The school year is a journey. Unlike most other jobs that are punctuated with days off and vacations, the job of an educator offers a new beginning, middle and end to each year. This is a tremendous opportunity for reflection and renewal for both students and teachers. Everyone gets a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over regardless of what went before.
The only thing that is predictable about a school year is how unpredictable it is. Although the best educators review and prepare for how they will teach the curriculum, it can be easy to forget to prepare their hearts and minds for what lies ahead of them. Taking a moment to reflect at the start of the school year is like getting your car inspected before a long trip. For educators, as Shakespeare said: “the readiness is all, ” when it comes to a successful school year.
Here is a five-point inspection checklist for educators to make sure their hearts and minds are ready to go:
1. Check under your hood.
Many of the decisions that educators make are guided by implicit or hidden assumptions that they make about the people they teach or lead. Checking under the hood means becoming more aware of these assumptions and their influence on one’s words and actions. How educators view their students determines how they will interact with them.
I once heard this exchange between two teachers of the same student:
Teacher A: How can I get him to meet the standards and pass the course, when he is consistently absent at least once or twice a week?
Teacher B: Given what he faces in his life and home situation, it is amazing that he even comes to school three or four times a week.
This same student could be viewed as either a deadbeat or a hero. Which teacher would you choose for this student? Which one would get the most out of him?
2. Check your power source.
Abraham Lincoln said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity; but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.”
Educators have power and authority over those they lead. How they use that power and authority is another important choice for them to make. The best educators gain respect by respecting those they teach and lead. They earn trust by being trustworthy. They influence those they lead by example rather than just seeking to control them. They value relationships and invest in them. They know that their true authority comes from their integrity and the principles they put into action. Educators need to have the courage to check their power source and how they use it.
3. Check your comfort index.
Every year, just like every journey, has moments of confusion, doubt and uncertainty. In addition, everyone makes mistakes along the way. The best educators know that these moments and these mistakes are not just aberrations to avoid or ignore but rather are opportunities both for learning and for strengthening relationships. They embrace them by not being afraid or uncomfortable with saying:
“I need your help”.
“I am not sure.”
“I made a mistake”.
“What do you think?”
4. Check your balance and alignment.
Taking care of oneself and staying healthy are not selfish acts, they are the best gifts an educator can give to those they teach and lead. Taking care of oneself includes continuing to read for enjoyment and professional development — continuing to learn. Teaching is just another way of sharing one’s learning with others. Educators need to keep their lives in balance and can share how they do so with their students.
Educators can get very exasperated by what some students do and therefore find justification for sarcasm, yelling, put downs, or other forms of disrespect all in the name of doing it for the students’ own good. These same teachers however would say they believed in the golden rule of treating others they way they would want to be treated. Practicing what you preach — having one’s actions aligned with one’s principles — should be an essential bottom line for all educators. There should never be any excuse or rationalization for disrespect in any form.
5. Check your navigation system.
“If we are all facing in the same direction, all we need to do is keep walking.” — Buddhist proverb
Educators need to be prepared and organized and to provide structure and organization for their students. Educators, however, need to be flexible and should involve students in their planning and guiding their own learning. Educators should know the difference between setting the right direction for learning and micro managing the learning journey for the students. The best educators convey a sense of “we are in this together” and help everyone learn on the go. They know it is as much about the process of learning as it is the content of learning.
Jim Dillon (@dillon_jim) has been an educator for over 35 years including twenty as a school administrator. He is currently the director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention. He has written two books, Peaceful School Bus (Hazelden) and No Place for Bullying (Corwin). He writes a blog at www.jim-dillon.com.