The Problem With 'Just'

Updated: Apr 10

If you're not familiar with the one-word focus goal, it goes like this: Pick a single word that inspires you and let that be your focus for the year. If you don't have a one-word goal, I'm sure you know of someone who does. Some many really great educators & leaders employ this idea to help center their actions, growth, and practices for the upcoming year around becoming more aligned to their own one-word.

I'm late to the game (hellooooo March), but I want to share my one-word for 2021. It's a nasty little 4 letter word that, for the most part, I have grown to hate over the years. I'm inspired only to use it with caution because otherwise, it can be detrimental to productive conversations.

The word?


I cringe when I realize that I've used it in the wrong context. There's definitely a need for it to be used in conversation, but it's so icky & risky when used poorly. What's even worse is that I still catch myself using it in poor context from time to time.

I learned about the dangers of using just in the wrong context the hard way. My very first year with instructional coaching responsibilities, to say the least. I had little knowledge of coaching cycles, coaching philosophies, or effective strategies. I regularly had conversations with teachers that included hidden & unsolicited advice in the form of just statements. Cringeworthy, I know. But as with all things related to learning and growth, I used the lessons from those conversations as a learning experience for myself.

Though oftentimes well-meaning, just can have a very negative ring to it. Think about it...someone says, "If you could just do this real quick, that would be great." or "Next time, just do this instead." Neither request is rude at the surface, but digging a little deeper into implications is when things start to get sticky.


If you've been in education for more than a hot second, you can attest to the fact that the time between New Years' and Spring Break is the absolute worst.

Like, awful.

As I'm writing this, we currently have 1 week left until Spring Break and let me tell you, people are d-o-n-e.

All of the new school year, new me stuff has worn off.

Testing is right around the corner (barf).

Summer is months away.

Educators are EXHAUSTED.

Students are checking out.

There's not a full & complete set of flair pens for miles and miles.

The monogram water bottle decal is peeling off, and the weather is disgusting.

The wheels on the bus are falling off, but the bus is still going round and round.

Statements along the lines of "Hey, if you could just do this thing really quickly, that'd be great." can have a very hidden message, especially right now.

Sometimes when just is used with a timeframe, what's really being communicated is that my time is more valuable than whatever you're doing so please stop what you're doing and do my thing.

Nobody in 2021 education has time for just statements in that context. Have you been in a classroom lately to see the bazillion things that are simultaneously taking place? We've got teachers that are teaching students virtually and in-person while still navigating logistical and procedural expectations of a regular school year, instructional planning, learning the constantly evolving nuances of each student, keeping up with all of the paperwork, continuing to develop themselves as professionals, learning 2938469 new tech tools, figuring out how to reach students that are not showing up, dealing with pandemic related issues and still living a life themselves.

It's such an art to making a classroom flow happen already, so bringing in a just statement tied to a timeframe can come across as devaluing the time it took to establish what's already in play.

If you must use just statements, be aware of time constraints, investment, stretch, and the overall well-being of the person you're talking to. What you're suggesting or asking could likely be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Suggests simplicity, inadequacy & stunts creativity

Just statements can unintentionally communicate to someone that what they've done so far has been inadequate OR too extra. Albeit, there may be situations where that's the exact case, but I'm going to venture to say that's a small % of your situations.

Imagine a scenario where you've worked hard on something and have poured hours into refining it into what you want it to be. It's your vision that's finally come to life! You've tried something new, you're still trying something new, and you're excited about it! Then imagine someone coming along, and though probably well-meaning, they say something like, "Why don't you just do it this way (insert a different way to accomplish what you've already done) instead?"

Hard eye roll.

That person has communicated that you've probably over-thought your own vision or idea and that whatever product you spent time pouring into, you spent too much of your own time working on it. This is not only a slap-in-the-face but can also stunt creativity. If it's unsafe for someone to feel creative in their own idea or vision, they're less likely to venture into it again because of the underlying message they've already received: Stop being extra. (<--Future blog post is in the drafts about the perks of being a little bit extra.)

Though it's probably well-meaning and out of a good place, throwing in just statements that are hidden as unsolicited advice can send the wrong message and put a huge damper into the coaching relationship already established. Whatever your suggestion, however simple or pure it may be, it can still be damaging if delivered poorly as a statement that's married to the word just.

In the end, it all boils down to an ability to communicate while being highly aware of what's happening with others clearly. As it goes, it's not what you say but how you say it. Sounds simple, right? In your next conversation that you feel a just coming on, I would encourage you to pause & consider the efforts and demands of the other person. Reframing your question or statement can have a great impact on the direction of the subsequent conversation.

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