One year when I was teaching third grade, I had a student with autism and oppositional defiance disorder. We’ll call her Sarah for the sake of this post. knew that she was going to be in my class ahead of time and I was ready for the challenge. I don’t mind difficult situations, but I’m a planner. I like to be prepared and plan ahead. So I spent the whole summer planning accommodations for her and gearing myself up for what I knew would be a challenging school year.
On the first day of school, I was ready for Sarah. What I wasn’t ready for was Kevin.
Kevin was brand new to the school, so none of us knew what to expect from him, and administration just placed him into my classroom randomly. By the end of the first day, I discovered that Kevin had not been identified for any special services at all, but was working at least three years below grade level (meaning letter recognition in third grade), and there were some pretty serious behavioral issues as well.
He got into a physical altercation with another student in the class and ended up throwing a desk at that student on the very first day of school. And he and Sarah did NOT get along, every time I turned around one of them had mysteriously made his or her way over to where the other one was and they were antagonizing one another.
Now I’m not going to get too much into the issues with Sarah and Kevin because this is not about them, this is about my attitude and my mistakes. I’ll just share that little bit of info to sort of set the stage for the types of challenges I was dealing with. So I came home from school on that first day absolutely livid. I could not believe that I was going to half to deal with not one, but TWO students with extreme behavior issues and learning needs in my class that year.
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I would love to tell you that I adjusted quickly, but if I had, well, this wouldn’t be much of a story to tell right? Clearly things just went downhill from the first day. And here’s why.
My self talk (my internal dialogue, the things that I was repeating to myself) was negative.
From the moment I woke up in the morning until I went to sleep at night, there were thoughts swirling around my head like, This isn’t fair. I shouldn’t have to deal with this. These two students both need to be a special setting. This shouldn’t all be on my shoulders. This is just wrong. Things ought to be different.
The shoulds and the oughts.
Now here’s the thing. It’s not that those thoughts were necessarily inaccurate. It is tragic the way school districts are no longer funding special programs for kids who need it and are instead piling the full responsibility for differentiation on the shoulders of general ed teachers. Everyone suffers when a single teacher is expected to plan reading lessons for six different grade levels in one single class with no support.
I should not have been solely responsible for meeting those kids needs, but I was compounding that problem by devoting all my mental energy to thinking about how wrong it was and how unfair it was. All the energy I could have channeled into making the situation better for myself and my students? I was letting it dissipate into feeling sorry for myself and being angry about how screwed up the system was.
I thought about how unfair my situation was all the time, and I talked about it all the time. I’d go out to happy hour with my coworkers on Friday, and guess what we’d talk about? All the things that Sarah and Kevin did that week that drove me insane. I was constantly complaining about how bad the situation was and how unfair it was, which means I was reliving it.
It’s ridiculous in retrospect. There I was on a Friday night, free from all the worries of school in that moment and with two full days off ahead of me, and what was I doing? Taking myself back through all that emotion and stress all over again.
I thought it was okay because I was just venting. Everyone needs to let off a little steam, right? But of course my blood pressure was raised and I was all worked up afterward, and it couldn’t have been very uplifting for my colleagues, either. Because guess what: my complaining prompted all of them to share all of their awful stories from the week as well! So we were all sitting around during our time off when we could have been having fun, and instead were just reliving all the worst moments from the entire week.
This was the reality I had created for myself. And here’s my dirty little secret about this whole thing:
I had convinced myself that I was thinking about what was fair to the other kids, and I’d talk about how it wasn’t’ fair to them, how they couldn’t learn in the classroom, but the bigger issue was that it wasn’t fair to me.
I felt like I was working three full-time jobs, one as a teacher for Sara, one as a teacher for Kevin, and one as a teacher for the rest of the class. And if I’m going to be really honest here, even though it’s embarrassing to admit, my primary concern wasn’t helping those kids succeed. It was easing the stress that I was feeling. I was advocating for these two students to get more services and support only partially because it’s what they needed, but my main motivation was making my own job easier.
That school year was the most difficult of my entire 11 years in the classroom. I was positively miserable. I didn’t let myself enjoy anything that was happening with my students, because I was so fixated on the problems with these two students. We had good days of course, but I was always anticipating problems. I was looking for problems, and waiting for problems. And then as soon as they happened I’d be like, See, there you go, we can’t even make it through one morning of peace, I knew it!
The moment everything changed in my classroom
One day about halfway through the school year, I went to pick my students up from lunch and the principal called me into his office. He told me that Kevin had physically attacked Sarah in the cafeteria. He presumed Sarah’s parents would insist that the two be separated, so the principal was going to go ahead and transfer Kevin to another third grade room down the hall.
I sat there, absolutely stunned. In my mind, this was like an answer to prayer. I’ve been telling my administrators that having the two of them together was like a ticking time bomb and someone ought to be moved, but for whatever reason, they chose not to do that. And then all of a sudden, I go to pick my kids up from lunch like any other normal day and Kevin is no longer enrolled in my class? Just like that? Problem solved?
I expected to feel relieved, but honestly, I just felt shocked.
And then it became impossible to feel relief for myself after what happened next.
Kevin was escorted back to my classroom to get his belongings, and the look on his face was one of complete and utter devastation. I thought he was going to start crying, and he was a tough kid who I never seen cry.
My last name was still Powell then, and he looked up at me, and asked, “Ms. Powell, I’m not going to be in your class anymore? Why can’t I stay?”
And immediately, my heart just broke. I’d had many moments of empathy for Kevin before (don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a total monster.)
ButI was so wrapped up in how his problems created problems for me that I wasn’t able to think unselfishly until he was no longer my responsibility.
And it hit me all of a sudden that I would have no more opportunities for our one-on-one reading conferences where we worked on letter sounds…the same conferences that I complained about all the time with my colleagues because they were so much extra work for me.
It dawned on me in that moment that those reading conferences were working, because he was now reading on a first grade level, and had made a whole year of gains in only 5 months. Who knew what would happen to his reading progress now that he was having to start all over and build rapport with a new teacher who would likely be resentful of the amount of work he was now adding to HER plate.
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The other kids in the class were watching this conversation with Kevin as he packed up his desk. They had seen the violent incident in the cafeteria and were pretty shaken up, but I’d worked really hard to help him build friendships in the class. I’d taught the other kids to be kind and empathetic toward Kevin, and we’d spent a lot of our class time working on ways to support him. So most of the kids—at least the ones who hadn’t gotten into physical altercations with him–were pretty invested in him as part of our classroom community.
So when he asked why he couldn’t be part of the class anymore, the other kids heard that, and began an outcry: “What?! No, Kevin! You were doing so good! You were using your anger management strategies! No, please, Ms. Powell! Can we give him another chance? Don’t go, Kevin! You’ll make a better decision next time! We believe in you!”
I don’t even know how I made it through the rest of that exchange, but he gathered his stuff and went down the hall to my colleague’s room. I just sort of went through the motions for the rest of the day, realizing how completely out of touch I had been with Kevin’s experience in my classroom. I was so focused on my experience and trying to push Kevin out, that when I got my wish, I was actually really sad about it.
As it turned out, separating the two students was definitely in both of their best interests. They had been like oil and vinegar in my classroom, and both of them were much happier and better adjusted when they were separated. Kevin thrived in my colleague’s room and made new friends, and still played with my class at recess. Every day at recess he would call my name, and run over to give me a huge hug. And every time, I felt pangs of guilt.
There were a lot of moments when I didn’t like Kevin because of how much work he created for me. But Kevin loved me. And it had been my job to love him, too. I just didn’t rise to the challenge because it was so hard and I had too many other things to do.
How I changed my mindset (and why it didn’t happen once-and-for-all)
I would love to tell you that after that year, I learned my lesson once and for all; that I embraced difficult challenges; that I removed myself from the negativity trap.
But I didn’t.
The next year, we got a new principal, and I funneled my proclivity for complaining into talking about how poorly he ran the school and how my creativity with stifled and how I hated the way the district micromanaged us.
Even profoundly impactful experiences will fade away in our memories, and we will default back to habits. My habit was allowing negative thoughts to stay in my mind. My habit was complaining about my job. My habit was focusing on the things that were out of my control rather than on the things that were in my control.
My habit was allowing one or two people (be it students, coworkers, parents, or administrators) to steal my joy. I would allow someone or something to prevent me from really loving my work. I choose to focus on what was wrong and allowed it to drain my enthusiasm.
The good news is that every year, I got a little bit better. And by the time I was in my final four or five years in the classroom, I enjoyed teaching just about every day. Not every moment of every day, certainly, but over time, I trained myself to think differently about my work.
I practiced choosing different self-talk, and reframing negative situations, and observing what things gave me energy and what things drained my energy.
I tried to add as many of those energy-giving things into my life and teaching habits as I possibly could. I was tired of going through every day of my career feeling frustrated and I was determined to change my perspective.
If you can relate to what I’ve shared here, and you want support and resources for enjoying your teaching more, please join the online book club for Unshakeable. We’re going to be going chapter-by-chapter each weekday beginning March 5th, but the community is active all year long, so if you’ve missed the March book club, I hope you’ll join us anyway.
