Being a teacher is the toughest job in the world. Our expectations are high and our compensation is low. We are expected to fix world problems, prepare every student for their future, and we are required to be a shinning example every second of the day.
Teaching is exhausting. With all the mandatory trainings, high stake testing, new policies, and ever changing targets, it is no wonder thousands of educators are leaving the profession each year. Even the greatest teachers have had those days where they question their purpose and wonder what’s the point? But these feelings are quickly subdued when they reach into their drawer and pull out a dusty, old yearbook to remind themselves of the lives they have touched and the success they have had.
They review pages of messages from former students that remind them of what drives them as an educator. They remember Michael, a struggling student ready to drop out, but was saved by long hours of mentoring after school.
They remember Janet, the homeless student that found a warm, safe environment in their classroom. And as they thumb through each yearbook they are reminded of the thousands of unexpected thank you’s from even the most challenging students.
These are the memories that keep teachers waking up early and staying late. These are the memories that we must remind ourselves of each and every day. Nothing else is more powerful than the messages of gratitude shared by our former students and we should no longer hide them in a drawer. These message should be shared and used as motivators for all educators. These are the messages that define our why.
Over the next several months, we want to share our messages with you and we hope you will be open to sharing with us. Together we can create a catalog of inspiration that will help each of us remember our purpose. By sharing the words of students, it will give all of us the strength to keep inspiring our students. Please join us as we share these messages and remind educators of their whys.
Ry and Justin
Your first parent night as an educator. Man, was that a night to remember. You spent all day practicing your welcome message to parents, decorating the bulletin boards, and trying not to get anything on your newly bought dress pants. The day seems to fly by and next thing you know you’re standing outside your door welcoming parents. One after another, parents file into your room anxiously awaiting to hear how you are going to prepare little Johnny for his future as a world-renowned doctor or help miss Suzy become the next President of the United States. It is at this precise moment that you realize that your students’ parents don’t care that your a first-year educator fresh out of college. All they care about is that you are the best 2nd, 6th, or 11th-grade teacher in the school and have all the tools to prepare their students. That’s right, you’re a first-year teacher with the expectation of being a thirty-year veteran.
This is the reality of education. Parents don’t care about your educational background or that you are fresh out of college. All they care about is that you are going to be the best teacher for their student. Now take a second to think about that. Educators who have the most important job in the world, with so much at stake, are expected to be the very best from day one. And we can certainly argue that this expectation isn’t a norm for most professions. No one expects resident doctors, apprentice electricians, or novice pilots to be the best from day one. Expertise in these professions happen after years of learning from the best, but teachers don’t have that luxury.
So with this daunting reality, here are three things that an educator can do to ensure that they are striving to be the very best for their students from day one:
Find the Best
If you want to know what the best for students looks like, seek out the best teacher in your school. Immediately find out who that teacher is in the school and latch onto them. By simply working with them you will immediately improve your practice. Remember, the only way to truly become the best is to learn from the best.
The 3 R’s
Read. Read. Read. To become the best you need to immerse yourself in education specific literature. As an educator, the worse thing you can do is pretend that your four-year college provided you with everything you need to know to be successful in the classroom. Ask your colleagues for a recommended book, blog, or magazine and set aside at least 10 minutes every day to read. Next thing you know you’ll begin to have all the answers a veteran teacher has.
Be Hungry For Feedback
Ironically, the best teacher in the school doesn’t think of themselves as the best educator. They are constantly searching for ways to improve and regularly seek out feedback that will take their instruction from exceptional to phenomenal. It is this hunger and willingness to learn that qualifies them as being the best. A new teacher may not be the best from day one, but by simply soliciting feedback from teachers, administrators, and specialist they can quickly become one of the best teachers.
The expectations parents have for their student’s teacher can be overwhelming, but can we really blame them. Would we not want the best for our children? So instead of worrying about if you have what it takes to be the best, just start doing what the best teachers are already doing. The best teachers in your school have a go-to person that they consider the best, they are reading anything and everything they can get their hands on, and they are hungry for feedback that will help them become better. Focusing your efforts on these three strategies will prepare you to be the best for every one of your students. Oh, and their parents.
DISCLAIMER: If you have never experienced something similar to the story we’re about to share, we’re going to question your teaching experience.
