Looking back, 2016-17 was my most successful school year yet. All the ideas I had about my own classroom started to take form as I reflected on the things that went well and tanked in previous years. I finally incorporated the perfect balance of rigor, high expectations and consistent classroom management, all while facilitating a classroom culture that encouraged our students to form a real community.
Here are some real ideas and teacher tips to help you and your students grow through the course of this next school year!
1. Don't let fear hold you back.
What is it that you love about being in front of your students? Remember how scared and amazed you were that first year, how even though you had a tiny paycheck, you still couldn’t believe they were paying you to do something you loved so much? Have you lost that? Why? What is holding you back? If they are personal issues, reach out and get the help you need to deal with the life that you are living. If they’re professional, reflect on your setbacks as a way of helping you form new goals to invigorate you again. If you need a change, no matter how scary, go for it.
Sometimes the things we need are out there, but we miss them because we’re too afraid to seek them out. We have kids and family and parents to take care of, and state tests, and expanding deadlines…and well, you get it.
This past year, I lobbied to my team and principals to become a self-contained 5th-grade teacher. I knew that this endeavor would scare me, but also knew I would love the challenge and it would fuel me to be better than I had been. They all agreed, and so began my most challenging but most successful year. This can be you, too. Get out of that rut–your students and family need you out of that rut!
2. Learn from setbacks instead of letting them define you.
So maybe your students’ test scores from the previous year are cringe-worthy. Maybe you feel like a failure, even though there are 10,000 other areas of your life you’ve nailed. We educators wear labels like “failure” just as quickly as our students. Let’s face it–our states and districts place our students in certain tracks and under certain labels, and we often feel the very same way. I get that, but giving into that mindset will not help you grow nor will it help your students understand what it takes to fight those setbacks and be free.
You have to ask yourself: do our students know that they can defeat society’s labels? Have we set good examples? I promise that you are enough; you are exactly where you need to be in this moment of your life. You may never be here again, but for however long you are in this place, with these students, use it to grow and be an amazing example of how facing your demons can help you realize the life you want. Is this too cliché? Maybe. But it is also true.
3. Think about the little things that make your day brighter.
What makes me happy? I have a water tank similar to what you would see in corporate offices. I like being able to drink water throughout the day and not lose my voice! Because my system had a hot water valve, my class and I could have hot chocolate or cider through the winter months, creating our own little café bar. I kept dark chocolate on tap for those stressful moments, and cereal bars whenever we were starving.
My students and I eat a later lunch so we would eat healthy snacks mid-morning to keep our minds focused. A starving teacher and students make a very long day. This past year, I put things in place to fight that, and it worked. Parents even donated healthy snacks for the entire class to share!
These are small things but are things that make each and every day brighter.
4. Get on Twitter!
If you feel isolated in your school building, you will find cheerleaders and fresh ideas on Twitter from like-minded educators. Instead of feeling alone, you will feel more global and you will learn how to pass that onto your students! Develop your Professional Learning Network, or PLN, and welcome a natural environment for real-time PD! Don’t know who to start following?
Here are just a few people who inspire me daily:
And don’t forget to follow me @mjmcalli!
5. When all else fails, sing and dance.
Don’t worry if you look stupid. I promise you that your students will love and appreciate you whether you clap on- or off-beat. They will soon lower their own guards and join you. They will teach you something about themselves that will blow your mind. Years later, they will come back and tell you how they never forgot the songs you sang together. And you know what?…I bet you have better dance moves than you think.
Not sure where to start? Well, studies prove that vocabulary between the lowest and highest socioeconomic classes have a major vocabulary gap. So get your groove on and help your students grow their vocabulary by joining Flocabulary if you haven’t already. Flocab offers a free trial your entire school, and you might just convince your principal to purchase a subscription when they see how it enhances your daily lessons and student achievement.
6. When it comes to incorporating technology, start small.
When I came back to work after being a stay-at-home-mom for a few years, I felt so overwhelmed by the new tech. My district offered technology trainings and I signed myself up immediately. I found supportive colleagues, and several ed tech tools like Flocabulary, ClassDojo, Twitter and Nearpod.
I found four tech tools, and maybe you’ll find only one or two, but regardless, it’s great to start somewhere. We can’t compete for our students’ attention if we aren’t relevant to their interests. Using technology in our lessons, and showing them how to use it, will empower everyone involved!
I pray your present school year is one of marked growth and joy. When we as educators feel joy in our teaching, we inherently pass it on to the most precious beings sitting, standing, or dancing right in front of us.