I had my first back to school nightmare 3 weeks ago, yes in June, not even a full month into summer vacation. It was the same standard dream that I think many teachers have as they start to look forward to the year ahead; the children hate you, you are unprepared and everything tends to just get worse from there. I was surprised at how early the dream occurred at first, yet then I remembered just how excited I am for the next year. I know it may be too early for some to think about the next school year but when we have this type of job that brings us so much joy, it is hard not to get excited, even if school does not start until September 1st.
As I have been searching for new ideas, new ways to make 7th grade English a better experience for all, I cannot help but think about all of the ideas I have had previous summers. How my head has been filled to the brim, excitement building, and then something happens between the beginning of the year and the end of the year. For some reason most of those ideas don’t happen. Most of those ideas fade away. As soon as the day-to-day routine starts, our old habits take over and we just don’t do all those things we said we would. As my colleague Reidun says, “We have all of these ideas in the summer and then we get into habits and routines because we get busy.” And that’s it isn’t it? We get so busy with all the things that teaching encompasses that we tend to not add anything else on as we paddle our way through our days. But what if we were able to sustain just a few ideas? What if we planned for the busyness and that way could find the time, break the habits, and actually do some of the things we dream about? Here are a few ideas to help.
Do things now. This may sound silly but chances are you already know what you get busy with those first few days of school. So which of those things can you get busy with right now? I know that many are on summer vacation but as we relax, what little things can be done right now so that they don’t slow us down later? I plan on spending some time in my classroom this week shelving books, creating displays, and making a few copies. Nothing exciting (well maybe making displays gets me pretty excited) but all things that need to get done.
Plan for the change. If you have a great idea that you really want to implement, then schedule it. Write it in your planner, create your lesson plan, whatever it is that you need for it to happen. This is how I go through my first days if school; with a list of things I would like to accomplish and then I plan accordingly.
Change your environment. We get stuck in the same routines because our environment doesn’t change. When we work in a space that looks like it did the year before it feels as if our brain pulls us back in the previous year’s mindset. So if you want to change things, move some furniture around, change the layout, make a physical change to inspire a curriculum change.
Plan your preps. This idea is also from Reidun, but I had to share it because it is genius. We tend to focus on planning our lessons but how about we create a plan for what we will do during our preps? I know I often end up not being quite as productive as I would like because I cannot remember all of the things I would like to accomplish to begin with. So while you plan your week, or even just your day, take time to figure out what the goals of your preps should be as well.
Purge. We get sucked into our old habits because we have all the stuff to do it. So if you really want to get rid of a lesson or change something up, purge the things that go along with it. That way you might as well plan for something new since you would have to plan anyway.
Tell someone else. I have ongoing dialogue with several other educators about what I would like to do next year. Not only is this a way to get the ideas out of my head but that way they can also check in on me. We know plans feel a lot more official when we speak them out loud, so find someone to share your ideas with.
Make it visible. At the end of a school year, where I felt like I had not done enough for my readers, I wrote a post-it to myself. It still hangs right in front of me whenever I sit down at my classroom computer. It says “Find them a book.” This small reminder is all I have needed to keep trying, to keep changing, to keep working toward a better literacy environment for all of my students. So whatever your idea is, make it visible in the form of a post-it reminder or something similar. When you look at every day, it propels you forward. The other post-it I have is a quote from Shane Koyzcan’s beautiful TED Talk, it says “If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.” It hangs there so I remember the good days, so I remember that I am not perfect but that I am trying.
And as always; start small. Often times our grand ideas fall away because we feel overwhelmed. So focus on the little things that will lead to those bigger things. Plan for those small things so that each day becomes a step toward the bigger change that you would like to see.
What do you do to keep your ideas alive?
PS: To make it official; some of my new ideas include incorportaing writer’s process by using The Yarn Podcast, doing a version of Penny Kittle’s multi-genre project, focusing more on micro writing, and also getting students more time to discuss. Now you can help me stay accountable.