20/20 Vision

Pinterest perfection vs realistic imperfection

We have all seen them, those Pinterest posts of brightly coloured, themed and seemingly perfect classrooms. Those classrooms that are colour-coordinated, meticulously labelled and functionally systematic. Those classrooms that, let’s be honest, put the ordinary to shame! As a teacher who frequents Pinterest territory for ideas and inspiration, I can admit that I have on many an occasion, experienced “Pinterest Pressure”. That commonly diagnosed condition amongst teachers of which the symptoms are; increased expectations, self-doubt, unnecessary comparisons and a sense of longing”. 

I am by no means disputing the fact that Pinterest, in all its glory, serves as a melting pot for creativity and inspiring classroom ideas but I am cautioning against using it as a measuring stick for one’s own reality. The fact of the matter is, that while we all aspire to reach perfection within our professional capacity, we can just as easily drop the ball and shift our focus from what truly matters. 

It is only natural for us to start the year off bright eyed and bushy tailed, our inspiration tanks filled and ready to go but as soon as we hit our first pothole we stumble…we waver, we tire, and we doubt.  At some point, the everyday challenges that we as teachers face catches up with us and we realize that no matter how much we try to hide behind our beautifully coloured classrooms and wall charts, on the inside…we are not perfect. What happens when no one is watching is not perfect. Our children are not perfect and sometimes things get messy. Yet in the midst the messiness and the imperfection, arise the most amazing and meaningful learning opportunities. In allowing yourself to loosen the reigns of perfection a little, and allow your spaces of learning to become safe environments that welcomes imperfection, we unlock the magic found in the ordinary. In essence, we enhance the ordinary and allow it to evolve into the extraordinary. 

Along the way on personal my teaching journey; I have made peace with the fact that I am an imperfect teacher with an imperfect classroom and imperfect planning skills! Yet despite my imperfections, my classroom has become an imperfect place of wonderful learning opportunities, joy and magic moments. Together with my learners, we experience success, we experience failure and we experience success through our failure. We learn to embrace the quirkiness, our differences and similarities. We learn to support one another through the challenges and understand that everyone’s measure of success is different. We build character and learn to value our little community. My classroom may not be Pinterest perfect but that does not mean that good things don’t happen. In fact, my classroom is perfect because we are all wonderfully imperfect! I can admit that it has taken me a while to acknowledge and embrace this fact.

That is not to say that every year I don’t strive to enhance my skill set, better my practice and improve on my areas of weakness. As teachers, we are called to be reflective practitioners in our own right. We reflect at the end of every lesson, at the end of every day, at the end of every term, and at the end of every year. Reflection leads to correction and improvement. However, I encourage you to not get so wrapped up on the reflecting and correcting part that we lose sight of the magic moments that inadvertently take place in between. Everything exists in a delicate balance – allow your search for perfection to exist in a balance with your acceptance of imperfection. 

What we do matters and it matters every day, which is why it is not always easy. Be kind to yourself and others. Just as we encourage our children to make and learn from mistakes, allow yourself to make mistakes so that too can learn and grow. Whether your classroom is Pinterest worthy or not, know that YOU as a teacher are worthy! Success and excellence is subjective, so set your own bar from which you choose to measure your greatness – align your vision for your classroom in the New Year with values and principles that you hold dear. Seek to be the best version of yourself that you can be – we may not all be Pinterest perfect but we are WONDERFULLY IMPERFECT and that counts too! 


Differentiation is how ONE becomes many while remaining ONE. Differentiation is not separation. – Deepak Chopra

As many a dedicated and hardworking teacher will know, at the core of our practice is the desire to reach each and every learner in a way that unlocks potential and enhances their individual learning experience. We also know that not every child is able to learn in exactly the same way given that they each possess their own ‘toolbox’ of strengths and challenges, interests and skill sets. All this coupled with the reality of growing class sizes, limited resources and the pressure to reach curriculum demands; means that it is becoming increasingly more challenging to make the necessary connections and reach each child on an individual level. For some, the very idea of differentiating triggers nightmares of having to plan a different lesson and activity for each learner, as well as having to spend long nights preparing and grading. Having been there, I can honestly empathize with the plight of so many who feel like it is near impossible but having experienced life in a remedial classroom, I have made a drastic shift in my own mindset and would like to offer some hope and inspiration to a seemingly dire situation.

