I Almost Gave Up: Changing and Evolving

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Throughout one’s teaching career, we have all had to change and evolve because we’ve been forced to. Change is hard and sometimes we get grumpy about it, sometimes we say “‘pfft,’ this won’t last, the previous change didn’t take!” The longer you have been teaching you can most likely predict the changes that are going to take place. I learned that if we don’t evolve and grow with the changes in education; we won’t succeed, nor will our students.

One of the the things I learned early on in my teaching career, was that it is okay to fail, change can sometimes be a big fat failure in the making. I have found that some of my proudest achievements have come in the face of adversity. In that moment of change, we have a huge opportunity for growth or we can be that negative person sitting idly by waiting to get on board.

In the last three years, my school district has been slowly progressing toward a standards based reporting system. I went to several training sessions with various colleagues and immediately drank the SBR Kool-Aid and hopped on the SBR train – I was like, “YES, this makes so much sense, I can’t believe we didn’t start this earlier!!” That’s not to say I didn’t run into several challenges and failures along the way because believe me, since then I have reconstructed my classroom rubrics about 10 times. But, honestly, assessing students this way is so much more informative and allows me to truly gather information on my students and their understanding of the material. While change is hard for most of us, I ask that you be positive and give the “new thing” a try because you never know what flavor of Kool-Aid you will like unless you work hard to evolve as an educator.

Freedom, What Does your Freedom Look Like in the Classroom?

“Freedom grants us the opportunity for greater meaning,” stated Mark Manson in his book, The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck. I’m not talking about religious freedom nor am I talking about the freedom of speech. What I am talking about is both the freedom we need as teachers to educate our students in the manner we see fit AND what type of freedom do our students need in the classroom to be successful. Manson also stated, “If freedom is something we aim for, but has no meaning, then it means nothing.” Very philosophical, but…wow, this made me think! In my opinion, this statement means…if the freedom we are fighting for doesn’t have a cause, then what is the point of having that freedom we just fought for? In all the times we have pushed to do something, create something, teach something, are we really trying to create freedom for ourselves, for our students, and/or for the simple act of teaching? Are we trying to create freedom to do what is best for our students with the best scope and sequence that we deem the most important? What does freedom mean to you in your classroom? What does freedom look like to you? Are you willing to fight and overcome the struggles you face in order to discover your freedom?

Photo by Julian Jagtenberg on Pexels.com

The joy in discovering and obtaining freedom should be in the climb itself. Isn’t this what we want our students to learn and aim for? For students, freedom could be the ability to work with a partner of their choosing, or it might look like creating their own classroom rules or seating chart. However, as teachers, I believe freedom in the classroom looks something like this: once we have given them instruction, we give them the freedom to work at their own pace without interruption. While there still needs to be classroom rules and boundaries, giving them the freedom to learn, grow, and become more independent under those rules and boundaries will create more responsibility and accountability. Ultimately, as teachers, we want our students to be able to express themselves freely during all phases of their education, whether it be class discussion, inquiry, expression or academic achievement. So…how are you going to fight for freedom in the classroom?

Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

Why is it in the United States, we tend to fake-nice communicate with other people? Why can’t we really say how we feel? “Hey, I don’t really like it when you do that to me!” Or, “Hi, I really miss you.” Why can’t everyone be honest? As stated by Mark Manson, “in order to build trust, we need to be honest with one another.” If we are consistently working to establish positive relationships in the classroom, students need to know who they can or cannot rely on in order to survive their daily school life. Therefore, if we can be brutally honest with our students, we need to be able to do so without creating animosity or anger in the process.

On the contrary, we also have to understand that we cannot control the way in which others will react to our honesty because that is where most problems arise. If we can be honest and forthcoming with others, and clearly communicate our truest thoughts, we will experience positive events and ultimately people will respect us more.

We are often taught to say polite and kind things to someone even though we are frustrated with them. Why? Because we will hurt their feelings? Because we are afraid of the consequences? It takes A LOT of courage to be your most authentic self when communicating honest thoughts with someone, specifically with our students. I am one of the biggest people pleasers out there, and I want my students to like me. I have found that the more honest and trustworthy I am with them, the more likely they WILL like me. In the long run, life is too short for us to not be honest. You never know the last time you will see someone.

Developing Student-Teacher Relationships ARE a Part of the Curriculum

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

In my opinion, the most important part of teaching is developing positive and trusting relationships with our students. As you may or may not know, improving student-teacher relationships increases individual student engagement, boosts academic achievement and creates social advancement. In addition, establishing an environment that is positive and trusting will ultimately spark a students desire to learn, especially when the teacher addresses a students individual learning style. Understanding a specific students learning style will demonstrate that we care about how they learn which will in turn motivate them to perform academically. Ultimately student-teacher relationships can be established by creating a high level of trust, honesty and vulnerability.   

So, how do we forge positive relationships with our students that instill trust, honesty, and vulnerability? We demonstrate these characteristics within ourselves. First, building trust might look like the following: when a student has been experiencing bullying from other students, he/she chooses to come to you because they trust you. They trust that you will guide them to the right resources and show empathy. Do your students know without a doubt that they can rely on you when they need it? Can they trust you? Second, developing honesty requires conversation about what honesty looks like. Articulate the expectations in regard to honesty in the classroom by discussing and modeling the behavior. Are you and your students able to be honest with each other? Finally, building vulnerability allows students to step out of their comfort zone and open themselves up to changes in the classroom. Teachers can demonstrate their own vulnerability by sharing their stories, hobbies, and interests, and admit when they are wrong.  

Compromising with Compassion

Are people capable of being solid team players or are they just looking out for themselves? Do we naturally have the art of compromise through compassion or is it a taught behavior? Compromising is coming to an agreement or being able to settle a dispute. Compassion is the concern for others.

According to Brene Brown, “those of us who are compassionate are more likely to ask for what they need.” It is effective to ask for what we need, as long as it is not at the expense of someone else. It is not a bad thing to take care of your own needs first, but true compassion is helping others in order to find their own strength. We need to value our work or no one else will, however, being respectful and flexible will allow us to build better relationships cultivated by compassion. Why are so many of us fearful to have conversations with our colleagues that set effective boundaries as it relates to compassion? First of all, it is hard. Second of all, it might be considered a self-righteous act if we are not aware of our own issues related to the specific compromise needed. When we are more compassionate, we can see the entire experience and will more likely be able to compromise staying away from resentment. We will be able to create boundaries that allow us to be more successful and continue to do the best we can.