Good Teaching > Fidget Spinners

Over the weekend, I lost a bit of my patience with practitioners, y’all.  I’d just finished listening to a teacher rant and rave about “today’s kids being lazy” and “those damned fidget spinners.”  What I kept thinking during her rant came to life in the form of this Tweet:


I must have touched on a nerve because the Tweet took off — and not everyone was buying my central notion that good lesson planning is the best classroom management strategy.

People called my opinion “ridiculous” and “insulting.”  They said that I had “deprofessionalized and dehumanized” teachers.  They described my Tweet as “sententious BS” and called out my “neoliberalism,” whatever that means.


So I figured I’d articulate a bit on my central argument here in a series of “I Believe” statements.  Choose one and tell me where I’m wrong:

I believe that it is the teacher’s job to create lessons that are so engaging, kids aren’t interested in their distractions.  Plain and simple.  Bored kids fidget with spinners and phones and pencils and their bodies.  Kids who are engaged by challenging thoughts or provocative questions or tasks that are developmentally appropriate fidget with ideas.  If we know our kids and know our content, we OUGHT to be able to fill MOST of our lessons with MORE of those challenging thoughts and provocative questions and developmentally appropriate tasks.

Is that an easy task?  Nope.

But you can’t tell me that it’s an IMPOSSIBLE task.  All of you have taught lessons that left kids completely riveted.  Those are the moments that we live for, right?  And in those lessons, your kids aren’t flipping spinners or texting their girlfriends.  They are following your lead and listening to your every word and tackling whatever challenge you drop in front of them.

Can you create a riveting lesson every single day?  Probably not.  After 24 years of teaching, if I can wrap my kids in the perfect lesson two or three times every week, I feel like I’m doing pretty good.

But I also won’t be satisfied knowing that forty to sixty percent of my instruction is engaging, either.  And neither should you.

I believe that fidgeting kids are a GREAT source of feedback for classroom teachers.  I’m no expert at this teaching stuff, but one of the things I’m good at is being honest with myself.  In fact, I’m constantly trying to figure out whether or not my instructional practices are working for the kids in my classroom — and when I see kids fidgeting with spinners and phones and pencils and their bodies, I don’t get angry with the kids OR disappointed with myself.

Instead, I make a mental note that the lesson I am teaching needs improvement.  Maybe there aren’t enough opportunities for kids to interact with one another.  Maybe the content I’m presenting is too challenging — or not challenging enough.  Maybe my questions aren’t terribly provocative.  Maybe I haven’t worked hard enough to help my kids see the connection between the topic we are studying and their own needs and interests.

Whatever the issue, fidgeting is the symptom.  My job is to recognize it, diagnose the reason for it, and rethink my plans.

I believe that together, my peers and I can make ANYTHING more interesting.  Over and over again, teachers chirped at me that it’s unrealistic to believe that a teacher can make EVERY topic interesting to kids.  “What about punctuation?” they’d say.  “How do you make kids pay attention when you are teaching THAT?”  Or, “Some lessons are valuable but not interesting.  Like feminisim.”  Or, “Some lessons are just boring. That’s the way it is.  Life is boring.  Kids should get used to it.”

Those comments drove me nuts simply because I really AM convinced that there are ways to capture the attention of kids regardless of the topic — and while I may not always have the best ideas on my own, I teach with brilliant peers and I’ve got a digital network filled with thousands of like-minded colleagues who are willing to brainstorm with me at any hour of the day.  If I’m willing to reach out and tell other people when I know that my lessons don’t resonate with my kids, I’m GOING to find a better solution worth trying.

And if I’m NOT willing to reach out for help, I’m failing my kids by holding on to instructional practices that I KNOW aren’t working.

I believe that teachers face a thousand limitations that make high quality instruction challenging — but those limitations can’t become excuses:  I think the strong reactions that people had to my original Tweet stems from the fact that teachers really DO work hard on behalf of their kids.  We aren’t intentionally TRYING to create boring lessons for students to sit through.  Instead, we are slammed for time and slammed for resources and slammed for ideas.  Coming up with dozens of engaging, differentiated lessons for increasingly diverse student populations IS a darn near impossible challenge — particularly when your 25 minute planning period is spent arm-deep in a broken photocopier or answering YET another email from YET another aggravated parent.

And some of the crap in our required curriculum IS pretty boring.  And nothing meaningful ever seems to show up on the standardized tests that we’re held accountable for anyway.  And our bosses have stuff they are making us do.  And we teach kids who have grown up in a world where paying attention for fifteen minutes is required just about as often as juggling fourteen chainsaws to raise money for dinner.  And did I mention those damned end of grade exams yet?  They matter, you know!

I get it.  Remember: I’m a teacher, too.  I have all of those same challenges.

But the minute those challenges become an excuse to avoid reflection and continuous growth, we are failing the kids in our classroom.






16 thoughts on “Good Teaching > Fidget Spinners

  1. Pingback: Kids Need to Run. | THE TEMPERED RADICAL

  2. Carly Albee

    Whoa, #mindblown “Fidget spinners are the ultimate formative assessment for teachers.”

    I’ve been saying, “Fidget spinners are the symptom of a much deeper movement problem.” My reasoning is if a kid is using a fidget spinner it’s really a banner yelling, “I need to run, jump and cover my fingers in sand.” I hadn’t though of the feedback for teachers on how engaged they are (or aren’t)!! As usual, thanks for the new perspective on fidget spinners.

