Be the change, choices, student choice, Student Engagement

How Do I Learn Best – Setting Students Up For Learning Success Beyond Our Classroom

How do i learn best Design

I never planned on teaching through a global pandemic. I doubt anyone did. And yet, here we are, two months to the date when I last saw all of my incredible students in our classroom as I told them, “Take care of yourself, thank you for today, have a great weekend…”

Had I known that March 13th would be the last day of our face-to-face school year, I would have done so many things different. Loaded them up with books. Made sure they cleaned out their lockers. Taken their questions. Created plans. Made sure they knew who to turn to and how to get a hold of us. Told them how much our community has meant to me every day. Hugged them if they wanted to. And yet, now, two months into whatever we are calling this kind of teaching, I am so glad that there were things that we did do all year that has helped us as we transitioned to fully online, to this independent study with support from teachers rather than what school normally is. There are steps that we took as a team all year that our students now say pay off as they sit at home, trying to navigate this online world.

For the past ten years, I have tried to create a classroom where students are given the space to shape their own learning, to discover how they learn best, to go past grades to reflect more deeply on their own needs as learners and as humans and then act on those needs if possible. To create ownership over their learning rather than have school just “be done” to them. I have tried to create an environment where students help plan the lessons, shape how they will be assessed, and also what and how we should pursue our learning. It means that every year there are parts of our learning specifically set up to to do this and it is these parts that now help us have more success in whichever way we define success these days.

So I thought I would give a brief overview of these parts, but also let you know that how to do this is the central question of my book Passionate Learners and that I do virtual and in-person workshops on it as well. (If you would like to have me do this work for you, please reach out).

Part 1: How do you learn best?

This central question is one that we pursue in all of our choices because it is not just that I want a child to be able to be successful in 7th grade English, I want them to take the skills and knowledge they have gained about themselves and apply it to their life after 7th grade English. I want them to be able to walk into a learning situation and know how to advocate for themselves as well as make smart choices that will lead to success. Perhaps too big of a goal but a goal nonetheless.

So how do you learn best applies to where you sit, who you work with, how you approach a project, how do you want to be helped, and even how do you want to be assessed? It applies to every part of how we are in the learning community and how we reflect on ourselves and then use that knowledge to create better conditions for ourselves. A small way of working through this can be seat selection; do I learn best seated on a chair, a yoga ball, a stool, on the floor, standing or lying down? How does where I am in the classroom impact what I can do? How does who I work with impact my learning? How do I approach new topics in a way that makes sense for me? We try out, we reflect on our choices, we discuss, and we draw conclusions in order to move along in our journey. We also discuss how this applies to our “regular” outside lives away from school. How can we speak up and advocate for ourselves and others in order to create change?

This question is central to everything we do. It is where I feel I see some of the largest growth in our year together. It is where I see a lot of engagement shifts for students, especially those where school has not been something they have cared for or felt safe in before.

Part 2: What are your choices?

In order for us to know how we learn best, we have to try out a lot of things. This is why choice in many different aspects of their learning is such a cornerstone of everything we do. Whether it is choice in product, choice in who they learn with, choice in how they learn something, choice in how they are assessed, or even choice in their setting, every choice they are are offered and then make will give kids further insight into how they learn best. Because even what may appear as a “bad” choice is something you can learn from. And so always providing students with choice in some aspect of their learning is part of my planning. If I cannot provide them choice in their product due to state or district standards, then I need to make sure they have other choices to use. They need to have a say in as many components as possible in order to feel proper ownership and also be able to make great and not so great choices. This goes for all students, not just those who have earned it. So this means that even if a child repeatedly makes not so great choices, that we continue to dialogue with them and help them make choices that will support their learning. This doesn’t mean they always get free range but that all kids need to have at least some choices at their disposal, otherwise, we cannot expect them to ever make great choices on their own.