We’re also going to be doing a “20 ways in 20 days challenge” to infuse more joy in your teaching. I’ve created a free calendar, one for the month of March 2018 if you’re doing the challenge along with the group, and one that’s blank for any month to be used at any time. The calendar has a single, simple, actionable step you can take each day to help you stay focused on what matters most and truly enjoy your teaching.
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Each weekday beginning March 5th, use my free calendar to take ONE simple, actionable step to infuse more joy in your teaching.
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I have a moderator for the book club, but I will be participating in the discussions myself, because this work of changing my mindset and looking for joy in everyday life is a never-ending process for me. It is still something that I have to pay attention to on a regular basis, or else I tend to get microscopic, and focus in on one or two things going wrong that drain me of being able to enjoy the rest of my life and my work.
There’s always a handful of things that are really frustrating and that feel impossible for all of us, right? So this mental transformation and choosing to see your work and life differently is really about day-by-day choices. It’s NOT a once-and-for-all thing, at least, it hasn’t been for me.
It’s about daily practices and habits and choosing to be intentional about my thoughts and my actions.
And that’s a decision anyone can make at any time.
We have so much more power over how we experience life and our work then we give ourselves credit for. Imagine how that school year would have gone if I had chosen to accept reality and embrace my situation with Sarah and Kevin. I could have gained back an entire school year that I lost to being miserable and fixating about everything that was wrong.
I could have gone through that same situation and gotten the same or better outcome, but I could’ve actually enjoyed my life and my work through the process. I wish that I had not taken that time for granted, and wasted it on being upset about things that felt hugely important at the time but I just blips on the radar of life in retrospect.
I hope you won’t have to learn this lesson the hard way like I did. Don’t put your personal happiness in the hands on an 8-year-old or 18-year-old. Don’t give away your peace, or let one or two people steal your joy and determine your mood. Choose your thoughts each day and choose to enjoy your work every day…no matter what.
One year when I taught third grade, our brand new principal had to read and approve all of our report card comments (a grueling task for her, I’m sure). I will never forget the kind words she put on a sticky note before returning the reports to me:
“Angela, these are beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read. Thank you for putting so much time and effort into describing each child.”
What my principal didn’t know was that it really didn’t take me long at all to write those comments.
I’d simply created a system. There was a formula that I followed each time, and I drew heavily from it when reworking the comments for each student. These are easily replicable steps that will work for you, too.
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Keep it simple: How to convey ONLY what really matters
The biggest pitfall that most teachers face with report card comments is overcomplicating the task, which creates overwhelm. I want to help you keep this super simple, so let’s stay focused on what report card comments are really for.
The purpose of report card comments is simply to convey the big ideas and most important information parents need to know. Most important, not everything. You do not need to share EVERY success and EVERY problem in your report card comments.
Focus on using the comments to give a bit of context to the grades. The comment section should align with students’ grades. If a student has earned below a “C” in any area, I recommend explaining that briefly in the comments so there’s no confusion about why the student isn’t performing better. For some parents, it might be smart to explain the “C” grades as well.
However, you do not normally need to write paragraphs of detailed information in report card comments. Parents are just as busy and overwhelmed as you are, and most don’t have time to read an essay about everything their kids are struggling with.
When there are problems, parents should hear about them through conferences, emails, voicemails, and other ongoing, proactive communication measures, so there’s no need to say everything again on a report card.
Put simply: Your comments need to be true and accurate, but not all-encompassing. There is always more you COULD say, but focus on only the most necessary and helpful information.
Think about what you really need to document. What do you need to have proof you have expressed in writing? For example, it’s generally important to state in report comments if a student has excessive absences, or is in danger of being retained. When that’s the case, stay focused on the big picture and don’t get caught up describing every single problem the student has.
For kids who are on or above grade level, there probably isn’t anything you NEED to document, so focus on simply giving context to the report card grades, sharing positive anecdotes and achievements, and thanking the parent for his/her support.
It’s also important to remind yourself that most of what you write can be adapted for other students. It’s extremely rare that a student has none of the same strengths or weaknesses as any other child in the class. Therefore, you should plan to re-purpose and re-work a few basic comment templates over and over again. YOU are the only person who will read every single comment, so you don’t need to create extra work by trying to generate completely original comments for every child.
Report card comments can be massively time-consuming for the teacher but ultimately not super impactful on student learning. The return on your investment of time and energy just isn’t that great, so that’s why you want to streamline and keep it simple. Put your effort into helping students grow rather than laboring endlessly over just the right phrasing for a report card comment. Done is better than perfect!
When you get stuck or overwhelmed, ask yourself, “What would this look like if it were easy?” Figure out the simplest, easiest thing you could write and just write it! Do not allow yourself to spend hours searching for the perfect word-aim. Aim for ”just fine” rather than “just right.”
Time-saving tips and hacks
Here are a few ideas for making things easier from a logistical standpoint:
Type your comments instead of handwriting them. If your report cards are created digitally, this is obvious, but if your school still uses handwritten report cards, check to see if you can type the comments and then staple a printout of the comments to the report card. You might also be able to print your comments on labels (stickers) and place the stickers on report cards. This way you can copy/paste and don’t have to rewrite from scratch for every student. I’ve found that most principals are amicable to typed comments if you explain that it will allow you to write in more detail.
Consider creating comments in a Google Doc or Word doc first. If your report cards are digital, you can easily copy/paste from the doc into your report cards afterward. But regardless, this is a useful strategy because it provides a reference for the future. You’ll be able to see from one document exactly what you wrote about each student, and that will make it easier to generate more feedback in the future.
Be authentic and write how you speak. Don’t waste time trying to come up with the most formal terms possible, especially if you wouldn’t normally use those words in conversation. It’s much faster to create comments if you write the same words you would speak if you were talking to the parent in person, rather than trying to craft a different persona for report card comments.
Collect resources that address the most common problems so you can simply give parents the link or send a copy of them home. For example, you might have a website/handout that shows parents how to help their kids with math homework, a list of websites for practicing reading comprehension, etc. That way you don’t have to type everything out in detail: Just write, “I am attaching a list of ideas for how your child can work on these topics at home” or “visit this URL for resource recommendations.”
A 5-step formula for generating report card comments for ANY student
The most important time-saving tip I can give is to use a formula for your comments (the same format each time). I created a 5-step formula for generating report card comments for ANY student. It uses the anagram BANDS. Hopefully, that will be easy for you to remember if you think about the goal of your comments, which is to help the student, parents, and teacher band together to help the student get where s/he needs to be.
Here’s how BANDS works:
1) Best attributes: Begin by making a positive comment(s) about the student’s best attributes and/or accomplishments. Try to be specific about the student if possible. This will convey to the parent that you really know the student and care about him/her.
2) Areas of success: Share at least one area in which the child is doing well. If you need to share significant problems with the parent, try to lead into that by sharing a success related to that area (i.e., if there are behavioral issues, share something positive about the students’ behavior first; if the student is reading below grade level, share something positive about his/her reading habits, effort, or growth in reading).
3) Needs improvement: I recommend choosing no more than three areas of improvement in most instances. Report card comments are not the place to dump every minor issue on a parent and discourage/overwhelm him or her. You will not be in the room when the parent reads your words, and s/he won’t know your tone/intentions. No one wants to read a lengthy list of everything that’s wrong with his/her child. Instead, think about just a couple of areas in which it’s most imperative that the student improves in order to be successful, and focus on articulating those areas clearly. Ideally, these are issues the parent is already aware of from your more informal ongoing communication.
4) Do this to help: Share specific things the parent/child can do to improve: It’s frustrating to parents when they hear their child is having problems and they have no idea how to fix it. Pre-empt this problem (and avoid tons of follow-up questions) by giving the parent simple actionable steps to take right away. Because you’re likely dealing with the same types of issues over and over (tardiness, lack of attention in class, working below grade level, etc.), you can write out one set of suggestions for each problem in advance and then just copy/paste for each student who has that issue.
5) Supportive statement: End by sharing an optimistic outlook and expressing a belief that the student can and will be successful. Obviously, this is easier to write for some kids than others, but it’s imperative that you leave the parent with the impression that you will never give up on the student and no situation is completely hopeless. You can also share specific things you are doing/will do in order to support the child: This may not be necessary for every instance, but when a child is really struggling, it’s helpful to articulate this so the parent knows you are doing everything in your power to ensure success for the student. This also conveys that you are on the same team and working together for the child, rather than just explaining a problem and saying, “you need to fix it.” Again, it is easy to misunderstand the intended tone when we communicate via writing, so ending with a supportive statement is a great approach to ensuring parents do not feel attacked.
If you think about report card comments in terms of these 5 key elements of BANDS, all you have to do is determine what info to plug into each element.
Sample report card comments
What I’m sharing here is simple: A step-by-step plan for getting the task of composing report card comments done in the most efficient and effective way possible.
If you are required to compose written summaries of student progress in ANY form (including Child Study paperwork, intervention documentation, emails to parents, etc.), I think you will find that this system helps you compose those summaries of progress more efficiently and effectively.
It’s a tried and tested formula, and if you stick to it, I promise you, IT WORKS!
