Earlier this year, I like millions of others made a decision to work on myself this year. I didn’t call it a resolution because I wanted it to stick. Sparing you the details, I finally joined a gym. Not anything special, lots of people join gyms… but I joined a Crossfit gym, well it’s a called a box. A new and quickly cherished friend was a trainer opening his own box and while we never really talked about it, I was intrigued. I researched it, found a box and decided to being…It was somewhere in my first week that I had an epiphany. In the middle of doing burpees and being severely outperformed by well everyone, I realized that THIS is how some students must feel in our classrooms! This thought has crossed my mind repeatedly while I analyze my reactions to feedback, my performance as compared to my expectations, and that infamous unexpected feedback. Fast forward, its been seven months and I am still at it. Tonight however, was night two of new programming   and day two of district in-service. Already exhausted, I drag myself to the box and cant get my back squats quite right. Our coach is demonstrating how I can fix it and I try again… not quite right… more coaching…. Still not getting it until I burst into tears. Not my finest moment to say the least but as I work through the tears I my thoughts turn to our students and proficiency and learner engagement.

I imagine there are students in all of our classrooms that feel like I often do in the box. Thinking to themselves, ‘why can’t I get this right?”; “Why try, I never get it right”; I can’t do this stuff”.   Some days it is a major success just to show up and do work. All of these thoughts swirling in my head reaffirmed the precise role and the reason of why I believe so deeply in performance-driven practice. Learning a language is a skill, much like my weightlifting at Crossfit. The more we practice and make small incremental gains the better we become. To do this we must embrace the growth mindset for our students and ourselves. It means building relationships with our students so we can support them on their path to proficiency. If we are to embrace the path to proficiency for our students we must embrace it and model it ourselves.

With the new year upon us full of possibility! SO before your first day with students consider….what will you do to have an E.P.I.C. year?

  • What results do you Envision for your students and yourself?
  • What is your Plan to reach these goals?
  • How will you Implement your plan?
  • What will you Collect as feedback on your plan?

Consider how you will support your students when they feel like they can’t get it right. Who will support you when you feel like you can’t get it right? I have never met a teacher that wanted to be a bad teacher, NOR a student who planned on being a bad student. We must embrace the concept of Failing Forward. We must help our students fail forward. We have to remember that some days we just need to show and work and learn from our mistakes- whether at the box or in the classroom. Perfection is a myth… embrace the suck when you think you’ve failed and learn from it. It is only a failure when you choose not to learn. With a growth mindset we are unstoppable because we choose to fail forward and LEARN! Welcome back for another EPIC year!




Published by Alyssa Villarreal

Alyssa Villarreal, is the President of Advance Learning and World Language Coordinator for Shelby County Schools (SCS) in Memphis, TN. Ms. Villarreal holds two masters degrees (Curriculum and instruction and educational leadership). As the World Language Coordinator for Shelby County Schools (SCS), she coordinates the district’s language program, which includes programs in eight languages including Spanish, French, German, Russian, Latin, Japanese, Arabic and Chinese. Ms. Villarreal has written and directed three successful Foreign Language Assistance program (FLAP) grants in her nine-year tenure in SCS. The first was to build a K-12 Russian program and was received in 2007. She was one of eight World Language Coordinators nationally to receive a 2008 FLAP grant to build K-12 global villages in Japanese, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. In addition to her district duties, she has worked as the Foreign Language methods instructor for the University of Memphis. She has served as program director of three STARTALK programs for Memphis City Schools, consultant to other STARTALK programs and a STARTALK site visitor.

In addition to her district duties, she has worked as the Foreign Language methods instructor for the University of Memphis. She is currently serving as President of the National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NADSFL) and was named the 2012 NADSFL Supervisor of the Year.