This is one of the things I love the most about being a teacher; providing a safety net for students to explore many different options even if they don’t lead to the type of success they, or we, had hoped for. Our schools should be a safe place to make mistakes. Often kids – and adults – assume that if a child doesn’t complete work or doesn’t use their time wisely that they have failed in the learning, and yet the experience of not being able to do something well is rife with chances for exploration and reflection.

Part 3: What did you learn?

Rather than assume a child has failed if a product is not finished, this is the chance to discover what they did learn in the process about themselves. Did they discover that they need to work with an adult more closely? That selecting the teammates they did, did not work out. That they didn’t do their part and that led to group strife? Giving them built-in chances to assess themselves and the process of learning they have engaged in in order to see what they need to change is a powerful tool in learning and one that needs to be central whenever there is a natural end to a learning cycle. This is also a chance to celebrate any successes they have had; what worked well? What should they replicate in the future? What do they know about themselves now that they didn’t before?

We often assume that students will naturally take this time to internalize these reflections and know what works and what doesn’t, but in my experience this is not always the case. Often, we need to build in time to reflect so that the transfer of realization can happen for each child. We do this through surveys, reflection prompts, and conversations, whatever fits best for the moment. In the beginning of the year, the reflection is often fast and shallow but as the year progresses, I start to see further depth in their answers because we discuss what it means to know yourself. I also offer up more in class chances to share how they are growing as learners which then helps other students go through the process as well.

Part 4: How do you handle obstacles?

Throughout the year, we inevitably have a lot of failures and missteps, but rather than see them as such, they are only thought of as learning opportunities, both for the students and myself. Often these are small such as getting behind on a larger project, being distracted in class, or even just not using the tools provided in a meaningful way, but sometimes it turns into fully missed learning opportunities or complete breakdown in the learning. While this is frustrating for the student, and sometimes the teacher, when it happens there is so much that can be learned from these obstacles because inevitably students will face obstacles in the future that are similar. So rather than give up or assume that obstacles are out of our control, we work through them together and try to solve them together.

When I first started out as a teacher, I assumed that I had to solve every problem for a child, now I know my role as the teacher is to make sure they have an adult to help them solve something if they want to but that we solve it together. And also that sometimes a solution is not what we had hoped for but it will work for now.

Setting up opportunities for students to reflect on the obstacles they faced as well as how they navigated them is a powerful way to invite them into further investment into their own learning. It allows us, the teachers, a way to see which obstacles we have inadvertently placed in the path of students because often I find that it is one of my components or ideas that are causing problems, not just the choices or actions of the students. Sharing the ownership of the learning helps me grow as a practitioner in ways that are instrumental to the changes I make and seek out.

Part 5: Do you trust yourself?

I have to trust my students that they are trying. That they are giving me what they are able to give me in the moment. I have to trust that the feedback they give me is something that matters. That even choices I don’t understand are a way for them to grow. This also means that I have to continually give students chances to prove to me that they can handle further responsibility. That students constantly get a chance to try again and that I don’t narrow their choices because I think I know best and that they will not be able to handle something. Instead I state my concerns upfront and we come up with a plan.

So continually thinking about how responsibility can be shared comes down to how much we trust our students. Even if a child didn’t make a great choice the first time around doesn’t mean that they won’t now. And that is central to what we do; always resetting, always reflecting, always pursuing the learning that we need to do in order to grow as human beings and not just in English.

So you may ask; what does all of this have to do with what we are doing right now? Well, for us, it means lots of choices in their learning – 9 different learning paths options as we speak right now . It means that many students are able to reach out to get what they need or ask the questions they have in order to navigate the obstacles in their way. It means that students are giving me feedback on the learning we are doing and offering up ideas for how to make it better. It means that they are advocating for themselves or finding adults that can help them. It means that many students feel confident in English right now despite all of the format being differently because the independence and advocacy piece has been cultivated and grown all year. Even if that confidence leads to letting me know that the work is too much right now, because that is a win in itself.

