Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Realistic Expectations - Week Five

"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." -Steve Prefontaine

As a teacher, every day and every week, you are expected to perform miracles. Parents expect you to teach their children well. Administrators expect you to maintain your classroom and everything else that pertains to the climate of the school. Students expect you to be engaging, consistent and funny. Society expects you to uphold all of these expectations as well as take students from all walks of life down the same path of excellence (on a salary that is not commensurate with the sheer volume of tasks and knowledge required to do the job well). But, that is okay. 

As a teacher or leader of teachers, you are uniquely able to manage these expectations if you keep one thing in mind: all you can give is your best. No matter what the pressures are that seek to take away your peace and security, if you resolve to give your best each day, the weight of these demands will not take you under.

Giving your best in the schoolhouse each day requires that you put yourself in a position to win. Good sleep is a must, but that is not the only habit that helps. It is critical to monitor your diet, your days and your distractions.

Watching your diet entails keeping an eye on what you eat, but also the kinds of information and talk about students and education that you consume. The nature of your attitude and energy towards the profession is often a reflection of the content of the conversations you engage in on a daily basis. It is and always will be a privilege to be in the field of education. That has got to be the thought that guides you daily.

In teaching and learning, every day has a certain level of violence to it; the day just comes at you. Monitoring your days is making sure you have that inner dialogue that helps you pace yourself throughout the day. There are times when it is important to whisper a quick prayer while a drill is going forth or to repeat positive statements to yourself while you’re teaching. As the day unfolds, you must find rest and refuel periods so that you still have enough to give to your family and friends when the school day ends.

Finally, when periodic rest becomes a habitual state of mind, comfort can become a distraction. Anything you love can become a prison of time if you do not keep balance between what you have to do and what you want to do. Teaching is hard work. It takes a lot out of you. It takes more out of you, however, if you do not have a handle on things, people and activities that distract you from getting the job done on a consistent basis.

In the future, teaching will be even more needed than it already is now. To that end, quality teachers will continue to be at a premium and expectations will continue to be high. You can keep them realistic by simply giving your best every day. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Honeymoon Period - Week Four

Your relationship with truth impacts the quality of your decisions.


The first few weeks of a school year are magical. Students are refreshed from the summer break. Kindergarteners, sixth-graders and high school freshmen are sweetly tentative. Their end-of-school counterparts are motivated for their promotion to the next level in only nine months. The beginning of school 'honeymoon period'  alone is possibly responsible for many teachers coming back to the profession year after year.

Then three weeks passes.

Students settle in to the habits they have accrued over their school experience. The attention once given to instruction, only days ago, wanes a bit. This is when deep teaching starts. If we are honest with ourselves, however, the honeymoon period could end from the students' perspectives as well. The real 'you' shows up. The teacher that tires easily, plans superficially, calls parents for negative actions and doesn't respond to clear skill gaps and student interests. 

As a teacher, it is imperative that I own my power as an instructional expert. It is also important for me to own the bad habits that I have developed and try my best to correct them. Student performance, self-efficacy and even connection with school depends upon my ability to model great practices for them. You are the most significant influence on your students' achievement, but only when you are practice powerful and skillful instruction. This brand of instruction can only come from a deep relationship with the truth of who you (and your students) really are. This truth will afford you the opportunity to correct stubborn habits and build on enduring strengths. Three actions can help you cozy up to those truths:

1.Establish standards for practice: What constitutes a great day of instruction for your students? For you? What equates to a powerful and effective learning experience? These standards for practice in your classroom can be co-created with students, shared with parents and community stakeholders and referred to daily before instruction begins. 

2. Reflect on your daily performance: After establishing standards for practice, time has to be taken to reflect on how close to or far from these standards you were for the day or week. How was today's lesson? How did your habits and practice contribute to the day's success or failure? What are the next steps you need to take to help positively influence your behavior so that you can be in a position to provide the daily level of instruction students deserve? 

3. Respond to the data you see: Grading can be a bear (especially for an English teacher), but it is essential for you to know where your students are performing. This quantitative (as well as qualitative data) must be responded to with responsive teaching. Responding to the skill, attitude and attention gaps in your instruction is the single most important step towards relating to the truth of who your students are and taking them to higher levels of achievement.


My wife and I went to Jamaica for our honeymoon. It was the most beautiful time of our lives together. To this day we still talk about the scrumptious bacon (the bacon!) we ate and the epic ocean-side naps we took. This experience will never leave our minds. But, this is not daily reality. 

A honeymoon is never meant to be anyone's personal residence. At best, it is a great launching out into the truth of a marriage or any other enduring relationship. When this period is over, some of the deepest and best relationships are tested and strengthened.