Here’s what’s included in the full resource:
Getting in the groove for writing & staying focused on what matters
Tips for conveying difficult information via written comments
Comment hacks and timesaving tips to simplify your work
The BANDS formula for generating ANY report card comment
The most effective, efficient system for completing report cards
Sample comments for each of the 5 elements of the BANDS formula (200+ in total)
Bonus comments for students who are failing
Bonus comments for content-specific summaries
Here’s how to use this system:
Read (or listen to the audio version of) the initial tips to help you get in the right mindset for composing excellent comments as quickly as possible.
Follow the easy system described for batching your report card work, and generate comments by working through your class list according to student similarities rather than alphabetically.
Follow the 5 step BANDS formula for each student’s comments, pulling from the sample wording suggested in the doc.
The end result? A positive, empathetic, and truthful set of comments that will be helpful for parents and facilitate their cooperation as you work together to help their children succeed … and you can accomplish that in half the time it would take for you to do this on your own!
As this resource does NOT address specific learning standards or academic expectations, it can be used for grades K-12. You can watch the video below or download a preview of the product to get a feel for how it works and why the system is versatile enough to work for EVERY teacher, no matter what or where you teach.
As you’re summarizing student progress for parents, keep this quote in the forefront of your mind: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel” (Carl Buechner).
You see, the exact words you write will be long forgotten a few months from now. There’s no reason to spend hours trying to choose exactly the right adjective to describe the child. But the parents will never forget how you made them feel. Focus on making them feel like there is hope and the possibility of a bright future for their children. Make them feel like you are on their team and you are working with them to offer the best possible support. When you do that, you can’t go wrong.
Parents will forget what you said, but remember how you made them feel. Here's how to summarize… Click To Tweet
There are a lot of trendy phrases from popular culture and the positivity movement which have infiltrated our thinking and practices as educators. They are helpful, productive outlooks, and there is a great deal of truth to them.
However, I think we’ve gotten a little bit out of balance with the positivity movement and the rallying cry to be supportive of one another as teachers.
I believe that we need to be having these critical conversations about the issues. We need to be challenging one another to do better. Moving past truisms and getting real is the only way we are going to shift school culture to truly be about what’s best for kids.
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1) Just do you.
Truth: This is something we frequently hear when there is disagreement about the “best” way to teach. One teacher says flexible seating is amazing, another says flexible seating is awful. One researcher says kids need more direct instruction, another says kids need more time to explore concepts on their own. And we often find educators responding to these differences in teaching styles and effectiveness by saying, “Just do you.” In other words, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or keeping up with all the latest trends. Just do what feels right for you.
Obviously, it is true that there’s no one magical teaching strategy or approach that will work in every classroom with every child. You do have to figure out what works for you and your kids. It’s not helpful to compare yourself to other teachers or become overly concerned with what others think about you.
Too Far: “Just do you” goes too far when it becomes a license to do whatever you want to in your classroom regardless of how it impacts your students. The phrase is sometimes used to justify individual preferences and what’s comfortable for the teacher over what research has shown us to be best practice and pedagogically sound.
For example, I once knew a fifth-grade teacher who decorated her entire room in hot pink and bright purple. The bulletin boards, curtains, anchor charts — every single thing in that room other than the desks and floor were in the most feminine, frilly decorative scheme you can imagine. It looked more like a 4-year-old girl’s bedroom than a classroom, to be honest. And when coworkers asked the teacher what her students thought about it, she’d shrug. “Pink and purple are my favorite colors. I’m just doing me.”
Can you see how that phrase has become a defense mechanism? It’s coded language for: How dare anyone question me? You don’t know me and you can’t judge what’s right for me.
It’s a retort designed to silence: You do you, I’ll do me, and we should each mind our own business.
To my knowledge, no one ever challenged that particular teacher on her thinking. And you know why? She had positive intent. She was just decorating her room in the way she liked!
No one wanted to be seen as negative, or unkind, or confrontational (we’ll get to that in a moment) so we all just “let her do her.”
What I’ve come to realize is that impact is more important than intent. No matter how good the intentions are, we have to consider the impact on others. “I’m just doing me” is something we need to say AFTER we’ve already reflected critically on the topic and talked to trusted colleagues about whether it’s what’s best for kids.
“Just do you” is advice we should give to one another only AFTER considering impact. If the impact could be harmful, then fellow educators have a responsibility to raise questions about it. We need to create a culture in education in which we are open to these questions. We need to embrace conversations about what’s best for kids and why we’ve made the choices we have in our classrooms, rather than becoming defensive and insisting everyone should just do whatever they think is best.
Being willing to self-reflect and dialogue on these issues is a huge first step in the right direction.
2) Don’t look for things to criticize: Just focus on the positive.
Truth: There are so many bad things in the world that will depress you and steal your motivation if you focus on them. Looking for the positive in a situation rather than the negative will improve your mood and therefore your productivity and achievement. You’ll be a more effective and happier educator if you surround yourself with positive people and uplifting ideas.
Too Far: I believe deeply in this truth and the value of being positive — I’ve written an entire book on how to counter unwanted negative thoughts and train yourself to have a more optimistic and realistic outlook. It’s called Awakened: Change your mindset to transform your teaching. In Awakened, I share how my natural disposition is to be judgmental, critical, and negative, and I’ve trained my brain over the years to stop worrying and be content.
But what I’ve witnessed since writing that book several years ago is that many people are now using positivity as an excuse to stay in a bubble. “Focus on the positive” has become a shield against any call for critical thinking, and an excuse to tolerate injustice.
How many people have you heard say, “I don’t read the news, I have no idea what’s going on, it’s just too depressing” or “I never go on social media, there’s just too much negativity.” We probably all feel that way at times and have to create boundaries for self-care purposes.
But always being uninformed and refusing to get involved or speak up and take action is dangerous. If all the good, smart, caring teachers avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable, who is left to fight for change?
Here’s a fact that I think is often misunderstood: Being informed and openly critical of what you see around you is not the same thing as being negative or unhappy. Recognizing and voicing a problem that needs to be corrected is not the same thing as being a hater.
I encourage you to consider being critical in terms of being a critical thinker, rather than a negative person. You can — and should — cultivate joy even as you push back against things that are problematic.
You see, thinking critically about what you observe other teachers doing (in your school or on social media) and the stories you hear on the news is a positive thing. And I challenge you to keep that truth in mind if you are ever on the receiving end, either being called out directly or simply reading a blog or social media post that questions a practice you commonly do in your classroom.
Remember that educators questioning things and creating dialogue around what’s best for kids is GOOD. It’s positive. Speaking up to question impact does not make someone a troll.
Remember also that questioning impact is not the same as questioning intent.
Often I see pushback met with a defensive, “You don’t know me; I care more about my kids and work harder than any teacher I know.” They leap to the conclusion that because a teaching practice is questioned, that means everyone’s assuming they’re not a good teacher. 9 times out of 10, that’s not the case.
You can be an amazing, effective teacher and still make mistakes in the classroom. You can love your students like your own and still have blind spots as to how the choices you’re making with those kids could impact them for the long term.
Rather than assume that people are just looking for things to criticize and be negative about, or that they’re just jealous or simply haters … choose to see that critical thinking and pushback as a positive thing for your students. Pushback helps you become a better teacher. Embrace it, and engage in it. That’s what moves our profession forward.
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3) Throw kindness like confetti. Just be nice!
Truth: We do need more kindness in the world. The way we speak to and treat one another matters, and being unnecessarily harsh or judgmental is often counterproductive. This is especially true in education, as teachers are often on the receiving end of unfair criticism and undeserved scrutiny. We need to lift one another up and support one another because it seems like so many others are tearing us down.
Too Far: Often kindness is seen as incongruent with pushing others to do better and be better. Giving constructive criticism or even questioning someone is seen as being unsupportive of a fellow teacher, and therefore unkind.
And when we value kindness above all else, we never get to have those important conversations that push our teaching forward.
Let me give you an example that is similar to something we’ve all faced. A colleague comes to you upset because a parent criticized the amount of homework she gives. The child works very slowly, and completing the assignments is taking 3-4 hours a night. The colleague is angry because that student still needs to meet grade-level standards by the end of the year, and the colleague thinks the homework is important practice. She’s refusing to modify the work in any way.
What would you do in this situation? I’ll tell you what I normally did, and what I normally see other teachers do. We empathize (“Oh, that’s so frustrating, that parent had no right to yell at you”). We value the teacher’s feelings above the child and parent’s feelings because the teacher is a friend or a colleague.
We focus on the delivery of the message — the way the parent said it — rather than the content of the message, the core issue. This is valuing niceness above all else.
If the parent didn’t say something in a nice way, we act as if that somehow negates the message and invalidates the opinion. It’s an excuse to disengage from our own responsibility to solve the problem and disregard someone’s legitimate concerns.
After we validate the colleague who is clearly in the wrong, we might venture a polite suggestion: “I wonder if you could maybe make a small accommodation to one of the assignments?” and try to help the colleague do better in a nice way.