And so as I look ahead at the potential for starting next year online, my mind is buzzing with ideas of how we will create the same conditions for next year’s class even if we do not start face to face. Of how students’ voices will be a central component to everything we do in English because that is what we do. Of how I can help guide kids through the reflections we need to do so they can disocver what they already are capable of and how they would like to grow.

The world may look different right now, but that doesn’t mean our philosophy has to change, just the implementation of it. And I am here to help if anyone needs it.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

authentic learning, being a teacher, choices, Personalized Learning

Choose Your Own Learning – 4 Learning Options As We Go Virtual/Online

Note: This has been updated to have 5 options in the second round as well as to clear up any confusion for students, please see this post to see the updated version. The final round had 9 different options and the slides for that can be seen here.

Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, but please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how I wanted to honor the work we have already been doing in our community as we switch to virtual learning starting next week. Because this shut down of our school does not come with an end date at the moment, I am pacing out instruction by weeks rather than days. If we go back sooner than I expect, which would be incredible, then I can switch this particular project to in-class as well.

We were also given guidelines yesterday from our district; plan for about 35 minutes of learning time for each class, I have a double block but am trying to keep it to around that time still, instead with the extra time, I am hoping kids will find the time to read. Kids are not expected to sit in front of a computer all day. We have guidelines in place for making sure kids are connected to us with virtual office hours. We also need to check in if we are not hearing from kids or seeing them do any learning. We are trying to think of things we cannot even think of yet.

We are trying to keep it relevant, accessible, and not overwhelming.

We are trying to help kids continue their learning even when we are not right there with them.

So, for our students, I have created a “Choose Your Own Learning” two-week exploration. This, hopefully, continues the honoring of their individual needs and desires, while still helping them with their growth. There are different levels of independence for them to choose from, as well as choices for recording or writing their responses. There are different levels of teaching involved that will unfold once they select their choice.

From a longer letter welcoming kids into our project

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

The connect-four template we use for this.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

I wanted to honor the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, so I gathered picture book recordings for the students to listen to – one a day – and then created questions to go with it such as the one below.

While I love all of the picture books I am finding, I am still changing some of them out to have a wider representation of creators shown. I am also still working through questions, so this document is very much a work in progress. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community.

Project requirement:  

  • Identity an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  • Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  • Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every two days.
  • Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults . To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

I know some of us have longed to do some creative writing, so here is your chance.  Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

Project requirement:  

  • Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  • Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  • Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  • Produce 2 or more pages in a coherent writing form, you choose the writing form.
  • Schedule 2 conferring times with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is 4 times over the two weeks.  These can be via Google meet, email discussion, chat, or some other mode of communication.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.

We have done creative writing in small spurts throughout the year but not enough in my opinion, so this is our chance to do it more. I am hoping this will offer up those who choose it a way to sink into their writing and create something meaningful. To see the project guidelines, go here.

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on a survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because all of the work we are doing right now is formative as per our district guidelines. As the closing continues, we will be given updated guidelines. What this means is that when the two weeks are over for this project, I will either recycle the options and ask students to choose a different option or brainstorm further learning with my students. If we switch to live school in the middle, then once this project is done we will go back to our regular scheduled learning, which is debates and Shark Tank presentations.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. I teach 76 students, I am not sure how this will look, but we will make it work.

Want to connect with me? I am going to do a Facebook live in the upcoming week in our Passionate Readers Facebook group to take questions and share book recommendations. Join me!

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

being a teacher, books, choices, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice

Stop Rushing Kids out of Graphic Novels

The books have been flying off our shelves once again in room 203. So many titles that barely get to rest for a moment before another eager set of hands attached to an even more eager reader grabs the book, so happy they finally got it. This book they have been waiting for, this book that everyone seems to be clamoring for. And while many books are receiving love this year, a few stand out above the rest; an entire format of books, as it has for several years now.

