Find your Needle Mover!

By Jessica Gibbs


Am I the only one who’s ever felt the pressure to do #Allthethings?  As educators, we naturally juggle so many identities and activities daily to help ensure the success of our students. We’re teachers, nurses, advocates, mentors, mediators, counselors, confidants, and data analysts- just to name a few.  With so many unseen roles and responsibilities, it’s easy to fall into the “Super Teacher” mentality trying to accomplish and excel at everything. But the gag is, I’m not superwoman… and neither are you!

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Trying to excel at everything will not only leave you physically exhausted, but mentally drained and tip toe-ing towards eventual teacher burnout. That’s why I decided the best way to continuously improve my practice each year was to narrow my focus to one game-changing goal. What is one area this year that, if mastered, would produce the biggest improvement in my teaching and my student’s learning? This is what folks in the business world call your “Needle Mover”: the goal that once accomplished will cause the needle measuring your results to move drastically. This year, I decided my Needle Mover is Guided Reading-  effectively increasing my small group of struggling students’ reading levels. Not only would this improve their confidence and independence towards all content areas (and comprehending questions on those annoying standardized tests), but better equip them to meaningfully interact with the world around them at large. Reading is Activism ;)

This year, I truly want to encourage my colleagues and teacher tribe to focus on doing fewer things better!  Once you identify your own Needle Mover, then it’s time to S.W.I.T.C.H. it up! Why are you switching things up? Well simply put, if nothing changes, then nothing changes. In order to meet this goal, you’ll have to do somethings differently. Here’s how I S.W.I.T.C.H. it up in relation to my goals.

S - Set a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Your needle mover should result in a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

W -  Ask yourself “Where am I currently at in regard to this goal?” It’s important to take an honest inventory to know where you stand, and just how far you have to go to meet this goal. 

I   - Ideate possible next steps that will help you reach your goal. I personally like to use sticky notes to brainstorm ideas and categorize them into three piles:         

            1) I can easily do ______- This is your low hanging fruit, and are changes you can implement tomorrow.

           2) I need to __________ -  These actions are not optional. These steps have to be taken in order to make progress towards your goal.

           3) I would like to ______-   In a perfect teaching world, you’d have the time and the resources to take these steps. List them out anyway and see if there might be someone or    something out there that could assist you (*More about this later)

T -   Take Action! Now it’s time to get busy… Knock out your “I can easily do” action items. Motivation follows Momentum, so keep plugging away with all of the steps you need to take next!

C-    Create Accountability.  Each of us are different. I get incentivized by experiences, while some people enjoy rewarding themselves with things.  No matter what you’re into develop a plan to reward yourself for consistently putting in work and progressing toward your goals. Maybe you develop a weekly system with a reward. Or if holding yourself accountable isn’t enough, find three trusted people to check in with you about your goal. I’d recommend at least three people, because studies show when you talk about a goal you place more pressure on yourself to achieve it for fear of embarrassment. Who’s holding me accountable? A trusted colleague, a friend, and my boyfriend? Who or what will you put in place to keep yourself productive and on pace?

H-  Help is not a four-letter word!  There is an old African Proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. The same holds true when it comes to teaching in general as well as your needle mover.  We can’t always get it done on our own, and often, we don’t know what we don’t know.  To better accomplish your goal, what do you have to learn or improve at? Who can help you? Maybe it’s doing research, reading blogs, or watching tutorials. Maybe it’s finding additional professional development? Or maybe it’s just collaborating or accepting help from your teacher tribe and loved ones around you?  In any case, accepting help doesn’t make you look weak. It makes you strong enough to be vulnerable and smart enough to know you don’t know everything. Besides, people love feeling useful and valuable to those around them!

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These are just a couple of the steps I take year in and year out as I focus on a singular, needle moving goal.  Doing fewer things better has really helped my focus, productivity, and feeling less overwhelmed in general. What do you think will move the needle in your practice? Let me know how you plan to switch it up in the comments below or at


Jessica is a typical mid-twenty something and self-proclaimed concrete rose. Originally from upstate New York, she now resides in Athens, GA *blank stare* where she is pursuing her Masters of Early Childhood Education at UGA. This school year marks her 7th year as a full-time educator, including teaching upper elementary self-contained, K-2 reading and math intervention, and K-5 instructional coaching. As a Spelman College Alumna, her passion for urban education is fueled by a spirit of service and strong desire to return to inner cities such as the one she grew up in to pay it forward by further educating, elevating, and liberating students and people of color. When she isn’t teaching, you can find her belly dancing, reading new best-sellers/wine tasting with her book club, and living her best life with her college friends back in the ATL. IG: imjess_sayin5