When the colleague responds in a rage, “Are you kidding me? This kid is just being lazy! She doesn’t want to do the work!” we then back down. We are more concerned with keeping the peace and maintaining the relationship with a fellow teacher than with helping that teacher do better by her students.
Making the choice to “keep the peace “at the expense of our students is one of my biggest regrets as a teacher. It’s one of the things I’d most like to change if I could go back and re-do my early teaching years.
I can’t tell you how many times I looked the other way when I saw my colleagues doing wrong by kids because I didn’t want to create tension within our team. I valued the teacher’s feelings above what’s right for kids and I can never go back and change that. If you are currently doing school-based work, I hope you will remember my words here, and use this as the catalyst to speak up and push your colleague’s thinking a bit more than you are.
Remember that the majority of the teacher workforce is female, and as women (particularly white women), we are socialized to believe that we must be sweet and nice in order to be liked by others. We are conditioned to believe that niceness will make people like us, and therefore, niceness is more important than speaking truth if it’s going to make others uncomfortable.
Imagine if the norm was to confront rather than gossip about, to be direct rather than passive-aggressive.
Imagine if we had been socialized to believe that bravery and courage were more important traits than just being nice to each other.
I would argue that leaving people stuck in their blind spots — or worse, allowing them to continue doing something that could have a negative impact on kids — is not nice. Kindness and niceness isn’t just about making people feel good about themselves, it’s about helping them be their best selves. It’s about saying things they might not enjoy hearing but that ultimately will help them.
My husband is sort of my role model in this. He is not always “nice” to me in that he will tell me (in private) when I’m screwing up, and he might do it loudly or in an animated way that is not very fun to hear. But, his commitment to doing this prevents a whole lot of problems later on.
His criticism is not negativity, it’s critical thinking.
His willingness to get uncomfortable and allow the possibility of tension to enter our relationship is what makes me better. I’ve been in relationships in the past where I was allowed to steamroll over my partner and was never called out on anything. That just allowed my poor decisions and selfishness to continue.
There is powerful bravery in a person who says, “I am willing to tolerate some discomfort. There are bigger things at stake here. I want to see harmful patterns broken. I believe your intentions are good and you need help understanding the impact here so you can do better.” That’s what leads to real change.
I believe we need to create a culture in education in which we are open to self-reflection and can challenge one another to be our best. We need to embrace conversations about what’s best for kids and why we’ve made the choices we have in our classrooms. We need to recondition ourselves to see critical thinking as a positive thing because pushback helps us become better in our work.
And I want your help in starting these conversations and shifting the culture in our schools. If you are feeling my passion on this topic and you want to create change, too, here’s what you can do.
Take the pledge to change the conversation
I’m challenging you to share this blog post or podcast episode on your social media channels and with your colleagues.
But I want you to share it with one teacher friend in particular: I want you to choose a person who you would like to partner up with to ensure that you are having REAL and HONEST conversations.
I want you to choose one person whose opinions and perspective you really respect–someone who’s an awesome teacher, does great things for kids, and gives you sound advice.
This is going to be the person who you can ask: Did I make the right choice here? Should I maybe do something different? Is this really working? Do I need to change some things in this area?
You’re going to pick a person who you trust to be honest with you and give you solid feedback in a supportive, constructive way. And you’re going to do the same thing for him or her.
Want to take the pledge to have real and honest conversations?
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Use the sign up form above to download the free pledge and contract for you and your partner to sign, promising to show TRUE supportiveness to one another.
Share this post with that teacher and take the pledge together.
Leave a comment here (or ) and tell me how it went. Let me know how you worked through a challenge together, or a pitfall you ran into, or how it strengthened your bond, or how it had a positive impact on your kids.
I’d also love your help in naming this pledge. I’ve brainstormed with a number of other people on this and couldn’t come up with just the right thing. We’ve tossed out phrases like:
Teacher’s Keeper (a play on ‘my brother’s keeper’)
Raise the Bar challenge (which I like but I feel like many teachers feel like the bar is already impossibly high so that’s not appealing)
Spinach Partners (you know how only a person who really cares about your best interests is willing to make you feel uncomfortable by telling you that you have spinach in your teeth? This partner is going to function in a similar way for you)
The Teacher Truth pledge
But I don’t feel like the name for this challenge or pledge is going to become clear until it starts shifting the culture in schools,until teachers start feeling the transformation in their relationships and teaching practices because of it.
So, I’m going to turn this concept over to you now. Take this idea to your schools. Work with a partner to come up higher and let me know how it goes and what you all have informally called this agreement with one another. I’m going to take all the suggestions to heart and then choose one as the formal official name for this pledge. I’m also going to use your feedback to create more resources around this topic.
There’s a variety of resources I can make here, but I need to hear from you exactly what is needed. What can I do to make it easier for you and your partner, or for others in your school, to be open to critique, to be willing to be honest with one another, to self-reflect for the good of yourselves and your students?
I want to conclude by sharing something that my friend Tamara Russell off the Equitea podcast told me when we were brainstorming on this topic. She said:
It’s important to convey to teachers that the honesty comes from a place of love, not from a place of critique. It’s saying to your partner, “I am telling you the truth because I care about you and I care about kids. We are in this work together, and we are honest because we are in this together. We aren’t going to move forward together if we’re not honest. Because we love each other and we love the children, we are willing to move past the surface level conversations and think critically. Not because I want to tear down your ideas. I just care so much about you and your impact on children.”
That is the perfect articulation of my heart on this issue. I really hope you’ll take part in this pledge!
Challenging one another in our teaching IS an act of kindness. Take the pledge here: Click To Tweet
There’s a lot of talk about the importance of morning routines amongst entrepreneurs because when you run your own business, you don’t have anyone to create a schedule for you. It’s very easy to waste time and fall into bad habits. That’s something that I have to be really aware of myself, and I have done a lot of research and given a lot of thought to this topic.
Click the player above (or use the download button to listen on the go)!
However, it’s not something that I commonly hear discussed in teaching circles. I think for most of the educators, having to be at school so early means that the morning routine is basically just getting yourself and your family out the door as quickly as possible and making sure you’re in that classroom before your students are lined up outside your door waiting for you.
How I learned (the hard way) about the importance of morning routines for teachers
As a teacher, I had to be at work at 7:30 in the morning, with kids coming in the door at 7:45, so I understand that pressure of feeling like you don’t have even a minute to yourself before the day is in full swing.
Also, I am not by nature a morning person. I think I’ve sort of become a morning person as I got older, and I actually don’t mind waking up early at this point. I feel like I do my best thinking and work first thing in the morning now. But that was definitely not the case when I was in my 20s. I would set my alarm for the latest possible time and then rush around like a mad woman trying to make sure I wasn’t late. I was teaching in Fort Lauderdale and had a pretty short commute, but I had to cross over train tracks and a drawbridge to get to my school. If a train came or that drawbridge was raised, it threw me behind by at least five minutes, and I did not have five minutes to spare. Any unexpected interruption or disruption became a big problem. Because I left myself no margin and no buffer time, something as simple as a train crossing could ruin my whole morning.
Even without the train, I only had a couple minutes to myself to breathe and prepare for all the hustle and bustle that a room full of third-graders brings to a room first thing in the morning. I would still be half-asleep myself, and it would take a good 30 minutes into my first lesson before I’d feel like my head was really in the game.
Set your alarm 5-15 minutes earlier to give you a few moments to yourself before the demands of the day begin
After the eleventy-billionth time of sliding in the school doors juuuust in time, I finally decided to change my morning routine. I began setting my alarm for 15 minutes earlier. That would allow me to leave the house five minutes earlier, which means I didn’t have to stress if there was a problem on the roadway. And I could use the other 10 minutes to do something that would put me in the right mindset.
I began sitting out on my apartment balcony in the mornings and either reading something that would put me in the right headspace, maybe the Bible or an uplifting book, or listening to calming music and looking out over the palm trees while I geared up for the day mentally. I also had a giant mug of coffee so that the caffeine would kick in before I arrived at school instead of after.
When I tell you that having that 10 minutes to myself in the morning — 10 minutes to just sit without anyone calling my name or asking me for anything, 10 minutes to breathe, 10 minutes to mentally prepare for the day, and drink some coffee — when I tell you that made the biggest difference in my mood, mindset, and effectiveness as a teacher? I am not exaggerating. Even my colleagues noticed. The teacher next door was like, “Angela you seem to have so much more energy lately. You used to walk into school sort of dragging and not wanting to talk to anyone until after 9 am. What changed?”
Being intentional about how I started my day and creating a motivating morning routine was the simplest thing I ever did to improve my energy level and attitude toward teaching. Having an extra 15 minutes to sleep would not have made that same difference.
It was completely worth it to get up a few minutes earlier and make sure that my head was in the game.
So I want to encourage you to create a morning routine that works for you, no matter how much you feel like you are not a morning person or how early you have to get up. You may have children or other family members who get up at the crack of dawn, and having to be up before then could be a real challenge. I’m not saying this will be easy, necessarily, I’m saying it will be worth it. Figure out if there is a way that you could wake up even five minutes earlier to give yourself time to mentally prepare for the day.
Set your intent: How do you want your day to flow?
