Teachers, I see you. I know that feeling in the pit of your stomach and the creeping dread that’s threatening to overwhelm you. You’re dreading going back to school. I know it’s been tough, and smooth sailing isn’t on the horizon yet, so here are a few tips to help you overcome the dread, and even grab the reins and steer your classroom with passion and inspiration.
Recognize your power
Teachers, this is your moment! You have the knowledge and expertise to shine! And it’s important to recognize the power you have right now. Your students, your principal, your school, and your district are lucky to have you in that classroom. They may forget it from time to time, but they would all VERY MUCH prefer that you STAY in that classroom.. So give yourself permission to ignore the pressure and teach the way you’ve always wanted. Focus on what really matters and refuel your passion for teaching.
Go Slow to Go Fast
Even if your school hasn’t decided to change things up (again!) when you go back to school, (and I know some of them have), you will not be able to jump into your subject matter content right away. Put it on the back burner and take some time to get your students ready for learning.
I learned the concept of going slow to go fast from the corporate groups I work with. Companies with high performing teams intentionally take some time when they add new team members or start a new project to figure out how things will work best going forward. They work out what roles are needed, how to use the strengths of the team and how they’ll tackle the new project. Once they’ve worked out the kinks, they find they can be much more efficient for the rest of the project.
The same idea applies at school. When we add new students, or start a new semester, unit or project, it’s important to establish or revisit routines, roles, and expectations. With the world so chaotic for so long, our students need to know what the boundaries and routines are in the classroom. In other years, there might be more consistency and you might expect that students would know these boundaries by now, but since consistency has been in short supply lately, it’s even more important to re-orient students every time there is a change. Going slow now will have big payoffs in academic progress later on.
Double down on creating a positive classroom environment
You have all kinds of strategies to foster positive classroom culture. You use them at the beginning of the school year. Dust them off and revisit them now, after winter break. Think of it as a recap, to remind your students about expectations and how to treat each other (and you!)
One way I like to do this is to make it a class project. Using the teaching methods you know, and the design of some large(ish) project they will have to do later, have the students design the classroom they would like to come into every day. Make posters, film commercials, write essays, draw maps, whatever. Try out project based learning using classroom expectations as the teaching content. Let them tell you what should be expected of them. Be careful though! Kids can be pretty harsh with expectations and consequences. You may have to do some lessons on being kind or spend time making expectations realistic. Ideally, you want to end up with one visual project you can display in the classroom.
The payoff from this kind of project is huge.
You have a concrete reminder of what the classroom behavior expectations are
Since they have made it themselves, it’s in language they understand and identify with.
Since they had input, they have more buy-in and are more likely to follow the expectations
You’ve now modeled what a big project will look like, so you have to do less teaching about how it works when the content is more academic
They have confidence in their ability to do a big project.
If you’ve already done this work at the beginning of the year, spend some time talking about it again. Look back at your classroom contract or norms and revisit them. Which expectations have been easier to stick to? What has it looked like and sounded like when these norms are upheld? When have they not been upheld? How did that affect the class? What do you do when there are challenges? What support do they need when they’re struggling? Are there things that are missing? Are there things that should be removed or reworded?
Begin 2022 with confidence
Seize the reins of your classroom! Recognize the power you hold as a classroom teacher and use it to refuel your passion for teaching. Go slow to go fast. Invest time now in teaching the skills and strategies your students need to keep your classroom environment positive. It will pay off toward the end of the year and next year as well.
Now head in there! You got this!