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Contribute to Your School with More than Teaching

Jordan Catapano

Every teacher is committed to providing their students with the highest possible quality education. They rigorously focus on their classroom, curriculum, academics, and other aspects of their students’ education. They even – sometimes to a fault – make personal sacrifices for the sake of their students.

But there are ways that every single teacher can enrich their students’ lives beyond the impact they have on them through day-to-day instruction. When teachers have an open mind about how they can more fully contribute to the quality of their classroom and their entire school and how to motivate students, then they can creatively find a multitude of ways to have bigger impacts on more and more people.

So what’s your contribution to your school? What can you personally enact that will make it just a little bit more enriching than it was before? Follow some of the thought advice and examples below, think about how to motivate students, and make it a goal in 2014 to contribute something new and positive.

Contribute What You’re Good At

Everyone is good at something. Teachers are good at a lot of things, like knowing how to motivate students. But what I notice is that even though I work hard to be good at every aspect of my teaching, there are just some things others can do better. Some colleagues are really creative with the projects they contrive for their students. Others are fantastic at getting their students to engage in thoughtful conversations. And still others have a knack for how they communicate with parents.

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But isn’t it a shame when a talented teacher keeps their talents to himself or herself? It would be awesome if they would share so we could all benefit! So what are you especially good at, and how you can you positively share this with students and teachers?

One teacher was especially good at helping students write their college application essays. Instead of just working with dozens of students one-on-one, he collaborated with fellow teachers, counselors and administrators to host multiple seminars for seniors at his school. Here he spoke to about 80 percent of the entire senior class about the tips, advice, and examples he had previously shared with only a few individuals. Many students and teachers benefitted from the information provided!

So share what you’re good at with as many people as will benefit.

Proactively Address Problems You See

We know that no school is perfect, but it would be amazing if we could play a part in getting our organization just a little closer to that ideal. What problems, shortcomings, or weaknesses do you see in your school? How can you play a part in addressing them?

This does not mean that you should stick your nose into other people’s business, but it does mean that you ought to open your eyes to issues beyond your individual classroom. What can be improved in your school? If you’re like many other teachers, you’re thinking, “A lot could be improved!” Then you think through the curriculum, standards, funding, discipline, parental involvement, sports and clubs, crabby bosses, broken copy machines, and the endless list of other “complaints” you may have. The truth is that you should focus on just one issue, and make sure it’s an issue you can do more than just complain about.

One teacher in her building did something simple: She noticed that the walls throughout the school were mainly empty and boring. After discussing a plan with administration, she recruited the art department, the yearbook and photography clubs, and a few private companies, and added pictures, quotations, posters, and all kinds of other educational decorations throughout the building. This small impact made the culture of the school much more unified and positive!

So what do you notice needs some attention? What will you do about it?

Be Boldly Kind and Professional

Students come to school for an academic education, but they inevitably receive much more. The professional staff students see every day provides them with an example of what a responsible, professional adult should be like. Also, staff interactions with one another should consistently remain positive and professional.

So what impact – beyond academics – will you have on students and staff? You can contribute to your school just by being a person of high character and professionalism. When you represent this positive demeanor day after day, all those with whom you interact will benefit.

Contemplate what it means to you to be a “good person.” Think about what you want your students to act like as adults. Consider some of the other adults you know who have served as inspiring examples to you. Remember that you don’t have to cure cancer or solve poverty to change the world: Just being a good, caring, loving, responsible person goes a long way in the lives of those surrounding you.

Where You Can Contribute

You can make these contributions in a number of different settings, depending on what you notice and what range of impact you’d like to have.

  • Classroom. The easiest and most obvious place to make a larger contribution beyond just academics is within your own classroom, with your own students. Although you have worked diligently throughout the year to provide the best education possible to your kids, consider what else you can do to improve their lives.
  • Office/Department. Don’t settle for just helping students. Think about the colleagues who surround you every day, year after year. In what ways can you contribute positively to their teaching, experiences and attitudes?
  • Entire School. Once you’re comfortable making a larger impact on those students and teachers who immediately surround you, start thinking about the rest of the school. How can you impact the education, character and culture of the rest of the individuals within your building?
  • Far, Far Beyond. And why stop at your school? If you truly have beneficial contributions, then many, many individuals stand to benefit from you - if you’re just willing to share. Think about how your community, how professionals around the nation, or how others on the Internet can become beneficiaries of your talents and character.

So while you’re undoubtedly working to ensure that you provide your students with a high-quality education throughout the year, make sure that you take a moment to consider how to scale your contributions to a larger audience who may benefit from you. Everyone is good at something – whether it’s related to academics, administration, problem-solving, character – and if you share your “something” with the world, you’ll be surprised at how powerful your impact can be.

What is your “something” you’re good at and willing to make a contribution with? Is it something that your students, colleagues, or school can benefit from? Is it something we all can benefit from?  Share it with us in the comments!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.