John Wolcott

Why studying photography has helped me become a better teacher

Recompose, refocus and reshoot

You pull out your camera. You carefully compose your shot. And then you hit the shutter button. You've just captured what you think is the perfect photo. But what looks like the perfect photo on your tiny camera screen turns out to be an out-of-focus, poorly composed picture on your giant computer monitor.

I don't consider myself a photographer by any means because more often than not I take bad pictures. But I do enjoy photographing things. To my satisfaction I'm told this happens to even the best photographers in the world, that even the greatest have more unusable photos than they do usable ones.

Like learning photography, becoming a better teacher is more about learning from mistakes than it is delivering perfect lessons every single time. We may have only one great lesson for every five, or every ten, delivered. After all, as beginning teachers we're still trying to see what works in the classroom and what doesn't work, and we're still trying to perfect our delivery and style.

On certain days the classroom might be dynamic and energetic. On other days the air might be stale and the flow may be choppy.

But whenever the going gets tough in the classroom I'm reminded of three simple steps that I've learned from practicing photography: recompose, refocus, and reshoot


Recomposing in photography allows photographers to see things from new perspectives or different angles. The same holds true with teaching. After most failures we're usually presented with new insights that let us see things differently. We can then take this new perspective and apply it to future lessons, make the necessary changes, and re-frame our desired outcome.


Even the best photographers I know tell me that they don't always nail their focus points on the first shot. When we lose focus in the classroom we should do as photographers do: refocus ourselves and then keep shooting. If photographers chimped through their camera, dwelling on all the bad shots they took, they'd probably miss the action in front of them. As teachers, we can't dwell on our missteps. We have to chalk it up and place our attention back on the intended area of focus.


Once we recompose and refocus ourselves the only thing left to do is try again. And again. Eventually we'll get it. I'm constantly reminded of this last step every time I re-teach one of my old lesson plans after it has been through the ringer, after it has been refined and rewritten. It gets better each time. But it wouldn't have gotten better if I never took the first two steps into consideration: that is, to change my desired outcome of the lesson and to sharpen up all the out-of-focus areas.

These three simple steps of recomposing, refocusing, and reshooting haven't only made me a better photographer, but they've made me a better teacher. What tricks do you use to help you sharpen your lessons?



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