What does it mean to differentiate?

Differentiation, by simple definition; is the tailoring/adapting of teaching instruction to better meet the individual learning needs of children. Effective differentiation seeks to:

  • Improve learning outcomes
  • Increase self-awareness within individual learners
  • Support learners in their ability to learn more efficiently through ease of access to information with a deeper understanding
  • Increase learner engagement and participation
  • Inspire a greater enthusiasm for learning

Yes, to teach effectively takes hard work and a fair share of preparation, but it also is driven by a passionate and inspired heart that embraces the concept of what it means to truly differentiate. I am a firm believer that the practice of differentiation is more of a mindset and way of thinking and not so much about a pre-planned list of strategies and ‘must do’s’. Very often, it involves smart decision making in the moment – decisions based on our relational understanding and professional judgement of what the needs of our learners are and how best to respond to them. Take the time to really try to get to know your learners first as this is crucial to knowing how best to respond to them.

Carol Tomlinson famously talks about being able to differentiate in four ways:

  1. Content
  2. Process
  3. Product
  4. Environment


Teaching to content could be as simple as allowing learners to select their own topics and prompts. In doing this, it is important that us as teachers remain focused on what the learning objective is and the various roads that can be used to get them there. For example, if the outcome is to expect learners to write a newspaper article using all the relevant features, let them select their own topic to report on rather than restricting them to one of your choice but that hinders both their interest and enthusiasm – and ultimately, their output..


Teaching to process could mean changing up how students are grouped while completing tasks – not every task needs to be done individually and utilizing the support of one another is a smart way to lessen the teaching load. Try group learners into both mixed ability and same ability groups depending on what the nature of lesson calls for. Also, try leveling texts for individual tasks such as prepared reading and book reviews.


Teaching to product involves an understanding that the major demonstration of learning doesn’t always have to be a standardized test, essay or worksheet. As mentioned before, always keep your eye on the prize and focus on the learning objective. In instances where the objective is to gauge understanding and interpretation of content, allow for variances in presentation of work. Some may find they are able to show their demonstration in written form, others may want to orally demonstrate and discuss, and some may even find project based learning suits them better. Remember what your focus is and allow yourself to be flexible in your expectation of the product.


Teaching to environment means ensuring that the learning environment is one that comfortably accommodates for all. Sensory interventions such as pencil grips, glasses, wobble cushions, Thera-bands, exercise balls, headphones, slant boards etc. are just some of the physical accommodations that can be made. However, part of teaching to environment also means creating a strong classroom culture that is supportive and transparent. It is important for the learners in your class to know that should they be making use of different accommodations or resources, they understand why and are empowered by this.

None of the strategies and ideas provided creates any additional work but they DO require a relationship with and understanding of each learner’s own unique profile of strengths, interests and challenges. For learning to be fair it does not need to be equal – not every text needs to be presented exactly the same way, not every task should have the exact same expectation. Differentiated teaching is fundamentally fair because it assists in meeting each learner exactly where they are and helping them to access the next level when ready.

Finally, consider keeping a ‘toolkit’ of strategies on hand that are both supportive and easy to implement when necessary (a certain level of preparation is required for these):

  • Extension work: more complex tasks such printable word searches, puzzles, reading texts, vocab builders, timed challenges etc.
  • Sentence starters – helping some get started will most likely will lead to them feel confident enough to see a task through to completion
  •  Fewer questions – be flexible and modify the expectations of output depending on the learning objective
  • Graphic organizers – number charts, planning maps, word and procedure lists are all great tools for everybody to use but this does not mean that everybody needs them. Have them on hand and available to those who need them.
  • Engineer the text– eg. create white space between paragraphs, add headings, add word boxes/dictionary features for key vocabulary at the bottom of the text. All for these features are helpful to everyone and doesn’t necessarily mean that a text has been simplified but rather enhanced to allow for greater access of information.

Sources: The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. (2nd Ed.) Carol Tomlinson, 2014.