One of the aspects of teaching that I love the most is the ability to start anew each fall. There’s something truly exciting about having a reset and a chance to try out some new ideas. Summer is a chance to slow down our thinking, reflect and gear up for another busy nine months of learning and teaching.
School supplies are fresh, the notebooks lay crisply white and if you’re anything like one of my teaching colleagues, your flair pens are organized in ROYGBIV order. Students, whether they are ready or not, arrive and September is a time of transitioning back into a routine.
Often we come back that first month with fresh eyes and ideas. But as the year begins, it’s often that some of these ideas lose their hold on us as our minds begin to fill with rosters, grading, activities and managing our own lives outside of school.
If you're like me, chances are you are feeling the weight of the school year by October (?!). But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are three ways that I'm going to carry my summer self forward this fall.
When I started as a full-time interventionist two years ago, our team wrote reflective entries each time we worked with a student. This act of writing daily observations on students helped us to progress monitor them, but also helped us to refine how we were going to work as a team of literacy interventionists.
Writing daily helped me to notice how my students were transforming and growing. Often, these observations were small in nature like “student didn’t recoil at my presence” or “student maintained focus on their writing the entire hour.” But over time, we began to see the cumulative impact of our work with students. A wise professor of mine once said, “small steps make big waves.” Writing daily led me to notice the "waves" in my teaching and this sense of perspective is always rejuvenating to me.
Find What’s Good.
Last year, I started tracking simple lists of “what’s good?” each day. This emerged from my ROYGBIV teaching colleague who asks this of his students several days a week. On any given day, I was able to find some good things--an inspiring conversation with a colleague, a smile from an otherwise despondent student, listening to an engrossing audio book on my commute.
But without this reflection, I sometimes allowed a negative experience with a student to color my entire day.
Neuroscientists say that our brains our malleable. We are constantly making new connections—even adults. At times, we are drawn to the negative because it produces stronger emotions, such as anger, frustration or sadness.
Mindfulness experts also agree. Some mindfulness practitioners credit the power of simple mantras and conscious breathing with reducing stress and promoting a more positive outlook on challenging situations.
And by looking for "what's good?" I found myself open to looking at challenging situations (and at school there's plenty!) with a more positive lens.
As the mom of three growing boys all under the age of ten, I read a lot of parenting books, blogs and articles. I’m also of the mindset that my kids are only young once, and I often say “yes” before I really think about how a new commitment is going to fit into my life.
Though well-intentioned, my over-scheduling often leads me to burn out—both as a teacher and a mom.
There’s a familiar metaphor on many parenting (and teaching) blogs about who gets the air mask first on an airplane in case of an emergency—the kids or the parents. Flight attendants tell parents to get air first so that they can help others.
If we can’t breathe surely those that we care for won’t be able to either! This goes for parenting, teaching or just about any relationship.
So, this fall, one new thing that I pledge to start is taking time each day to exhale, exercise and do something that brings me joy—whether it’s a good book, chasing my kids down a hill, or a hike in the woods with my husband.
Remember that the year is still young. If you're already feeling turbulence, it's just a chance to regain your footing. Put your mask on first!
Lauren Nizol is a literacy interventionist, writing center director, and National Writing Project Teacher Consultant who loves books and takes too many pictures of trees when heading for the woods with her family.