Don’t Blame the Lettuce


“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk and author of Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

I’ve written, tweeted, and talked A LOT about spring in schools and the incredible stress that it brings educators. When stressed, especially in late spring as we close out the school year, blaming others is a common default.

Teachers might say “of course my fractions lesson went south. Johnny wouldn’t sit still and wouldn’t stop disrupting the class with irrelevant questions and noises.”

Principals might say “of course the Instagram initiative to brand our school didn’t launch. The teachers are so set in their ways and resistant to technology.”

Both might say “of course Family Literacy Night was poorly attended. These parents never come to anything. They don’t support us and don’t care.”

One school might say about another school/teacher “of course they got new classroom furniture. They get anything they want. They are the favorite school in the eyes of the principal/superintendent/Board.”

We blame others when results and reality don’t match our desires, goals, and needs. Blaming others is inherently human. Emotions like disappointment, frustration, and envy happen. We can’t control that. However, we CAN control our response and we CAN choose analytical thought and self-reflection over blame.

Thich Nhat Monk eloquently explains that we don’t blame the lettuce when it doesn’t grow, “rather we look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun.” (1991, 78)

Instead of blaming Johnny for ruining our fractions lesson, perhaps we should look more closely at WHY he is disrupting the class. Maybe there is a mismatch between the curriculum and Johnny’s developmental readiness to learn said curriculum? Maybe Johnny disengages in math because our relationship with Johnny is poor? Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like or relate to. Quality of instruction and sense of belonging are not Johnny’s responsibility; they are our responsibility. We are part problem and part solution. We can be the reason Johnny misbehaves during our fractions lesson or we can, through quality of instruction and strong, loving relationships, be the reason he succeeds behaviorally and academically.

Instead of blaming teachers for “resisting technology,” we should take a mirror check and examine what has led to said resistance. Has time, energy, and effort been put it into developing teachers’ social media savvy as it relates to branding themselves and their school? Do teachers see HOW branding benefits them, their students, and the district as a whole or has it just been thrown at them as something trendy and something they need to do NOW? Teachers don’t resist technogy simply because they are set in their ways. We are part problem and part solution. We can be the reason teachers resist technology or the reason they enthusiastically embrace it.

Instead of blaming parents for poorly attending a Family Literacy Night, we should examine how this event was promoted. Did we send home notes that are still crumpled up in the darkest recesses of our students’ book bags or did we use multiple and divergent communication tools like Facebook and mass email? Did we build students’ enthusiasm for this event the days and weeks prior to it or did we just slap it on the calendar and expect everyone to remember and come? Last time I checked, kids enthusiastically begging their parents has a causal relationship with parents attending events. We can be the reason parents don’t attend events like Family Literacy Night or we can be the reason they come in droves.

Instead of getting jealous over what other schools or teachers have and assuming they are the principal/superintendent/BOE’s pet, analyze the effort and strategy used in getting more, different, and better resources. Did they simply ask for it when we never did? Did they present a compelling case for more, different, and better resources through presentations to the principal, superintendent and/or the Board of Education? Were, by chance, the other schools/classes just in greater need of the resources than we? Have we taken the time and made the effort to consider what unique resources we have that others do not? We can be the reason others have it “better” than we do or we can be the change-agents that make our schools and ourselves worth investing in.

Never blame the lettuce, even in the stress of spring. For we are the fertilizer, the sun, the water. We are the reason for growth and the lack thereof it. To me, that’s a good thing, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are the most influential to the success of our students and our schools. I believe that with every ounce of my teaching heart and soul, and I hope you do, too. However, if you don’t, I wouldn’t blame you for it. I never blame the lettuce 🙂


Hanh, Thich Nhat. 1991. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness to Everyday Life. New York: Bantam Books.


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