Ending the Year with Sanity

As the school year comes to an end, our work and our students tend to go a little nuts. We’re trying to wrap up the year, grade assignments and pull together end of year progress reports, keep students engaged and still learning, and keep ourselves sane as we focus on the light at the end of the tunnel (summer!).

In this tumultuous time, it’s important that educators take some time to focus in on the big things and not go crazy like everything else. As we prepare for the end of this school year (which has flown by way too quickly), let’s check out some tips for ending strong:

  • Autopilot is not an option. Some of us get caught in just treading water so we can get through until the summer. A better option, offered by Linda Kardamis at teach4theheart.com, is to be intentional and set a couple of goals to achieve by the end of the year. By doing this, we can put in our effort to continue to impact our students and do our work to the best of our ability.
  • Keep communication going with families until the end of the year. Kardamis also discusses how important it is to continue showing how much we care for our students by ending the year off with strong communication with parents with advice on what students can work on over the summer and things they’ve achieved during the year.
  • Find time to celebrate all of your students. This could be through writing notes to them individually, as ASCD’s Mike Anderson recommends or chatting with them informally. Another suggestion by Anderson is to have students recognize each other for their accomplishments; sometimes, this means more to them than anything we could ever do.
  • Anderson also discusses reflection: individually for students and as a class. This helps us think through all the awesome things we’ve done as a class and helps students understand their own growth through the year.
  • Based on the above idea, I also suggest individual teacher reflection. It’s so important at this time of year to think through what we have accomplished with our students through the year, the struggles we’ve faced and overcome and ideas we have for the next school year.
  • To keep students engaged, Edutopia’s Larry Ferlazzo suggests cooperative learning projects. In my class, I am having students create a board game incorporating the content we’ve learned throughout the year. Last year, my students got really creative and I was amazed at their games. I hope they get the same chance to work together and go crazy on their game (rather than in their behavior).
  • Lastly, as an uber-organized individual, I recommend getting things ready to go for next year (similar to what Kardamis mentions). You may not know exactly what you’re teaching or how you’re planning for it, but spring cleaning happens in spring for a reason; this a great time, especially as teachers, for us to clean out the year and prepare ourselves for another, wonderful year of madness.

I’m sure there are many other things that educators do to fulfill their responsibilities and take care of themselves and students at this time of year, but I believe this list offers a good way to start thinking about closing down.

Do you have any other suggestions that help you at this time of year?

 

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Lesson Planning: The Collaboration Aspect

Lesson planning is arguably one of the key skills that any educator needs to know. It helps us break down the curriculum, clearly articulate what we want our students to know and figure out how we’re going to get them there. It guides what we do in our classrooms every day. However, the way in which lesson planning is done varies greatly.

Some of us are co-teachers who plan and implement lessons with other educators. Some of us teach completely individually and plan everything on our own (while maybe getting feedback on our planning from a coach or mentor). Some of us hate lesson plans and don’t write them regularly, but naturally know where we want to guide our students. Some of us are still trying to figure out what works best for us when it comes to planning.

I have spent a majority of my 5.5 years planning alone. At first, it was simply because I wanted to ensure my plans were done on time (or ahead of time) and finding time to plan by myself was easier than working with others’ schedules. Sometimes, I’d be a couple weeks ahead in my planning and so was working with different pieces of curriculum than other teachers. Since I’ve become a coach, my meeting schedule has rarely allowed me to have time to plan with others, even if I want to.

It gets lonely planning by yourself. I work very hard to be the best educator I can be for my students, but my ideas are limited, and creativity tends to come when I can bounce back and forth in conversation with others. Throughout this school year so far, I have kept working on my own…until I got stuck on a lesson a few weeks ago.