It was the beginning of the school year and I was feeling recharged and excited for my new group of students. I read a couple books, attended a conference, and restructured my entire course.
I was ready to hit the ground running on the first day of school with students, until my life suddenly ended! No, obviously I didn’t die, but I can assure you death would have been preferable on that horrible day. What started out as a beautiful August morning, full of excitement and joy to change the world with fresh batch of young faces, turned into a day of torture.
Being energized by my summer activities, I entered the school on that late August day a little more bubbly than in years past. In fact, I was even up for the beginning of the school year professional development. Especially since the PD for that year focused on bell to bell engagement! Just more tools I could use to transform my classroom. So, on the day first day of PD I eagerly entered the library, found a seat close to the front, and sat patiently for the presenter to begin. I was about 30 minutes early, so I took this opportunity to finish updating my new syllabus and setting up the seating chart. Distracted by this mindless work, I remember being startled when one of my colleagues slammed the door to library closed. At the moment I didn’t think anything of it, but I can now confidently say that it wasn’t’ a library door closing, it was actually the slamming of a cellar door locking us into a torture chamber decorated with Harry Potter and Captain Underpants posters.
Still unaware of what was to come, I sat in anticipation for the presenter to begin. At about 5 minutes to the hour, the bubbly presenter with a southern accent stands up and in the most polite manner says, “Ya’ll, if you wouldn’t mind finding a seat and shutting down your computers, we are about to start.” I immediately complied and was ready to learn.
Mrs. Southern Belle began with the typical five minute icebreaker and then proceeded to review the agenda.
“Heavens to Betsy, in the next three hours we’re fixin’ to review what the research says about student engagement. I reckon we’ll take a break after that and move right into a detailed overview of engaging instructional strategies. We’ll keep trudging away til’ the cows come home.”
It was at this point a huge grey cloud poked its head from the bookshelves and positioned itself directly over my float- my parade was officially rained on. My hopes turned to fears and I could feel the vices tightening around my neck. Like I said, I would have preferred death over the ridiculousness of sitting through a six hour lecture on student engagement. I am not joking. This presenter, who was paid well, talked to us for six hours about being engaging. In her defense, she did have the majority of what she said written out on her 147 slide powerpoint.
Does anyone else see the irony here?
Fortunately I didn’t die and through the pain I learned three important lessons:
It shouldn’t take horrible, life threatening experiences like this to realize that we are torturing our students by talking too much. Admittedly, I may have tortured my students in the past, but I assure you that it will never happen again!
Don’t forget to share your thoughts below!
Ry and Justin
We’re excited to kickoff the Global ED Project in the next couple of weeks! We are making a difference around the world!
This is my son Grady.
He’s eight months old and the greatest thing that has ever happened to us. Being a first-time dad, there is a lot to learn and most of it comes from pure experience. Heck, no one can prepare you for explosive diarrhea on the beach. NO ONE! You just have to experience it. But it seems like we’re starting to figure this out; our house is baby proofed, his food is organic, and the car seat is securely strapped in. But, then again, we’re only 8 months in!
Now that we are 8 months in, a new learning experience has emerged for us, CRAWLING. This little guy is everywhere. If he’s not trying to climb into the dishwasher (yeah, that happened), he’s shooting over to the fireplace! Basically, Grady gets into everything he’s not supposed to and doesn’t want anything he’s supposed to like. At first, we resisted this and constantly redirected him. So much that it got to the point where I was almost positive that his first word was going to be “No!” But, after 100s of failed attempts, we took a step back and re-examined the situation. In other words, I put my teaching hat on and asked myself, “Why does Grady want the boring baby gate and not the singing animatronic stuffed dog?” After changing three squirmy dirty diapers, I realized that it’s not that Grady doesn’t care about the overly priced stuffed animals we give him, he would just much rather discover something new! As a baby everything is new, and the only way Grady will learn is by exploring these foreign items. It’s not a matter of what’s fun, it’s a matter of what’s interesting. Parenting would be easy if we got to chose what he’s interested in, but we’ve learned it just doesn’t work that way. I now have a new appreciation for Grady’s curiosity and it made me wonder, how can we maintain and encourage this curiosity throughout a child’s education?