Once you’ve made the commitment to set your alarm a couple minutes earlier to ensure you have time for yourself, set your intent about how you want to use that time. What does a smooth, productive morning look like to you? How would you like to begin your morning, in an ideal situation? I’m not talking about waking up on a beautiful island somewhere, but in your regular life, on a regular workday, what would be the most pleasant, productive way to begin your regular routines?
Visualizing a smooth day might sound kind of silly and woo-woo, but it really does make a big difference because it allows you to set your intentions. If you don’t know what you’re working toward, you’ll never get it! Once you daydream a bit about how you want things to flow in your day, you can actually plan steps that will help make that a reality.
A smooth morning is going to look different for each individual teacher, so decide what that means for you.
Choose your first thoughts of the day wisely
Don’t start your day by running through a mental to-do list and making yourself anxious before you even get out of bed. I used to do this and replaced that habit by thinking about all the successes from the day before. What awesome things happened the day before in your classroom that laid the foundation for the awesome things that are going to happen today?
I try to be present in those early morning minutes when I’m first waking up, rather than allowing my mind to rush ahead to all the things I need to do. Practice choosing thoughts when you first wake up — you don’t have to think every thought that pops into your mind. Dismiss the anxious thoughts, and replace them with thoughts about what’s going well.
Begin your day by appreciating your life. Go through a mental list of some of the things you are grateful for. This will get you in a more positive mindset even if you feel tired or haven’t woken up in a good mood. Your thoughts create your moods, so choose to replace those negative thoughts that arise when you wake up with thoughts that are energizing and motivating.
Begin your day with a habit that makes you feel balanced and happy (NOT checking your phone!)
Many of us are in the habit of reaching for our phones the moment we wake up, but checking email or scrolling mindlessly through a social media feed means you’re likely to see something that makes you angry, or sad, or annoyed, or moved to action … and none of those feelings are going to help you have a productive day.
The beginning of your day is NOT a time when you can afford to get sucked into an internet black hole. Your entire morning will feel rushed if you waste 15 minutes reading a juicy bit of gossip or getting into an internet argument on someone’s political post before you even get out of bed.
Checking your email while you’re still laying in bed will remind you of things you need to do at a time when you are NOT supposed to be doing them. You’ll either try to respond immediately (even though you know we need to get your day started and begin your motivating morning routine), OR you’ll leave the messages unanswered (creating anxiety, scattered focus, and a mounting mental to-do list).
Choose a new wake-up habit that makes YOU feel balanced and happy. Do that habit first, THEN check your phone or turn on the television.
I do like reading in bed for just a couple of minutes rather than jumping right up, but I feel better if I read a book or eBook that is inspiring and motivating. This careful selection of my first media input of the day gets me excited to accomplish my goals.
Try out a new habit or routine for early morning, and plan to tweak it over time
You don’t have to have the perfect morning routine planned. Just try something for a couple of days: An invigorating walk around your neighborhood, eating a quick breakfast in a quiet spot of your house with a pretty view, meditating, or sitting with a cup of coffee and looking at your to-do list to mentally prepare for the tasks ahead. Any of these options will feel like a luxury if you’re used to feeling frazzled in the morning!
Choose whatever appeals to you personally, and give yourself the freedom to be flexible. Your morning routine might differ according to the days of the week. Or you might try something that works well for a week or two, then find yourself sort of dreading it. Be prepared to switch things up and look for new options that feel nourishing to your soul and help you get in the right headspace for the day.
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Get to school early when you can work undisturbed
Given the choice between going to school early or staying late, I’d pick the former any time even though I had to train myself to a be a morning person. In the afternoons, I’m far more likely to let exhaustion get the best of me, or get sucked into hanging out with my coworkers to chitchat.
After a few months of setting my alarm 15 minutes earlier, I finally got the courage to move my alarm clock up an entire hour. This finally gave me time to ease into my school day the way I wanted to. My stress level decreased significantly since an impromptu mini-conference with a colleague the hallway would no longer throw me hopelessly behind time. In turn, I noticed a big change in the level of patience and productivity I had during the school day.
If your schedule will allow it even just one day a week, I encourage you to consider arriving at school a bit earlier so you have undisturbed time to think, plan, and prepare for your day.
Create a pleasant morning ritual in your classroom to transition into work mode
Use your time before the first bell to do things that get you excited about your day — a routine that you enjoy and that gets you in the mindset for teaching. I had a lot of colorful decorative lamps in my classroom, and though I could have assigned a student the job of switch them all on, I enjoyed walking around my classroom in the morning with the overhead lights off, slowly turning on one lamp at a time. I’d look at the space around the lamp, and picture the learning that would take place there later in the day and the successes my students would have.
I’d then turn on music that calmed me if I was anxious, or energized me if I was tired. I’d sit at my desk with a second cup of coffee and something simple (like yogurt) for breakfast. As you know, a quiet moment to sit down at your desk in an empty classroom and listen to relaxing music with a cup of coffee is a HUGE luxury for a teacher, so this ritual was a very special way to begin the day.
As I sipped my coffee and ate, I went through my lesson plans for that day and made sure all the materials were organized and accessible. Many times, I’d alter the plans according to my mood, rearranging lessons a bit or incorporating a different activity that better suited my energy level, the weather, or a change in our daily schedule that was beyond my control. This was my last chance to deeply consider my students’ needs and reflect on my practice before I’d have to think on my feet again.
When my plans were in place and my coffee was finished, I’d turn off the music and turn on the TV, which was tuned to the school’s morning announcements channel. The school played kid-friendly, upbeat music on the channel until announcements started, so listening to that was the start of my transition into the hustle and bustle that would begin shortly. I’d do miscellaneous tasks around the classroom, straightening things or making last-minute changes to the warm-up I’d posted on the board for kids to do.
Stand in the doorway while students are entering the room
This might just be an Angela problem, but as an introvert and a lover of peace and quiet, having the classroom instantly transform from a calm oasis into a bustling, noisy room full of children could feel a bit jarring. I’m not gonna lie, there were a lot of days when I dreaded hearing that first bell ring because I knew it meant I was going to have to kick my energy level into high gear as if it were a light switch, and my energy level just doesn’t turn on that quickly.
I found that standing in the doorway and welcoming kids into the classroom helped me make that transition a little more easily, and it might be a good solution for you, too. It’s a chance to chat briefly with the teachers next door and across the hall (rather than during your precious planning time!) and to greet students as they enter the room.
I tried to create a habit of connecting with each student. I’d read their expressions and body language to get an idea of what kind of energy they were bringing to the classroom and talk about anything they needed to discuss.
I think it’s obvious that this sort of routine is beneficial for students, but if you haven’t thought about how it can also be helpful for you as the teacher to start the day off on the right foot, consider what kind of routine for welcoming kids to the classroom can help you feel more connected to the kids and prepared to be “on” for the day.
Teach students warm-up/bell work routines they can complete independently
I spent a great deal of time in August teaching students how to enter the room quietly, take care of their own arrival tasks (pencil sharpening, getting a drink of water, and so on) and then begin their morning warm-up activity. This freed me to remain by the doorway and continue greeting their classmates as each one arrived.
Having a warm-up routine also meant that I wasn’t responsible for teaching from the moment the kids entered the room. By teaching students to always follow the same morning routine, I was able to handle last-minute emergencies, bus incidents, tardies, and so on without throwing the rest of the class off schedule.
I recommend keeping the assignments simple and fairly predictable so students can do them independently. Self-selected reading is a great way to begin the day, for example, and lets kids ease into the workday slowly, as well. (After all, if YOU have trouble getting motivated to start the day and transitioning into work mode, students certainly have trouble, too!)
But whatever you choose, write the directions in a consistent place that’s easy for every student to see. I wrote mine in red marker, so whenever students entered the classroom, they knew to look on the top left-hand corner of the board for the red writing that says ‘Warm Up.”
The warm-up could take between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the type of task, how long it takes students to trickle into your room in the morning, and also how much time you need before the lesson begins. You can easily extend the warm-up activity to buy yourself a couple of extra minutes if some unexpected demand on your time crops up, and the students will never know the difference. The warm-up allows you to wait to begin instruction until you are completely ready and present in the moment.
Remember: Be intentional about setting the tone for the day, and don’t leave your mood up to chance
I’ve given you a lot of different elements to consider, but the common thread among them is intentionality. Don’t just run with whatever thoughts you wake up with, or assume if you wake up in a bad mood, you’re going to have a bad day. You can choose your thoughts, and you can choose your habits. Be intentional about creating a morning routine that sets you AND your students up for success.
You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of success is found in your daily routine.
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I’ve invited Mindy Corr to share an AWESOME idea she posted about in the discussion community for the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Mindy is a 4th grade teacher in Roseville City School District in California. She is in her 16th year of teaching and has taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. Thank you for sharing this, Mindy!
After 16 years of teaching 4th-6th graders, I have seen a lot of trends come and go. One current trend that I think has some staying power is the concept of the “flipped classroom.” This concept goes something like this: The teacher makes a digital copy of their lesson (this is typically a video but could be a slideshow, too) and assigns this as homework. Students watch the video and get the introduction to the concept at home. Then, they come to school and dig in and do the work there instead of at home. I love this idea!