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New Teachers

In the past 6 years of teaching, I have supported teachers in completing their research and theses, mentoring them through their first years of teaching and supporting through practicum classes. I love working with teachers, generally, but there’s something about new teachers that just brings me so much hope and excitement. Along with that, there’s a lot that older teachers can learn from working with new teachers.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned and reflected on in my work with new teachers:

  • Teaching is a truly exciting profession with lots of lightbulb moments and lots of challenges
  • Our students are so amazing if we give them the opportunity to be…and we should give them every opportunity we can
  • Teaching is a lot of work and, until you get the hang of the responsibilities, it is super overwhelming
  • I should probably try to put in more of an effort to look nice for classes (our new teachers come in from studying in London, so clearly they’re more fashionable than the rest of us)
  • There are so many tiny things that go into making a class run smoothly – it’s much easier to break these down when we’re beginner teachers
  • It takes time to figure out our own teacher personalities and it’s important to keep trying to find that, even while we learn and take ideas from other educators
  • There is always something we can learn from every other teacher we come across and our minds and attitudes should always be open to that

Any time you’re feeling iffy about your career choice as an educator, I’d suggest talking to a new teacher about their experiences and their reasons for being where they are. It will open your eyes, teach you something and help you remember why teaching is the best profession there is.

Wellness & Well-being

I’ve heard of the practice of choosing a word as a New Year’s resolution or intention for a few years now, but I’ve never tried it. Up until this year, I’ve been a resolution person…however, with all the negative consequences of resolutions and the amount that people talk about how no one is able to keep them, I decided to give this up. I’ve set goals instead and have been trying hard to stick to them over the past two weeks.

I’ve also chosen two words for my 2018, words that will hopefully help me make intentional choices and continue pursuing my goals. My words this year are:

Wellness and Well-being

I’ve been thinking for a long time that my health (mental, physical, emotional) needs to be my focus. It’s always in the back of my head, but other things tend to get in the way: lesson plans need to be written or given feedback on, housework needs to be done, or sometimes I just need to feel like I have a life and can enjoy myself. In all of this, my health has never really been a priority. You know what I mean…it has never been the one thing that’s always in the forefront when I make decisions and I never consider it when I am stuck in a rut.

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Work and Life

I love my job. 6 years ago, when I started working, I lived alone in a city where I didn’t know many people. Thus, my work became my entire life. I had the time and energy and motivation to work many more hours than my job required in order to stay on top of lesson planning or do extra research and increase my own knowledge. It was a wonderful life. However, ever since then, I was also told by society that I needed to have some sort of “balance” and that my work being my life = me being a workaholic (with a necessarily negative connotation).

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Getting Back into Teaching Mode…

The middle of July always brings about some anxiety for teachers as we prepare to start the next school year. After 5 years of continuous work, even over the summer, I spent half of this summer not thinking about my own teaching and coaching much. I still participated in summer camps and other community events, but today is the first day I’m trying to start thinking about the beginning of the school year so I can get back into “work mode.”

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Stress & Emotions

Classes are over. Students are no longer seen weekly and lesson plans no longer need to be written…at least for a few months. Despite the end of the school year, our system continues to work for about 3 weeks (depending on where you are in the country) so we’re still going for another week. By now, we’re all pretty much exhausted and focused on the light at the end of the tunnel that is at the end of this last week of (official) work.

Due to the exhaustion, as well as other factors of course, stress is high and emotions are on a roller coaster. This last week will involve curriculum planning for our upcoming school year, which involves working in small teams and in the whole group to align the curriculum we’re teaching for each grade level. Although individual work can be stressful, it is often group work for me that becomes extremely taxing. Managing various opinions, background experiences and aspirations becomes difficult and as a teacher lead within my city, I have to be more aware of how I react.

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Making an Impact

As the end of the school year approaches (more rapidly than I can keep track of), I usually start a process of wondering what my impact was this year. I teach about 32 students and coach 4 teachers, as well as working on other system-wide projects and programs. I teach religious education in a supplementary setting, which means students don’t often want to be there and attend on weeknights or weekends. So, what then is my impact on the lives of these people I interact with?

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Reflections on 2016 (the teacher version)

I spent much of my childhood making my sister and our stuffed animals act as my students. I imagined myself a teacher to the extent that I kept a grade sheet on each animal (and my sister, when she complied). I’m pretty sure that not every student passed my class.

Now, half of my 5th year of teaching is complete and although my dreams of writing on chalkboards (or whiteboards) and grading papers have been accomplished, there are always so many things to continue reflecting on as I continue teaching.

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