By Teachers, For Teachers
There’s no doubt that a being a teacher can be an emotionally taxing role. Teachers show up to their classrooms each day ready to give to their students. While there are many positives taking place in our classrooms, unfortunately those positives can easily become overshadowed by our focus on the negatives. Teachers can get weighed down by the students who weren’t engaged, by the flaws of the lessons, by the chaos or disappointment in student choices, or in their own perceived shortcomings as an educator. While teachers should be aware of the opportunities for improvement in their practice, it’s essential that they also include consistent teaching strategies that help them celebrate the positives. Implementing these teaching strategies will remind them of the difference they are indeed making in the classroom, and will re-energize teachers when they feel themselves distracted by discouragements.
When I was young and did something that made my dad proud, he’d lightly punch my shoulder and say “At-a-boy” to express his joy. Now I do the same sort of thing for myself by keeping a folder of happy moments and celebrations of successes.
Teachers should dedicate a folder or storage space of some kind to those emails, thank-you notes, student letters, photos, and cards they receive from others that express a positive message. Later on, when a teacher has a discouraging day, they can flip open the folder and be reminded that there have been plenty of positives already and there will plenty more to come.
What is the culture of celebration and success in your school? Do you regularly exchange successes you’ve experienced with your colleagues? Teaching can often feel like an isolating profession if we lock ourselves in our classrooms or fail to have a supportive community of teachers around us. When a lesson goes well, when you nail a creative and effective activity, or when your students show growth, you should communicate those positive feelings with colleagues. The same works in reverse as well: Listen to your peers when they have their own successes to share.
It is usually much easier to talk about negatives than positives. It is easier to complain than to celebrate. It is easier to let the discouragements weigh us down. At times, it may be necessary to acknowledge where there are flaws. But it’s even more necessary to make sure we’re establishing a culture of positivity and reinforcing one another with examples of how we’re making a difference.
When I call parents, they automatically assume I have something negative to report about their student. It’s unfortunate, but true, that parents are more likely to hear from teachers when teachers need to notify parents of an incident or problem that occurred. While teachers absolutely need to communicate to parents about such events, it’s imperative that teachers make time to contact parents for good reasons as well.
I’ll never forget calling Andrew’s mom after Andrew – despite having some struggles previously in our class – had just performed an amazing speech. His mom was shocked not only that he did such an impressive job, but that she got to personally hear his teacher brag about him. It made her day, and it made Andrew’s day too. From that point on, Andrew felt more empowered and welcome in the classroom, and his problems disappeared.
When we make time to celebrate our students’ achievements, overcoming of obstacles, and positive decisions with a simple phone call, then we are making the time to really focus on what’s important. Make room in your schedule to tell parents something amazing about their child.
Although it’s important to consistently reinvent our lessons and experiment with new ideas, it’s also important to build off of what we’ve done before. After trying out a lesson or idea, make some notes about what went well and what you’d change for next time.
If something about your lesson really clicks and makes a positive impact on your students, you definitely don’t want to forget about that element later on. At the same time, it’s important to reflect on what didn’t quite go right and – while it’s fresh in your mind – come up with ways you might like to try it later on. This reflection activity makes a huge difference a year later when you’re most likely to try that lesson again. Write down your ideas on a post-it note and leave it in that lesson’s file, or leave yourself digital notes in textboxes or comments on your computer documents. Either way, make each time you try a lesson stronger than the year before by simply adding a little reflection and note-leaving to your day.
What are the ultimate outcomes of education? On a day-to-day basis, it seems like our outcomes are to help students master one little skill or ace one little set of knowledge. But what is all of it for? Arthur W. Foshay says, “The one continuing purpose of education … has been to bring people to as full a realization as possible of what it is to be a human being.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taught us that “The true goal of education” is to develop intelligence and character.
Regardless of how exactly we define education’s purpose, we must ultimately understand that we’re not just preparing kids for a test. We’re preparing them for something far grander. The effective teacher will keep this grander vision for their students in mind throughout the day-to-day slog of learning. Imagine what you want your students to be like as adults, and craft each interaction to push them towards that direction.
When we get down to it, it is the beliefs we hold about our students that have the potential to impact them more than anything else. One of the best positive practices for effective teachers to exercise is simply possessing an authentic belief in students’ abilities to develop the skills, knowledge, and characteristics we desire for them.
This is easier said than done, because students might give us reasons to doubt their true capacity. On a daily basis, students’ failures, misbehaviors, or poor decisions may push our faith in them to the limit. It is essential for teachers to genuinely believe in their students; if we believe in them, then they may just begin to believe in themselves. We may not see miraculous transformations, but the way we interact with students we believe in will plant seeds that may bloom in the years to come.
What’s are some more positive teaching strategies you think every teacher should practice? Add to our list by sharing your comment with our TeachHUB community below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.