Playing off of the “flipped classroom” idea, my district provided a training on the “flipped back-to-school night.” This blew my mind because although I love talking to children, I do NOT enjoy speaking in front of adults. I attended this training too late for this year’s BtSN; however, it was a couple weeks prior to conference week. My mind started turning over the idea of a “flipped conference.”
First, I took to Google and couldn’t really find what I was looking for. Then, I went to YouTube and found a video that kind of had the idea of a “flipped conference” but still not quite what I had in mind. I have always done student-led conferences and I wanted to keep that element in place, but save the amount of time spent at school in meetings.
Here’s what I came up with:
1) Assessment portfolios
We have assessment portfolios, which are binders with tabs labeled by standards. Under each standard are assessments that had been done in the current trimester. I had students take these home and share their assessments with their families. All but one of my families did this which shocked me. I was fully prepared to let some sharing happen during conference time if need be.
2) Google Forms
Once the sharing was complete, parents and children were asked to fill out this Google Form (click and choose the ‘make a copy’ button on the Copy Document page) that I emailed out once the portfolios went home. This was KEY to the flipped conference. (Next year, I will ask them to include the conference date and time so I don’t have to.)
3) Responses from Google Forms
Google Forms organized the responses into one Excel-style “sheet” which allowed me to sort them by conference day. Then, I read through the responses and wrote my thoughts (in red) in each column so I was prepared to discuss with the families. I was also able to find materials to have at the conference that addressed any concerns shared through the form.
My conferences were set at 30-minute intervals. But with all of the prep done by both the families and myself prior to the meeting, most lasted no more than 10-15 minutes. (Upon reflections, I realized that next year I can offer 15-minute blocks and allow them to double book for a 30-minute conference if the family feels like they need more time to discuss.)
Here’s how the conferences went:
I had the students attend and start the meeting by sharing what they were proud of and what goals they had for next trimester.
Then, I shared with them what I was proud of and my ideas on how to help them meet their goals.
Finally, we looked at the report cards, and then each student got to walk their parents around the room and show off any work that was hanging.
Parents thanked me for the meeting (I know — when does that happen?) and left with materials in hand to help their child succeed and grow in the upcoming trimester.
I was able to address concerns and success, and no one was surprised about anything!
Students were still in the lead and still got to share success.
Students set their goals and had time to think about it prior to the meeting.
I was able to prepare for parents’ concerns before they came in.
There is some preparation required ahead of time.
I spent about 10 minutes each night looking over parent responses and preparing my responses.
Have you ever tried flipped parent conferences?Let us know in the comments!
Promoting independent reading in the classroom can be a lot of work, especially when it’s time to track your students’ progress. Reading logs are often just meaningless busy work for kids, but meeting individually with kids to discuss their independent reading and setting individual goals can be prohibitively time-consuming.
What if you could have students’ reading targets automatically set up; easily generate a list of “just right” books that are aligned with students’ individual interests; and get rid of reading logs at the same time?
That’s exactly what MoxieReader is designed to help you do.
MoxieReader is a platform designed to promote independent student reading through personalized reading recommendations. It helps teachers save time by providing tracking and accountability tools. I’ll walk you through these various benefits and show you how to get started here.
How MoxieReader encourages students to read more
There are 3 main ways MoxieReader will get your students excited to read:
It creates a team-based game for students complete. There are reading goals and fun activities to propel students’ reading progress forward.
It provides a social space where students can share book ratings and reviews. One of the most powerful ways to inspire kids to read is to provide spaces for them to share their opinions, find out what their friends are reading, and have conversations about books. All of those processes are streamlined with MoxieReader.
It provides highly personalized reading recommendations based on books students have read in the past and how well they’ve read them. This means students are hearing about books that are similar to those they’ve already enjoyed (similar to how Amazon recommends other book titles based on past purchases), AND it means those books are likely to be at a comfortable level of difficulty for the student.
How students are empowered to work toward reading goals
MoxieReader is data-driven, so its book recommendations are never far off the mark when it comes to students’ reading levels and interests. Its algorithm sets realistic and clear goals for how many books a student should read in order to reach proficiency at his or her level.
Think of MoxieReader as the fitness tracker for reading: it tracks students’ reading habits and progress as they use the app, and creates new goals as higher levels are reached.
Another great thing about their recommendation system is that it doesn’t take away students’ freedom to choose books THEY want to read. MoxieReader suggests a collection of books that are a good fit, but ultimately, students take their pick!
How MoxieReader helps you track student progress
You’ll start with the basic process of signing up, logging in, adding students to the system (through a simple class list upload), and designating your reading groups. You will then be able to monitor the entire class’ progress through your Dashboard. (If you want to get a feel for how MoxieReader works before inputting your own class info, use the demo class option.)
Here in the dashboard, students’ progress can be viewed either as a whole classroom or individually.
The Dashboard has a section called Logs where there is a weekly view of books each student has read previously, books they are currently reading, and a visual chart that gauges progress (or prompts action from the teacher.)
Under Reading Challenges, the teacher gets to see individual reading levels, target reading levels, pages logged, activity points, book points, and reading group performance.
Then there’s the Projections section, which shows student and group progress in visual charts with the added function of easy sharing so that you can show kids their progress.
How students use MoxieReader
Download the Moxiereader app on student devices (it’s available for the iPhone, iPad, and Android.)
Using the app, students will scan the book they are reading (or manually log books they have read in the past) to create a digital reading record. This is how the system begins to monitor their progress and offer book recommendations.
Students can then use the app to participate in discussions and reading challenges with their peers, and share what they are reading. You can learn more in the video below:
MoxieReader Introduction - Vimeo
How MoxieReader makes reading support easier for teachers
The MoxieReader platform has a massive database of books, which means it likely includes the books that are already in your classroom and in students’ homes. No more searching out obscure titles to try to fit with a reading tool you’re using. MoxieReader works with whatever your students are already reading and the books they have ready access to.
You can also access reading reflection activities which help boost comprehension and guide students through their reading journey. These printables can be found in MoxieReader’s Teacher Resource Center. The pages I’ve seen are kid-friendly and attractive, while also focusing on higher-order thinking tasks. Here’s an example:
If you like what you see, the regular cost is $63/year. MoxieReader is offering a 40% discount on the annual subscription with the code MOXIE40. That’s around $38 for an entire year’s worth of progress monitoring–an outstanding value, when you consider the amount of time it saves you in collecting and analyzing kids’ reading progress data on your own.
There are also school and district pricing options, so you can see if PTA funds or other school money could be used to cover subscriptions for you and your team.
Disclosure: MoxieReader has compensated me through SyndicateAds for helping them to spread the word about their awesome resources. All opinions in this post are mine, and I only write about products that I would use and recommend to other educators.
What do you want your life to look like? When you look back on it all at the end, what do you want to feel like you’ve accomplished? How do you want to have spent your time? What will be your legacy?
Those are deep questions for sure, and most of us just don’t have the time or energy to try to answer them. It’s not because we don’t care. We’re just too tired to take a step back and try to figure out a better way. When you’re drowning in daily responsibilities, it can feel nearly impossible to carve out time and mental bandwidth to think about your life’s purpose.
And yet, getting clear on what matters to you could change everything about the way you use your time and where you focus your energy.
I want to challenge you to look for opportunities to cut out the nonsense in your life: The stuff that you’re doing because you’ve always done it, because everyone else does it that way, because it’s familiar and comfortable, or because you’re worried about letting other people down if you don’t.
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Even though “there’s no tired like teacher tired,” a few changes in your mindset and habits can totally transform that. I created a free challenge called Goodbye, “Teacher Tired” with five of the most important things you can do to stop feeling tired all of the time and maximize your time, and energy and focus.
It’s really just as simple (and as difficult) as this: Do fewer things, so you can do the things that remain even better.
Read on to get a summary of the five steps covered in the challenge, and then enter your email address to participate if you’re interested.
You can do this! I know five days may seem like a short amount of time, but you’ll notice that most of this is simply a mindset shift and a reduction of things you have to do. It’s basically the process of retraining your mind to focus on what really matters and giving yourself permission to let go of the things that don’t. These five days are an opportunity to make small changes to the way you think about and approach your work and your life, and those small changes can add up to big results.
Want to say goodbye to “teacher tired”?
Enter your email address below to sign up for the 5 day challenge!
Here’s an overview of each day’s challenge — use the form above to sign up.
1) Get real about how much you can accomplish each day, and eliminate the unnecessary.
If you want to do fewer things better, the first and most important step is to face the facts: You do not have enough time to do everything you want and need to do, and there is no amount of rearranging your schedule which will change that.
In order to stop being tired and overwhelmed, you have to decide that certain things are just not going to get done, and give yourself permission to stop doing them. Take charge of your own schedule. Don’t disempower yourself by making excuses due to all the things that are outside your control.
Release yourself from the guilt that comes from having 500 things written on a list that would take you years to work completely through. It’s just not happening.
You have to accept that fact if you’re going to be ruthless about eliminating. Ask yourself, If I were to look back a year from now at this list of obligations, demands on my time, and things to do, which ones would I say were actually worth doing?”
