Sunday, August 9, 2015

5 Tips for Teachers fornthe First Week of School

I have had 16 first weeks of school.  I have learned the hard way about how to manage the stress and nerves.  This are my top 5 tips for a successful, calm and FUN first week.

#1 Know your schedule.

Knowing where you need to be and when will help you stay calm and confident.  There is nothing worse than finding out you are 10 minutes late for lunch and having to scramble to get the kids in line in the middle of an activity.  It will throw you off for the whole day.  Write down your schedule down to the minute and double check it.

#2 Everything will take longer than you expect.

I would always plan 12 fun activities and only actually have time for 3.  I learned to plan for the 3 activities really well to leave enough time for transitions and teaching routines.  If I had extra time, we could read an extra book, sing a song or play a fun team building game.  Be realistic about what you can actually accomplish the first week of school. It will allow you to be more relaxed and avoid the stress of feeling behind.

#3 Be flexible.

Remember that schedule I told you to write out to the minute?  Be prepared for things to change.  In a machine as complicated as a school, there will be unexpected glitches.  Adopt a flexible mindset and anticipate challenges. I have never had a first day of school where everything went as planned.  Never.  Things to be prepared for: late arriving buses, cafeteria delays, schedule conflicts, runners and criers, anxious parents, insects, reptiles and rodents.

#4 Follow the KISS principle.

Keep It Simple Stupid.  One year I planned for an activity that involved watercolors, glue and glitter.
 On the first day of school.  Horrible idea. After that, I would plan activities thinking, how can I make this as simple and foolproof as possible?  Easy = Low Stress = More Fun.  Trust me on this one.

#5 Have fun.

One of my top goals for the first week of school is for the students to have tons of FUN.  I want them to go home and tell mom and dad they LOVE school.  Your students can't have fun unless you are having fun.  Be sure to laugh and smile and feel joy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Go Slow to Go Fast- the importance of the first days of school

Go Slow to Go Fast. 

I capitalize this phrase because it has become a kind of mantra for me whenever I am embarking on a new and important endeavor.  If you skip building the foundation, your house will crumble.  Crumbling houses/classrooms are not fun.  Ask me, I have been there.

Go Slow to Go Fast.  There are tons of parables, fables and stories that illustrate this point.  Tortoise and the Hare and Three Little Pigs are two examples.  Yet, when receiving our new students to our schools and classrooms in the first days of school, we are tempted to forget the pigs eaten and the loser rabbit.  

Here is my Go Slow advice to you:

Take it slow and teach the routines, procedures, rules and values that your students need to be successful both in and out of your classroom.  Model them, practice them, read about them, challenge them and celebrate them.  I give you permission to take it slow, break it down and give your students the tools to be successful this year.  

Take it slow for your own well being.  Breathe deep, be present in the moment, cherish the small things and be grateful.  Relax and smile.  Enjoy the struggle and learn.  The most important thing in the classroom is your relationship with your students. They don't care about prefect bulletin boards or the cutest name tags (though those things are very cool too).  They care about being in community with you and their classmates.  They want to belong. 

Lastly, take it slow to HAVE FUN with your students.  Everything you do should lead them believe that school is the most awesome place in the world and that you are their biggest fan.  Be that awesome teacher that you want to be and they will LOVE you for it.  

Sing from your heart and let everyone hear it,
Dance like everyone is watching and smile,
Love like you want your students to love,
Live like this is the best day ever. 

Happy new school year! 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Secrets to Surviving and Thriving as a Teacher

Some questions I used to get asked a lot as a veteran teacher are, What is your secret?  How is it that you have stayed in the classroom so long?  

I am going to share some of my secrets to surviving and thriving as a classroom teacher.  This is my 17th year in education.  For the last 16, I have lived the sometimes grueling life of an elementary classroom teacher.  I'm not going to lie- I have found myself browsing the Craigslist jobs section more than a few times.  Barista?  That sounds nice.  I like coffee...  But in the end, I gear up and step back in front of room for another lesson-  here is why.

1) Love.  I love my students. Their smiles make my day.  When I am feeling low, I visit my former students in the cafe during lunch. "MR. ANDERSON!!!"  They all want to see me, talk to me, question me about my gerbil and my own kids.  They share their triumphs and their struggles.  I realize that they love me too and it is just enough to get me through the day.  But just because I love my students doesn't mean I don't...

2) Go home and recharge. I pack my bag when the students do and I go home when they get on the bus.  How?  I accomplish all the things that MUST be done, and leave the rest for another day.  There will always be one more thing to do.  If I have done my very best and covered the essentials, it is time to go.  I need to recharge because I...