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Boy-Crazy Stacy (Babysitters Club 7) by Ann M. Martin and Gale Galligan

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Best Friends by Shannon Hale

Books that at a glance may seem easy, or not that challenging, after all, we all know to not call books easy by now, right? Books that entice kids with their colors, their visuals, as they deftly maneuver complex topics but do it in an accessible way for many. In a way that grabs even my most vulnerable readers and tells them to give them a shot. That they, too, are readers and that this is just the right book for them.

I often step back and simply marvel at the wonder of graphic novels and how they make so many kids reconnect with reading or connect with it for the very first time. I am not alone, if we look at sales numbers for graphic novels they are dominating, circulation increase around the nation, and those who for decades have been holding them up as great books are being heard more and more.

And yet, I see so many adults, so many of us teachers, lament the fact that kids continue to reach for graphic novels, for comics, for books that for whatever reason seem to be too easy, whatever that may mean. I have seen it most often discussed when a book has pictures of any form. I hear it when we tell kids that it is time for them to graduate into chapter books. That they should read chapter books rather than picture books. When we tell kids that is time to try something harder and we stare at the graphic novel in their hand. When we pull out comics for fun but not for real reading. When we tell kids that we will take graphic novels away from them if we see them reading them (true story). When we tell them that, sure, they can read graphic novels, but just a few, because then they need to read something a bit more substantial. We say it with the best of intentions, after all, how will these kids grow in to “real” readers? Grow as readers if they only read “those” books? And we share the worry so that those at home start to worry too and they rush in with their questions and their eagerness to make sure their child is becoming the reader they always envisioned, a child who reads serious books that show off their prowess and skill. We do all this so casually that we don’t even see what it is we are all really telling kids.

“These books won’t teach you…”

“These books will not challenge you…”

“These books will not help you grow the way I hoped…”

“You will never be a reader…”

“You will never know how…”

“This will never be enough…”

And so we hand them other books. Anything but books with images. We search for recommendations in order to steer them away, to guide them on a new path instead of embracing the medium. Instead of letting them choose and celebrate their choices. Instead of immersing ourselves as fully as we can as their partners. Instead of embracing this newfound obsession with a complex medium and helping them challenge themselves within the format.

And it hurts kids’ reading lives.

And it hurts kids, period.

Because what we forget is what the research tells us about these books. About books like 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damn, Sonny Assu and many others. About books like Last Pick by Jason Walz, Pie in the Sky by Remi Lai, and Stargazing by Jen Wang. About the books that bring kids into our libraries and keep them there. That these books are not easy. That these books do not stop kids from growing as readers. From reading difficult texts because these are difficult texts. Sure, there may be less words but every word matters. Sure, there may be pictures but that every picture tells part of the story and if you skim them, you miss out on the depth of the story. That reading these formats of books will not stop them from growing, from challenging themselves, from gaining vocabulary, or understanding difficult concepts. But indeed, as Krashen and Ujiie remind us, ““…those who read more comic books did more pleasure reading, liked to read more, and tended to read more books. These results show that comic book reading certainly does not inhibit other kinds of reading, and is consistent with the hypothesis that comic book reading facilitates heavier reading.” (1996)

And so we must embrace it. We must celebrate it much like we do when a child goes for a deep dive into a specific genre or author. Invite them to build reading ladders as inspired by Dr. Teri Lesene and challenge themselves within their chosen format. We must hold them up as the successful reading choices they are and continue to surround students with amazing choices. When they pick up another graphic novel, encourage it by discussing it, not shun it and forbid it.

This doesn’t seem hard and yet for so many kids this is not their reality.

So the next time a child grabs yet another graphic novel, perhaps we should read it too. Perhaps we should help all of our students see the nuances within these masterful stories, help them read them correctly, to slow down and see all of the details. Honor this format by teaching them rather than thinking of them as frivolous, as desert books, as books we read when we need a little break. Help students create them.