I’m willing to venture that at least a third of the things for which you’re trying to find time don’t actually need to be done. Or, maybe they don’t need to be done by YOU. Or, they don’t need to be done by you RIGHT NOW. Get rid of things that will feel totally inconsequential by this time next month or next year.
Figure out the tasks you’re doing because you’re convinced you have to, and decide how you can relax the standards you’ve set for yourself to a level no one else will notice but you.
I know it’s hard to figure out what to eliminate when everything seems urgent and important, and when you sign up for the “Goodbye Teacher Tired” Challenge, I’ll give you specific ideas and teach you how to think through your day and find obligations to eliminate.
But for now, just keep in mind that optimal productivity depends on more than just time management. What you don’t do is critically important, and most people are giving very little thought to that. They’re just cramming in as many things as possible and trying to do more.
I’m advising you to do less. Say “no” to the things that are less important so you have more time and energy for things that are your biggest priorities. Eliminate or delay anything unnecessary from your day so that you can release yourself from that weight of feeling like you’re never really done, and there’s always something more you should be doing.
2) Schedule your day to get the most important things done, instead of doing as much as possible.
The idea here is to stop measuring success by whether you finished what you wanted to, and instead have a focused list of priorities which you re-evaluate throughout the day. When you do fewer things, that which remains will be done better.
The key to making this happen is a prioritized to-do list. You don’t want a long list of eleventy billion things that need to get done because then you’ll get overwhelmed and you’ll just avoid the list altogether. When you start your day, you want to be crystal clear on what the most important, impactful tasks are so you can devote your best time and energy to them. If you’re just working through a long list sequentially, those most important tasks may never get done, or they might be relegated to the end of the day when you’re exhausted and have nothing left to give.
So, you’re going to figure out the Main Thing for each day and begin your day by focusing on that. Get the Main Thing done as soon as possible, and then tackle things that are less important or require less concentration and energy.
Now here’s the most important part to understand, and it’s where a lot of people get tripped up. The purpose of a prioritized list is NOT to complete every task perfectly but to make sure you’re focused on what’s most important.
That’s why the goal is NOT to get everything done on your list. You cannot measure a day’s success by whether you did everything you wanted to, because who really gets everything done that they wanted? We all have interruptions and last minute demands on our time that derail us from the plan … and because we know that, we can plan for it.
You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do the most important things. So the goal is to use your list-making system (whatever works for you) to help you constantly re-evaluate priorities for the best and highest use of your time. I’ll provide a prioritized list through the challenge and encourage you to just try it out for one day: Decide just for one day what’s most important, write it down, and check in to that list throughout the day to make sure you’re focused on what matters most.
The challenge will help you change your mindset in this area, so you can give yourself permission to eliminate tasks when unexpected interruptions throw you off. You’ll learn how to move things around and tell yourself: Well, I had an unexpected meeting and then my computer crashed and I lost 20 minutes of grading time. So that means I can’t get everything done I had planned. What’s on this list that could conceivably wait until tomorrow, or later in the week, or even be eliminated altogether?
In this way, you are creating your schedule around the most important things, instead of just trying to do as many things as possible. You’ll have a focused list of priorities which you re-evaluate throughout the day as other things crop up, and on the second day of the challenge, I’ll show you how to do that.
3) Minimize decision-making by automating tasks and creating routines that simplify your life.
One of the reasons that teachers feel so worn out is because of decision fatigue. Research has found that teachers make more minute-by-minute decisions than brain surgeons, and that’s extremely tiring. Every choice you have to make throughout the day taxes your mind and reduces your ability to make good decisions later.
Also, self-control and willpower are limited resources that get depleted as the day goes on.
That’s why we’re often patient, highly disciplined, and accomplished earlier in the day, and by the end, we’re stuffing our faces with junk food and snapping “no” at anyone who dares to ask us a question. We’ve already expended all our self-control!
By evening, the willpower that’s needed to force yourself to clean up the house and prep for the next day has already been used up in the classroom. You are fatigued from having to make so many decisions all day long about how to meet the needs of so many students that you simply can’t do any more until you get rested and recharged. Sometimes it feels like “hitting a wall,” where you literally cannot make one more decision and just say, “I’ll deal with it all tomorrow.”
So, how do you prevent decision fatigue? By automating as many decisions and routines as possible. When you do the same things the same way each time, it requires less brainpower, less willpower, and less energy.
This is why highly productive people like the late Steve Jobs wore basically the same outfit and ate basically the same breakfast every single morning. He didn’t want to waste his brainpower on making decisions about minor things like what to eat or what to wear.
When you get to this third day of the “Goodbye, Teacher Tired” Challenge, I’m going to help you think about ways you can streamline your daily routines and reduce the amount of decisions you have to make. How can you automate your morning routine with students? How can you create habits at dismissal time that require fewer decisions? You’ll have an opportunity to brainstorm some ways you can change routines and habits in this area, and then just pick ONE strategy to implement.
Reducing decision-making through habits is a simple change that really makes a big difference. That’s because your lifestyle is basically just a series of daily habits. The quality of your habits determines the quality of your life. So if you can just take a few minutes to consider some habits to create that will simplify your life, that will reduce your decision fatigue and maximize your time, energy, and focus.
4) Maximize your energy and focus by batching tasks and building in buffer time.
So far we’ve talked about moving things off of your plate by giving yourself permission to say no to what’s less important and making peace with the fact that those things won’t get done. We’ve also covered the importance of re-evaluating priorities throughout the day, and reducing the number of decisions you have to make through more streamlined routines and habits.
All of these strategies will help you feel like you have fewer things to do. The fourth day’s challenge is about looking at those tasks that remain and deciding how to do them better. It’s about completing those top priorities and important or urgent tasks in the most effective, efficient way possible.
Batching your tasks is one of the easiest strategies to implement here, so that’s what I’ll help you plan out on Day 4. You want to group similar tasks together and do them in one larger batch.
For example, instead of answering emails one by one as they pop up on your phone, turn off those notifications and read/answer everything all at once, at a predetermined time of day. Instead of running one errand after school every day, batch them according to what part of town they’re in and combine them into just two days a week which become your errand days.
You can batch meal prep, lesson planning, paper grading, cleaning, and so on. Think about those little nagging tasks that make you feel overwhelmed: How can you combine them so you don’t feel pulled in a million directions simultaneously? The idea is to do focused work in themed blocks of time because it’s faster, easier, and more meaningful when you group similar tasks together.
Now here’s the really amazing payoff you’ll get with batching. When you batch your tasks, you’re able to get a little bit ahead, instead of always feeling like you’re just treading water. So let’s say you need to look up lesson ideas online. Instead of just looking up tomorrow’s lesson, make a list of activities you need for the entire week, and eventually for the entire unit, and explore them in one sitting. That now puts you ahead so you don’t have to look for lesson ideas every evening and plan day-by-day anymore.
That is an energizing feeling. When you feel accomplished and slightly ahead of the game, you’ll be motivated to get more done. You’ll no longer feel like you’re constantly behind the eight ball and just slogging through the daily grind. You’re investing time upfront to batching tasks and getting ahead, knowing the payoff will come later when you don’t have so many little things hanging over your head. Batching just one small set of tasks is incredibly satisfying, and therefore energizing.
Now, check this out. What happens with that block of time that you would ordinarily be spending on lesson planning or running errands or meal prep, but you no longer have to because you’ve batched and gotten a bit ahead? Well, you’ve now created margin in your life by giving yourself buffer time. You’re not constantly running late and getting completely thrown off by a traffic jam or fire drill or other unexpected interruption — you have a few minutes to spare. That’s going to reduce your stress level exponentially because overplanning and over-scheduling create anxiety.
I’ll explain this in more depth on the fourth day of this challenge. By that time, you’ll be slowly practicing how to eliminate some things from your day, focusing on your top priorities, minimizing decisions, and batching tasks to get ahead. These steps create margin in your life. They give you room to breathe.
5) Prioritize rest as the catalyst for productivity, and schedule time for things you love.
The final step of the “Goodbye, Teacher Tired” Challenge is to create time in your schedule for rest, self-care, and your biggest priorities in life. That’s going to be possible as a result of your investment of time in learning the strategies I shared previously. It may seem out of the question for now, but I’m telling you, small changes add up to big results. Each day of the challenge you’ll lay the first simple foundational blocks, you do just ONE thing each day. And if you do that, then by day 5 you will have eliminated a couple tasks from your to-do list, batched some of the things that remain, and streamlined a habit or two so you don’t have to make so many decisions. I promise you will then see small windows of time that can be used for self-care.
The critical piece to remember is this: You can’t wait to make time for rest until you’ve figured out a perfect system for simplifying every aspect of your life. Prioritizing rest isn’t the payoff for your other efforts in prioritizing; it’s actually part of the prioritization work itself. Rest works in a reciprocal way with productivity, and completing this fifth and final step is going to make it easier for you to continue doing the first four.
Here’s why: Rest is not the opposite of getting things done; it’s the catalyst for it. When you make time to recharge, you’re able to get more done the following day.
