hearing my symptoms, he told me to go directly to the emergency room.  Although I was scheduled to fly to Ottawa that night, I heeded his word, cancelled my trip and drove to the hospital, where I soon learned that my blood pressure was 212 over 124!  My body was so unhealthy that I was close to having a stroke, but fortunately I found out before it was too late.  I don’t think it is being overly dramatic to say that if I had not cancelled my trip to Ottawa, I might not be writing this blog post right now.

What I had been doing for a while was hiding from the truth. Feeling overwhelmed by demands on my time, I had stopped exercising and started eating a highly unhealthy diet.  Also, I was ignoring the messages my own body was sending me, and my reckless disregard of those signs almost undid me. Thanks to a healthier diet, a daily exercise routine, and medication, my blood pressure is now down to around 110 over 70, and I’m feeling much, much better.

Hiding from the truth, in my case, put my health at risk. Hiding from the truth in schools puts children at risk. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which truth-avoidance behavior can become common in schools.

At the district level, central office staff can hide from the truth that their systems of professional learning or the school improvement process are not having a positive effect on how teachers teach and how students learn.  At the building level, educators may hide from the truth that common rituals such as teacher evaluation, school improvement, or IEPs are not having any impact on student learning.  And in the classroom, teachers may hide from the truth that their students are not learning what they are trying to teach them.

We can’t start to learn unless we stop hiding from the truth. Real learning almost always involves confronting reality.  Bossidy and Charan, who literally wrote the book on this topic, Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right, write that “to confront reality is to recognize the world as it is, not as you wish it to be, and have the courage to do what must be done, not what you’d like to do.”

Unfortunately it is not always easy to recognize and act on the world as it is. Bossidy and Charan write that “hiding from the truth is a basic human tendency.”


What to Do

In Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction, I wrote several questions that we can ask as a way to move us closer to confronting reality.  I include them here in the hope that answering these questions can be a catalyst for change for people who consider themselves to be radical learners:

Questions About The Classroom

What is it like to be a student in this classroom or school?

How do the students feel in this class?

Does the teacher appreciate, enjoy, and respect students?

Are students engaged in this class?

Are students experiencing meaningful learning experiences or are

they simply completing tasks that fill the time?

Does this class increase or decrease students’ love of learning?

Will students remember this class?

Questions About The School

Are our teachers focused on becoming better teachers or are they

focused on making excuses?

Is our school improving or declining?

Do our teachers focus on students and teaching during team meetings,

or do they focus on blaming, excuse-making, or finger-pointing?

Are our leaders supportive and positive?

Do our leaders encourage our teachers to meet high standards?

Do our leaders walk the talk?

This site is an attempt to provide answers to these questions, and many, many people are providing their other important answers. We can all learn a lot from what others write and do in our common pursuit of schools where every student receives excellent instruction every day in every class. But teaching won’t make a dent if we hide from the truth.  By confronting reality, we can begin to do the work that is essential for meaningful learning to occur in a school.


  1. Kendra Wagner, Literacy Specialist

    I love the questions, and TRUE, some teachers would jump at the chance to operate under transparency, and others no way.

    I would add that observing the dynamics in a staff meeting reveals a LOT about how much truth teachers and the principal are putting on the table, grappling with, problem-solving together with the data, etc.

  2. Tera Schechinger

    “Are our teachers focused on becoming better teachers or are they focused on making excuses?” As I try to answer this question for myself I must look at my practice as a coach. Am I willing to become a better teacher or do I find myself making excuses? Well, I concluded that I make excuses like “the culture does not allow for collaboration or risk taking” or “teachers are unclear of the expectations”. As we are aware of this we must not avoid the reality and uphold ourselves to higher standards. I am going to support these teachers and help them see the truth by admitting the fear I feel when I confront the truth.

  3. David Ginsburg (aka Coach G)

    Jim, I especially appreciate that you suggest seeking students’ perspective. It is, after all, THEIR school and THEIR classrooms. One thing I do as an instructional coach that surprises teachers is tell them I do NOT want to see their lesson plans before my first visit to their classroom. I want to instead experience the classroom and the lesson through a student’s lens.

    Also on the subject of seeking students’ perspective, you and your readers might enjoy my recent blog post in which I introduce the best thing I ever did for classroom culture: institute a student feedback system.

  4. Kendall McLeod

    I was agonizing about how to approach a conference with a teacher who is not perfoming adequately. The questions posed are perfect for helping the teacher complete some self-reflection prior to my meeting with her. Thank you.

  5. Jennifer Sikes

    The questions are great. I can see myself using them in discussions with teachers to help them focus on students experiences as you talked about in your lesson core blog. How do students perceive their teachers, their interactions in classes, their learning on any given day? This is the essence of our business; helping teachers to see through this lens will be helpful.

  6. Martha Moore

    As always, you find a way to answer my unvoiced questions. Thank you.


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