We forget that the kids we teach are on a lifelong journey of reading; why do we feel the need to rush them into different books? Why rush them away from images? From pictures? From anything that embodies visual literacy despite it being the world we live in more and more? Why not embrace the books they read and help them find more books like it instead? Why not let the kids read and be there to hand them another book rather than tell them that it is time to read something different? Why not let kids choose their own books, graphic novels and all, because in the end what we seem to have forgotten the most is that they are books. End of story. Magical, mesmerizing, enticing, books.

It’s not that hard, is it?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, choices, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice

But Not For the Kid

We say we believe in choice for all but it appears that all doesn’t really mean all.  That our stipulations get in the way.  That we fill our choice with “but’s…” and then wonder why kids tune out, disengage, and cannot wait for school to be over.

So we say we believe in choice for all

…but not for the kid who didn’t read last night.

…but not for the kid who doesn’t understand what they are reading.

…but not for the kid who doesn’t know how to select the right book.

…but not for the kid who keeps abandoning the books they choose, clearly they are not ready.

We say we believe in choice for all

….but not for the kid who needs intervention.

…but not for the kid whose words cannot be trusted.

…but not for the kid who hasn’t earned it.

…but not for the kid who keeps reading the same thing.

…but not for the kid that won’t read unless we sit right next to them, reminding them to keep their eyes on the page.

We say we believe in choice for all, but do we really?  Or do our “but’s” get in the way?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me, choices

Essentialism for the Overworked Teacher

I have been sick for the past two months.  Not just cold sick, but several attempts with antibiotics, various diagnoses, including pneumonia, and an ever persistent exhaustion no matter the sleep I got, kind of sick.  What started as a virus has become something I can’t fight.  And I am well aware I have done this to myself.  Between teaching full-time, speaking, writing, being a mother and a wife, and selling our house, I have forgotten what it means to do nothing.  Forgotten what it means to relax and not feel so guilty about it.  Even reading has become a chore and so I realized last Thursday, that in my attempt to make the world better I have forgotten about myself.

Why share this?  It is not for sympathy, but instead to highlight something so common in education; the overworked teacher.  We have all been there, in fact, many of us exist constantly at this stage it seems, where we get so absorbed into our classrooms that we forget about our own mental health and then wonder why we feel burnt out.   We know we should do less but worry about the consequences and so we push on and dream of vacation and doing little, yet never make the time for it.  I have been reading the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown in an effort to make sense of my own decisions, of this exhaustion I am working through, and as I read I cannot help but transfer this knowledge into the classroom.  How much of the discipline of Essentialism can help us, as overworked teachers, and steer us away from burn out before it even begins?

One of the central tenets of the book is the idea of doing less better.  We seem to forget that in education as we constantly pursue new ideas to add into our classroom in order to create more authentic experiences for our students.  We plan, we teach, we juggle one hundred things and add in extra whenever we see a need, and then come back and do the same the next day.  Yet, we know this is not sustainable, so what can we do?

Discover your essentials.

What do you hold most sacred within your teaching?  You can decide either in your subject area or in your whole educational philosophy.  List the three most essential goals for your year and then plan lessons according to these, eliminating things that do not tie in with your goals.

So for example, one of my essential goals for the year is to help my 7th graders become better human beings.  While a lofty goal, it steers me when I plan lessons as I ask; is there a bigger purpose to this learning or is it just a small assignment to “get through?”  If I want my students to become better human beings we must work within learning that matters and that gives them a chance to interact with others.

Say no more.

We tend to volunteer ourselves whenever an opportunity arises.  But as Greg McKeown discusses, saying “Yes” is the easy way out, we don’t have to deal with the guilt that comes with saying no or not volunteering.  However, when we live in a cycle of yes, we take on more than we can truly handle.  Therefore, evaluate what is most essential to you and to your classroom.  If something is not in line with your goals, and you are not excited at the prospect of doing the work, then politely decline. Others will almost certainly take the spot meant for you or the work will be approached in a different way.

Eliminate the clutter.

