The Problem with Promises


I got little carried away with promises last year. My teaching load had changed from standard classroom teaching to a new role, part of which involved running enrichment programs for students across our school, an initiative funded by our parent body, the P&C.

I was excited about the enrichment programs. I was planning to run projects that had real products at the end of them.  One of these was a fortnightly or monthly news program covering events at our school. I shared this vision with the P&C and they were  impressed. The students involved were excited as well.

However, for all sorts of reasons, I wasn’t able to deliver what I’d promised.

We were beset with technical problems. It was frustrating as I’d run a similar project on a smaller scale the year before without any issues, so I’d been confident that we had the technical capacity to deliver this larger scale project.

I also found the students didn’t have the entry skills I’d expected. They initially found it very challenging to construct a report on a local event. Their early videos often looked like holiday slide shows – disconnected footage of scenes from the event, but with no explanatory narrative, and no logical sequencing of ideas. It took several edits and re-edits before some of the reports were ready to broadcast and, as we only met once a week, for some students it took an entire term to create a single report.

And there were my own personal issues that got in the way. For the first time in years, I had to take several days sick leave. I injured my shoulder at the beginning of the year, which led to days off work and limited mobility for weeks. Half way through the year, I was struck down with a severe bout of flu which had me incapacitated for more weeks. Often I wasn’t replaced on those absences, as my role was above establishment, and a number of my programs were quite difficult to pass on to a casual teacher in my absence.

I’d also underestimated the impact that only seeing a group for once session a week would have. When I ran a similar project with my class the previous year, they were able to keep working on it at odd times during the week. I also spent much more time building their understanding of the genre, de-constructing and jointly constructing video reports before asking the students to create them independently. Last year, I was feeling the time pressure of only one session per week, so tried to take short cuts which actually slowed us down.

The project wasn’t a failure. We compiled all the reports the students had filmed into a one-off Year in Review program. There were still a few refinements I would have liked to see, but over all, their product was good. Their report structures became tight and more cohesive, and many of their narrations and interviews were impressive.  They had learned a lot, developed some great skills and put together a great program that we broadcast to the school in the final week.

The problem was, I’d promised too much at the outset. Since it fell so far short of the initial plan to make a fortnightly or monthly news show, it felt like a failure. I felt it, and it  was evident that the students felt it too, because they kept referring to the fact we hadn’t achieved our goal of putting it out regularly. I tried to remain positive, and help the students see that we hadn’t failed, we were problem solving and rethinking our design to fit the constraints. We were being resilient and flexible. But deep down, I wasn’t proud, the Year in Review felt almost like an apology. We couldn’t deliver what we’d promised and it seemed like a consolation prize.

Promise Little Deliver Much

I happened to be speaking with one of our education directors last year who told me that in her work she always promises little but aims to deliver a lot. Those words were extremely pertinent.  If I’d promised that we were doing  a Year in Review program from the outset, we would have been happy with our work. Instead, because I promised too much, I felt the weight of the expectations, and our failure to meet them all year. It was hard to see our successes because we weren’t meeting  the expectations I’d created at the beginning of the year.

This year, I’ll be running projects again, but I’ll go about them differently. In my planning, I’ll be aiming high, but scaling things down to see what the minimum best possible outcome could be. To the students and their parents, I’ll promise a little, the part I know can be delivered. That way our successes will be recognised for what they are, and if we deliver even more, then we can really celebrate.


2 thoughts on “The Problem with Promises

  1. The balance between stretching to extend how far we can reach and being safe to minimise disappointment is a minefield that’s inspired tomes of psychology reading. The After Action Review can be a great tool to shift the focus from what went wrong? to what can we learn? In four questions the focus moves from past to future through the expected outcome to process improvement. From an outsider it doesn’t sound like a failure, even if the initial expectations weren’t met

  2. Corinne
    Another post that resonates with me. When I was running similar sessions I found it utterly frustrating to have continuity with so many obstacles to regular sessions – I ended out with the massive compromise of creating short term activities that were achievable in snapshots of time and were hopefully reinforced my class teachers. Your plan for this year sounds smart !
    Celia @ccoffa

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