    PS. I have been dreaming about how fun it would be to take all the fidget spinners to the river and skip them like stones. You’re intrigued…right?

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Carly wrote:

      My reasoning is if a kid is using a fidget spinner it’s really a banner yelling, “I need to run, jump and cover my fingers in sand.”

      This is total brilliance, Pal. I’m turning it into a slide as we speak. So good.

      Rock on,

  3. Jill

    Excellent post, I wrote a blog on this very topic last week. It seems we share philosophies. Here is the link in case you are interested. You were much more eloquent than I. Carry on!!!

  4. Lisa M

    Thank you for exposing the real problem. Our school system is entrenched in the Common Bore. Last year my son’s 6th grade ELA teacher was trying to prod me into getting my son tested for ADHD because he was disrupting her class. Her class was packet after packet of ELA grammar and usage….. EVERYDAY! I told this teacher she needed to step it up if she wanted a quiet and controlled classroom and to knock it off with the packets. She stopped sending me emails about the behavior problem….but she didn’t change her (lack of ) lesson plans though.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Lisa,

      First, I agree with your assessment of your child’s teacher completely. Oftentimes, teachers who do little to make lessons interesting like to then turn around and label kids as hyper or “a distraction to other students.” That’s unprofessional — but it happens more than we’d like to admit.

      One nudge though: The Common Core isn’t the problem. In fact, the Common Core actually places emphasis on a ton of higher order thinking skills that SHOULD make instruction more provocative and interesting. I dig it.

      What you are seeing is a poor teacher applying the Common Core in a bad way.

      Thanks for stopping by,

  5. John


    Wow!!! what a powerful post. As a person that would definitely benefit from a fidget spinner and the parent of a child who uses one, I must say that the question isn’t about distractions. It is this. Is each child truly learning? The fidget spinner to me seems to be an obvious formative assessment that should indicate that the student is not learning

    Therefore, if fidget spinners are becoming a distraction, it should help all of us focus not on the symptoms of the problem, but the root of the problem, lack of engagement or better yet empowerment in the learning process.

    Rock on!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      You’re right, John: Fidget spinners are the ultimate formative assessment for teachers. If kids are distracted, we ought to be looking first for ways to improve our instruction.

      But if you had seen my Twitterstream over the last few days, you’d see that there are TONS of teachers who aren’t willing to do that kind of reflective thinking. It was full of “kids just need to pay attention” and “I’m not paid to entertain kids” comments. It was really embarrassing, actually.

      Teachers talk about wanting to be treated and paid like professionals. The teachers shouting at me all weekend long proved that maybe we are our own worst enemies. It’s hard to justify professional pay and treatment for people who aren’t willing to rethink their practice when their “clients” are bored to tears.



  6. Benjamin Doxtdator

    Hi Bill,
    I feel I owe it to you – and to the broader discourse – to explain more fully my criticism, some of which you quote. In fact, you might be quite surprised at where I’m coming from. You interpreted me as an authoritarian reaction, which I’m not. And that lack of space to criticize what seems progressive is what fundamentally worries me.

    It sounds like your mind is made up. Hope to continue the dialog.

    All the best,

  7. Pingback: An ethics of attention in the classroom - Long View on Education

  8. Peggy Visconti

    I was looking for something that I could disagree with, but I can’t find it in this post! My favorite line: “I believe that teachers face a thousand limitations that make high quality instruction challenging — but those limitations can’t become excuses”. So true. We have to keep reflecting, asking, and looking for the best possible ways to engage all learners. I believe we are better when we are working together.

    Never settle,

  9. vgpratt

    Fidget spinners have definitely gotten a lot of attention in schools and in the press lately. My issue with them hasn’t occurred so much during instruction as during other times– before/after school, transitions, recess, etc. The kids in our school tend to get the spinners spinning and then use them to knock them out of each others’ hands. They are highly desirable, so other kids “borrow” them without asking, and then there’s additional conflict we don’t really need. They are a “distraction” in the sense of taking time away from dealing with important issues to deal with a new “toy”. For the record, I’ve taught numerous students who have attention issues, sensory integration issues, etc. that can be aided through the use of fidget spinners, buttons, etc.– and I don’t mind kids using them when they are helpful. The fact of the matter is that they are more often like Pokemon cards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures, or Crazy Bands that cause issues between kids more than anything else.

    Thanks for your post, and its reminder that we need to plan engaging, meaningful, and relevant lessons for our students. That is something I can definitely agree with!


  10. Dwight Carter

    Hello Bill,

    Thank you for the courage to challenge us as educators with your tweet. It’s not offensive. It calls for reflection and personal accountability. Lesson planning is an art and science, and it’s easy to look outward when students find other things to focus on during class. I feel the same way during staff meetings. When I see disengaged behavior, I can get mad at my staff, which I’ve done, but the reality is I have to look at what I did or didn’t do to create the conditions for learners to be engaged during the time we’re together. The same goes for the classroom. Also, the big craze in the fall was bottle flipping. Now, it’s the spinners. It’s a call for us to focus on the behaviors we want to see in and out of the classroom.

    I appreciate your detailed “I believe” statements because you actionable steps to change mindsets and behaviors.

    Be Great,


    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Thanks a ton, Dwight.

      Glad you dug this post.

      And seriously: I don’t think anything I’m saying is controversial. If kids aren’t engaged by the work that we are doing in our classrooms, our work needs to change! That, to me, is the core of the argument.


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