Unfortunately, at some point, students lose their curiosity and, eventually, begin to despise school. Now, obviously this isn’t the case for every student, but I would argue that most students are simply “playing the game” or going through the motions of learning. They certainly aren’t learning the way Grady does or they once did. But we can change this pattern and bring back the passion, the excitement, and the genuine curiosity of learning.
Curiosity in the classroom isn’t just the “fun” thing to do, in fact, it has been proven to increase engagement and lead to academic and vocational success. Sophie von Stumm, Benedikt Hell, & Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic (2011) suggest that “…educational settings should fully exploit their plentiful opportunities to induce and inspire curiosity.” In the absence of curiosity, students become disconnected and are less satisfied with their educational experience (Loewenstein, 1994). As educators, we need to feed the “hungry mind”.
Curiosity can be easily implemented in the classroom. Below are several ways for you to ignite your students’ curiosity! Just keep in mind that promoting curiosity in the classroom is about freedom, flexibility, and adaptability. Create a space to learn!
Inquiry-Based Learning- A student-centered, active learning approach focusing on questioning, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Problem-Based Learning– An approach to learning focusing on the process of solving a problem and acquiring knowledge.
Question Formulation Technique (QFT)-This technique helps students learn how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategize on how to use them.
Mystery Skype– The global guessing game that gets kids learning about geography, culture, and the similarities and differences of how children live all over the world.
Remember, sharing is caring, and if you have a solution, an idea, or a problem comment below! We are more effective as a team than as individuals.
Justin & Ry
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.” -Einstein
Loewenstein, G. (1994). The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 75–98.
Stumm, S., Hell, B. & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity is the third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 547-588.
My mom and I are close. We are only nineteen years apart; she is a professional novelist and I am an English teacher. We have similar tastes, have traveled to many of the same countries and, as far as adult children and their parents go, I think we communicate pretty well. There is an interesting quirk to our relationship that has cemented over the years into a comic cornerstone of our relationship- my mother doesn’t believe me. She will believe friends, strangers, and the media within reason. For example, if I tell my mom I think the new Honda Civic is a quality car and has a really cool look to it, my mom might say, “Oh, I don’t know.” But, if my neighbor, Doug, tells my mom the exact same phrase a few hours later, my mom will show up in a new, dark blue Honda Civic, get out in the driveway and say to me, “this is a quality car and has a really cool look to it,” with no hint of irony.
This is how I learned about the importance to people about the source of information and feedback. My mom and I are close, maybe too close for certain conversations. The truth is that if my mom hates the Honda, she doesn’t want to be upset with me, but thinking Doug gave bad advice doesn’t really hurt anyone. Maybe my mom thinks our relationship is more important than the car or whatever detail of life we are discussing.
I think the same is true in a school. Educators form relationships in their departments, their schools, and their districts. My experience has been mostly positive but negative relationships do exist, it’s true. I wonder sometimes if the feedback I receive from a certain individual has more to do with the time I bumped into his car in the parking lot that it does with the quality of my activity. The reverse can be just as dangerous. There is a teacher at my school who is like my mentor, not in any official capacity, but I emulate many of the ways he conducts himself professionally. I worry sometimes that if I take him something specific he may tone down his criticisms by putting our relationship ahead of the work. If that happens, there is the potential for me to lose an opportunity for growth and in our world, an opportunity for teacher growth is an exponential opportunity for student growth. That is how we have decided to change the world; as we grow as educators, the world grows and changes with our influence.
The single greatest impact on student achievement is the ability of teachers to communicate and inspire growth. Basically, a good teacher makes a difference. Teachers become good through professional growth. They evolve through reliable, objective, constructive, applicable feedback and the opportunity to reflect and implement change. Think about how much better you were in year three than you were in your first year of teaching! That change is the result of the feedback you gave yourself about what worked and what did not work in the classroom. Imagine now the possibilities if that information and feedback were coming from a variety of educators facing a variety of obstacles and challenges in the classroom and was focused on the needs of your reality in the classroom each day.
This is what we want to achieve. We think a little distance, a little space might be a good thing! We want educators to reflect on feedback that is coming from a place of helpful energy. Let’s leave the structure and relationship out of it and have some great conversations about how we can improve so our students can improve.
If you want to join the hundreds of educators interested in having a positive impact on education, click on the link below and sign up:
Ry & Justin, July 2018