Imagine a group of people who all want to go to Las Vegas. They’re all happy and excited… until they get there.

Once they get there, they realize that they wanted to go there for different reasons. One person wanted to gamble. One person wanted to see some shows. One wanted to hang out at the pool. One wanted to eat at the restaurants. One wanted to walk on the strip and look at the lights.

While they all thought they wanted the same thing, in reality they had very different expectations. I call this my Vegas metaphor and I see it happen time and again in education. Colleagues agree on something, but for different reasons, and they don’t realize it because they don’t talk about the details.

Here are some examples I’ve seen:

Textbook Adoptions
I’ve talked with different teachers in the same school district who agreed on which book to adopt, but when you asked them why, you heard completely different reasons. For example:

  • “I like this book because it has more pictures and is kid friendly.”
  • “This book has videos of real world situations we can use to introduce a topic.”
  • “This book has plenty of homework and classwork problems I can give students.”
  • “Having the Spanish language version will be really useful for my students.”

I’m not trying to judge any of these reasons’ importance. I’m simply stating that people are evaluating their decisions differently, and that this could cause problems down the line.

Honors Classes
I’ve broken down this one in detail in this blog post, but I often hear educators talk about the need for honors classes, even though they all have different descriptions of what makes an honors class different from a regular class. Quoting from that post, some educators describe the difference by stating that honors classes…

  • … cover the material at a faster pace so they can include content standards from the beginning of the next course.
  • … are given less time to complete a test.
  • … use a different book than regular classes.
  • … cover some of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) plus standards (defined in the last paragraph of pg 147)
  • … require students to do more homework/classwork/projects/quizzes.
  • … do additional higher Depth of Knowledge (DOK) problems and problem-based lessons.
  • … cover almost the same content as regular classes but just have the “better” students.

This is an example of the Vegas metaphor because everyone thinks they are in agreement. However, because they aren’t discussing the details, they are unlikely to have equity for students.

Assessments tend to be frequent example of the Vegas metaphor. I’ll hear a group of educators say that they are creating an assessment, but they all have different understandings of what that means. For example:


Observations also frequently turn into Vegas situations. I’ll hear educators say that they want to go observe others, but when I ask why, there are so many differing reasons including:

  • They want to gain new strategies and ideas from other teachers.
  • They want to see what other teachers are doing wrong so that they can fix a perceived problem.
  • They want to see what their future students are learning so they can build upon it.
  • They want to see what teachers at high performing schools are doing.

Note that the last bullet is actually a mini-Vegas situation of its own because it isn’t clear if they want to learn from those teachers or just verify that those teachers aren’t doing anything differently than they are.


It’s really easy to simply agree with someone, but sometimes it’s worth digging a little deeper to make sure you’re on the same page. Just like with Vegas, if you’ve ever tried to plan a “family vacation,” you probably learned the hard way that everyone wants different things.

So, next time you spot a Vegas situation happening, call it out. Mention that there’s a chance that you and others have different understandings/expectations for what should happen, and talk about the finer points. It will take more time, but it could wind up stopping small issues from becoming much bigger later on.

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