Just like we need to say no, we also need to stop creating extra work for ourselves.  I find myself distracted when my classroom or especially my workspace is cluttered and using the extra time to find something or put something away becomes one more thing to do in our busy teaching days.  While I don’t mean, “Get rid of everything,” look at the piles that you constantly move.  Why do they not have a home?  Do they need a home?  If everything has a specific place in your classroom, then you know where to return something to once you have used it.  That method will help you eliminate all of the extra time spent simply shuffling things around.

Plan for no plans.

We tend to plan every minute of our day so that we can get the most use out of our precious time, yet we know that throughout the day, extra items will get added and all of a sudden we did not get to the things we meant to get to.  So leave gaps in your prep time or in your before or after school routine for the extra things that have popped up or the major item that still needs to get done.  That way you are not trying to squeeze extra things in when you really have accounted for how every minute will be spent already.

 

Slow down your decisions

So often, in order to be efficient, we make a snap decision without really thinking the decision through.  This can lead to more stress, more thing to get done, and also less happiness.  In the past year, I have learned to hit pause before I reply to that request and really consider whether this is something I want to dedicate myself to and whether I will enjoy it.  If I cannot answer emphatically yes to those two things then I politely decline, however, I cannot answer those two questions if I do not take the time to think about it first.  If a request comes up in conversation, it is okay to tell someone that you will get back to them with an answer as soon as you can.

Choose your yes’

My 2017 word of the year has been “Enjoy.”  I chose this word as a reminder to myself that when I do say yes to something, I need to enjoy what I am doing.  That doesn’t mean that my life is filled with fun and exciting things at all times, but it does mean that when I choose to do something I try to be mindful of the fact that I chose to do it.  This has been a great reminder of why choosing my yes’ with care is so important.  If I am in, then I want to be all in.

Remember you have a choice.

Greg McKeown wrote, “When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless.” How often is this the case not just for our students when they come to us believing school is just something to get through, but also when we forget about our own power of choice?  While being educators means that there are many things we do not have power over, there are many things we do, and so remembering that we do have a choice is important for us all.

 

Create your own priority.

I was really struck by the discussion of how the plural version of the word “Priority” was not invented until the 1900’s when mass production and multitasking became the thing to strive for.  How many priorities do we juggle in a day as educators?  Look no further than the vision statements of our schools; I have yet to find one that lists one single thing, rather than many.  Yet, when we have multiple priorities we are, in essence, not working on any of them by spreading ourselves too thin.  So much like you should discover your essentials, discover your one priority.  What is the one thing that you want to focus on?  It can be a larger goal that encompasses many small things, however, limit yourself to one and then dedicate yourself to it.  This goes for the work our students do as well.

Plan for play.

Much like I have embraced doing nothing the last few days, I have also tried to join in the play with my children.  I have been more at peace, had more fun, and also had an incredible surge in brainpower while pretending to be a stealthy ninja or trying to beat them all at Sorry.  Play often feels like an indulgence and something that we, as adults, should grow out of, yet reintroducing the concept of play, and also of boredom, has been incredibly revitalizing.  So plan for play next year, whether by creating challenges for your students, taking the time to draw, playing jokes on colleagues, or doing something else that seems off topic and even frivolous.  Plan for play before strenuous tasks or when stress levels seem high.  I cannot wait to see what our brains will do after.

Stop the guilt.

We are awfully good at feeling guilty as educators.  Whether it is guilt from feeling like we didn’t do enough, like we didn’t teach well, or because we didn’t volunteer, didn’t go the extra mile, didn’t write enough feedback, or insert whatever teacher related item here; guilt seems to be our constant companion.  But think of the weight of guilt and how it consumes our subconscious.  Why do we let it?  In the past six months, I have started saying no more and I can tell you, I feel guilty every time, but as it has become more of a habit, the guilt has lessened and the weight I feel lifted is palpable.  So turn the guilt around; rather than feel guilty for saying no, congratulate yourself.  Celebrate the fact that you know when to protect yourself and your energy.  Celebrate the extra time you just gave yourself and then don’t plan extra work for that time.

Dedicate yourself to yourself.