3) Understand the journey.  Teaching is long journey.  All great journeys are long, at times arduous, full of unexpected challenges, rife with times of self doubt and soul soaring epiphanies.  I know that each day is one more small part of this journey and I need to take my smalls wins and rest up for the next day.  I cherish this journey, as difficult as it is, because I
have a...

4) Mission.  My mission is the driving force when I am totally overwhelmed.  My students deserve the chance to choose their own destinies.  The fact is, if you have brown skin or live in a poor neighborhood, you have very little chance to get a decent education and go to college.  My students' zipcode and ethnicity can not be allowed to limit their opportunities.  To accomplish my mission I need to...

5)  Get a little bit better everyday.  I don't expect myself to be perfect.  I know I will make mistakes.  But each day is an opportunity to get incrementally better.  Those little wins add up to big successes over the long run.  Those successes will help my students live their dreams.  Though I know I can't do it alone because it takes a...

6) Team.  I am part of an amazing team of educators giving 100% everyday.  They support me when I stumble and forgive my imperfections.  My team inspires me when I feel like giving up.   Honestly, without my team I wouldn't be able to keep it up.   I hope I do the same for them.

I love teaching but it is one of the hardest jobs to master, stay sane, and stay balanced.  If you are a good teacher, no one is harder on you than yourself.  You beat yourself up about the mistakes you make and your missed opportunities.

Here is the truth about teaching- you will never master it and never be the perfect teacher.  But you will have amazing victories and moments of teaching nirvana.  You will make the lives of your students better simply by loving your hardest and performing your best.  And you know what else?  Yours students will always remember you for that love and effort, and be grateful.  You will change the course of the the rest of their lives.

Mother Teresa “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

― Mother Teresa

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Walking Dead- Teaching Through the Kidpocalypse

I was watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead and I was like, "Hey Rick!  Leave those poor zombies alone!  They are doing the best they can!"  Then it hit me.  I was a zombie too- one of the walking dead.

I see many of my colleagues have the zombie look in their eyes also.  Our life force is used up and we shuffle along, moaning softly inside our heads.  Our faces are masks of pain as we struggle to teach through allergies, colds, sinus infections, wracking coughs, vertigo, and nausea.  The cold, wet winter skies are the perfect backdrop for our misery.

This is compounded by the fact that we are teaching through the Kidpocalypse.  Our students are germ factories creating new superstrains of infection to test our already weak immune systems.  They are struggling just as badly as the teachers- too sick and tired to pay attention, not sick enough to stay home.  Their normally mild misbehaviors are flourishing into full fledged meltdowns, defiance, and work stoppages.

The good news is; it is almost over.  The cold wet days of winter will give way to bright sunshine and the warmth of spring.  Spring break is just around the corner. We will heal and gain back our lost strength.

Stay tuned for my next installment: Survival Kit for the Kidpocalypse.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Power of Gratitude

My principal tricked me into being happy.  It was a clever ruse, and it worked.  We usually only get to wear jeans on Fridays.  To earn Jeans Passes to wear jeans on other days, all we had to do was tweet messages of gratitude to Twitter.  For each tweet we would receive one Jeans Pass.  It was unlimited.

Sensing a loophole in our "Business Casual" dress code, I counted out the number of days left in the quarter and set my goal of 21 tweets.  I could wear jeans everyday until our winter break.  Sweet.

I began to search for things I was grateful for at work- like my funny-sweets students, my hard working colleagues, and a working copy machine.  My brain became finely tuned to noticing things that were good around me so I could tweet them and earn more glorious jeans passes.

Then, I noticed something strange happening.  I was happy almost all the time.  I smiled at my students more and laughed at their jokes.  I hugged my wife tighter and loved on my own children more.  I said thank you more for the little things people did for me.  Even as we prepared for the end of the quarter with assessments, report cards, conferences and squirrely kids, I didn't feel stress; I felt peace.

Turns out my cunning principal had intended such an outcome.  He knew about the power of gratitude and had been reading about how it affects people and organizations.  It turns out that acts of gratitude have a bunch of positive effects.

Effects of gratitude:

  • better immune system
  • lower blood pressure
  • more feelings of happiness and joy
  • acting with greater compassion
  • feeling less lonely
Once I knew what was happening, I began to be more intentional about my acts of gratitude (and less self serving).  I also introduced ways for my students to show gratitude to others in class.  Whenever I felt my self feeling down, I would list all the things I was grateful for and soon the cloud would lift.

So here is my assignment for you.  I don't have any Jeans Passes, but I do offer peace and happiness which are pretty good too.  

Find 10 things to be thankful for each day.  Write them down or say them aloud.  Watch what happens in your life :)