The Need for Flexibility

Barkley (2010) puts words to the frustrations that I often feel each semester: “Our lives as teachers often boil down to our best attempts to muddle through the complex contexts and configurations that our classrooms represent.”

I try to improve my course in some way each semester. A new policy, new approach or a new assignment that addresses some shortcoming I have identified. The elation I feel when a new strategy or instrument is successful or well received is often tempered in the very next semester when the same thing falls flat. Is it me? Did I do something different from the first time? Barkley suggests it is just as likely to be the students; what works well for one group of students may not work for another.

This reminds me that new ideas that fail the first time should not necessarily be tossed aside out of hand, that this failure may be no more indicative than the first time success of another idea.

That isn’t to say that everything I try is sound and will work. I need to evaluate each individually, and be willing to persevere if problem isn’t inherent in the task or strategy itself.

The impact of students is obvious when i have the chance to teach multiple sections of the same course, often in the same day. What worked in the morning may not work as well in the afternoon, and I have to believe that my influence is about as consistent as it can be in that situation.

Above all, it reminds me to be flexible, to build a repertoire of alternate techniques where possible. Assignments and grading are set out in the course outline and therefore can’t be changed as easily. as teaching techniques and in-class activities.


Barkley, E. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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