We spend so much time thinking of our students, their needs, and their goals, that we forget about ourselves.  So as you plan lessons for your students, plan lessons for yourself as well.  How will you grow as a human being or as a practitioner today?  How do you want to feel at the end of the day?  There is nothing selfish about focusing some of our energy on ourselves as we go through the day trying to create great learning experiences for our students.

As I slowly gain my health back, as I slowly feel less exhausted, as I slowly start to clear my mind, I start to remember what it feels like to not work all of the time.  To have vacation.  To take the time to step away so that when we come back, we feel so excited.  The truth is; work is not the only thing I want to consume me.  I want my family to consume me.  My love for my husband.  I want to find joy in reading books with a cup of tea next to me.  To play stupid computer games.  In baking.  In laughing with my kids rather than telling them to hurry up.  I want my legacy to be more than being a good teacher.  And I cannot do that if I don’t change my life a bit.  The first step was to realize that things had to change, that came courtesy of my exhausted body, now it is up to me to continue on this journey.   Reading Essentialism has provided me with a path.

being a teacher, being me, choices, new year

6 Simple Things We Can Do to Make This A Better Year

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8 days.  8 days and I get to do what I love the most outside of being with my own kids.  8 days and I get to finally meet those kids that will become “my” kids as the year progresses.  8 days and school starts again, and yes summer has been incredible, but the school year beckons and I cannot wait.

We get to teach the future of the world.

We get to protect the dreams of our students.

We are awash in positive thought as we start and there are a few things we can do stay that way.

Choose positive.  I start every morning by plastering the biggest smile on my face.  Every child (or adult) that I see deserves a smile and a greeting.  Yes, it is exhausting at times, and yes, sometimes it is a fake smile, but you know what?  Fake smiles still  spread, and they are free, so if you want to be surrounded by positivity; smile.

Seek out new people.  This is my second year in my building so I know a few people, but I also know there are new people joining us, so why not seek them out?  We have all been the newbie wondering where we fit in and who we would get to know.  Rather than wait for them to come to you, go to them and invite them to sit with you at lunch or meetings.  Trust me, it makes a huge difference.

Try one new thing.  Notice I didn’t say every day.  Try one new thing, perhaps for a day, perhaps for a week, perhaps for a month, but push yourself intentionally.  Find something new to try that makes you ever so slightly uncomfortable so that you do not become stagnant in your own professional development.  Do something that makes you a little bit nervous so you can remember how it felt when you first started and everything felt like a risk.

Plan for fun. Plan for movement.  Plan for speaking.  Plan for listening.  Plan for writing.  All classes should have all of these every day, well almost all classes anyway.  We cannot expect students to be enthusiastic about what we teach if we do not offer them chances to move, to speak, to listen, to write, and to have fun.  And yes, having fun in school is not just something reserved for special days.

Stay realistic, not pessimistic.  Yes, there will be days where everything goes wrong.  There will be days where new ideas are introduced that seem to make no sense.  There will be days where it feels as if the whole world is against you, we all have those days.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and focus on what went well.  Allow yourself to dissect a situation and then move on.  We are so quick to let outside factors determine how we feel, why give something like that any power.  If you can’t control it, then focus on the things you can.

Do small acts of kindness.  There are so many small things we can do that makes someone else’s lives easier and happier.  I start the year by buying flowers for our secretaries and bringing donuts to our custodian.  Thea’s teacher and busdriver get a small gift.  I fill the copy paper (and clear the paper jams), hold doors, bring up mail to my teammates, and anything else that seems like it is no big deal to me, but it may be to others.  I offer to cover classes when I can and I support when I have something valuable to give.  That doesn’t mean I have less time to do my own things, it simply means that I care about other people.  It is not hard to do either, but the payoff is amazing.

These ideas may not seem like much, but the intentionality with which we can go through our day is what makes a difference.  Every day we make a choice of whether we want to make others have a great day or not.  I know what I choose every single day, what do you choose?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.