This is something most of us understand intuitively and yet the choices we make don’t reflect that. We say that we want and need just a few minutes of peace and quiet for ourselves during the day, and yet if we have a few extra minutes, we immediately look for something else that needs to be done so we can fill up that buffer time. If there’s nothing interesting or meaningful to do (for example, if we’re sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment), we’ll pull out our phones and actively look for work we can do such as checking email or giving ourselves more information to process by scrolling through social media.
This habit of filling every spare moment with mental stimulation and work causes us to wear ourselves out. Any small break in the day becomes an opportunity to do a random bunch of stuff — tasks that were not on our list of priorities for the day — and keeps us in that energy-draining decision mode. We work ourselves until we’re literally collapsing into bed at night from exhaustion and then wonder why we don’t have any energy the next day
What if, instead of trying to fill every moment with more, and constantly trying to stimulate our minds and be productive, we lived as if we truly believe that rest will help us do more? What if we seized those small opportunities for self-care throughout the day? What if we got to the end of our rope in the evenings and said: Enough. I give myself permission to stop here for the day. I don’t want to waste my last remaining bit of energy on things that weren’t even that important to begin with. I need to be refreshed in the morning so I can tackle my biggest priority and I know the only way to do that is with rest.
You see, while time is a very important resource, energy is an equally or even more important resource. Unlike time, energy does not automatically replenish itself. Each day you are alive, you are given more time, another 24 hours to utilize. But you’re not necessarily given more energy. In fact, you don’t wake up with more energy unless you’ve done something the day or night before to replenish it unless you’ve taken care of your body and mind and allowed yourself time to truly recharge.
Rest is the catalyst for productivity, not a break from it. And you can structure your life in a way that reflects that. You don’t have to move to a desert island and quit your job. Like everything else I’ve shared with you, this aspect of conquering teacher tired is about habits. Your habits create your lifestyle. All you have to do is change some of your habits and you can feel more rested. And on the fifth day of the challenge, I will give you specific ideas and suggestions for doing exactly that and making time for self-care.
Want to say goodbye to “teacher tired”?
Enter your email address below to sign up for the 5 day challenge!
When you sign up for the free challenge, you’ll get one email from me each day for 5 days. Each email will include:
A 3 page PDF explaining the mindset and the habit you want to try out
A 10-minute audio message so you can listen instead of read if you prefer
A printable template to help you take action on the ideas right away
This is a challenge that I truly believe will be helpful for every single teacher, no matter what or where you teach. Those who are current members of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club (or have already graduated) will find that it really helps you refocus on the main principles of the club and helps you establish some thinking patterns and habits that you may have let slide over time.
My principal was crazy to hire me for this position — I’m clearly not experienced enough.
I’m not knowledgeable enough about this subject area to be teaching it.
I’m just not capable of doing everything that needs to be done as a teacher.
I don’t know why other people say I’m such a good teacher — I really don’t deserve it and haven’t done a very good job.
If you can relate to any of those feelings, you might be dealing with a phenomenon that’s commonly known as Imposter Syndrome. It’s that feeling of being a fraud, an almost panic-inducing sense that at any moment, other people are going to figure out you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing and have no business being given the level of responsibility you have.
This is a real thing, and it can be paralyzing. If you struggle with Imposter Syndrome, you may find it’s gotten worse in recent years and is exacerbated by social media, where we see (or think we’re seeing) what other people’s lives are like, and inadvertently begin comparing ourselves to them. We wonder, How come my house or my classroom doesn’t look like that? How come my family or my students don’t act like that? Everyone else is being a responsible grownup and I’m over here struggling with basic adulting. I can’t even remember to get my teeth cleaned every six months, how am I in charge of running an entire classroom?
Imposter Syndrome is something that I personally struggle with, as I talked about back in the beginning of the podcast season in Episode 101, Your classroom does not have to be Pinterest-worthy. I struggled with Imposter Syndrome as a teacher, even back before Pinterest pressure was even a thing.
I had back-to-school nightmares that involved kids running absolutely wild, not listening to or even seeing me in the room because subconsciously I worried I had no idea how to manage a classroom (despite having literally written the book on it). I’d have a lesson observed and think: Welp, this is the moment my principal realizes I don’t actually know how to teach, and I’ve just been faking it for the last 10 years. Or I’d have a Back-to-School Night and think: Now all the parents are going to know I’m not nearly as good as the teacher their kid had last year. In truth, I never felt like I had a firm grasp on what every student in the classroom knew and was able to do, and I was just doing my best to try to keep up every day.
That self-doubt was always with me as a teacher and has never left me even now. Imposter Syndrome is not something I grapple with daily anymore, but I’d say it happens on a very regular basis, at least weekly. Sometimes the moments of Imposter Syndrome are fleeting, and I can brush them out of my mind in a few seconds. Other times, they loom over me for hours or even days.
They’re just these moments of self-doubt in which I feel like I have nothing new or original to say to the world, so why even bother putting my ideas out there? The podcast feels stupid. My teaching resources are dumb. It feels like everything I want to do or make has already been done, and someone else already did it better. Who am I, to think that I have ideas that are worth sharing with other people? I worry that any day now, people will decide I’m a fake and phony who has no idea what she’s talking about.
So, while I don’t have any solutions that can make Imposter Syndrome go away permanently, I CAN let you know that you’re not the only one grappling with it. And, I can share some strategies from personal experience that help with countering Imposter Syndrome and managing the self-doubt. I’ve chosen seven specific things that have been helpful for me over the years, and I hope they’ll be helpful for you, too.
Click the player above (or use the download button to listen on the go)!
1) Remind yourself that self-doubt is a natural part of being self-reflective and wanting to be your very best.
Anyone who is analyzing their work and striving to be better is going to feel like an imposter at times. Reflecting on your shortcomings is an important part of growth and improvement, so don’t shy away from it because you’re worried that you’re not going to measure up.
Instead, recognize that Imposter Syndrome is normal and will likely creep up from time to time. It’s something that people in all walks of life have struggled with, particularly women and those in service-oriented or creative fields. Even the most successful and accomplished people we know have admitted to feeling like they aren’t doing enough and aren’t good enough. Check out these quotes:
‘There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.’ -Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”– author and speaker Maya Angelou
“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.” – actress Michelle Pfeiffer
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” – actress Kate Winslett
“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” –Dr. Margaret Chan, former Chief of the World Health Organization
So, Imposter Syndrome is normal. It means you’re wanting to be your best self. Accept it as just a part of growth and improvement, and plan strategies for countering it.
2) Observe your Imposter Syndrome triggers and thoughts without judgment.
When you feel self-doubt taking over, the least helpful approach is to get even further down on yourself and start feeling bad about feeling bad. Remember … Imposter Syndrome is a normal feeling. Don’t judge yourself for it or set an unrealistic expectation that you should never feel that way.
Instead, train yourself to simply be aware of what’s happening. Pay attention to the things, ideas, and people who inadvertently cause you to doubt yourself. Notice the feelings and tell yourself:
Something in this situation is triggering feelings of self-doubt. I’m feeling a bit like a fraud right now. But just because I’m thinking and feeling this way at the moment doesn’t mean that’s true or that I need to give any consideration or credence to it. I’m just going to observe that it’s happening, notice how I’m thinking and feeling, and let those thoughts and feelings pass on their own. They always do!
3) Use feelings of self-doubt to help you experiment with teaching styles until you figure out which one is right for you.
When you’re feeling like a fraud as a teacher, that’s a cue that you might be doing something which isn’t an authentic expression of who you are. As a new teacher, I was constantly looking for effective strategies to emulate, and that meant trying out different personas, from the strict veteran teacher next door who didn’t let the kids get away with anything, to the soft-spoken teacher downstairs who corrected every misbehavior with a song and a hug.
I imitated all kinds of other teachers and naturally felt like an imposter because none of them was like ME. I didn’t yet know who I was in the classroom — I was still trying to figure out my teaching identity. As a teenager, I went through lots of phases and completely changed how I looked and dressed every six months because I wasn’t quite sure which persona was really me. And, I had to go through that same process again as a teacher (fortunately without the Manic Panic hair dye).
4) Accept that it’s impossible to please everyone, and use criticism as an opportunity to reflect on WHY you’ve made your choices.
There’s a saying that you could be the juiciest, sweetest peach in the orchard and there’s still going to be somebody who walks past you with a turned up nose because they don’t like peaches.
For me, grappling with Imposter Syndrome has meant accepting that not everyone is going to like me or my work. I am 100% positive that there ARE people out there who feel like my teaching, advice, books, 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, or even this podcast are really not very good or original at all. I know those people exist because some of them feel the need to email me or comment on my social media and say so. It doesn’t happen often, but when I hear “This is nonsense; this won’t work for me” or “This isn’t anything I haven’t already heard a million times before,” it’s easy to start doubting my abilities.
And I think that’s just part of the price you pay for being in a position as a leader, including leadership as a classroom teacher. Not everyone’s going to like what you do. Some principals will watch your best lesson and still be unimpressed. Some students and parents will dislike you, no matter what. Some of your colleagues will disagree with the way you manage your classroom and teach your lessons. There are people who will look at how you set up your classroom and think, meh, not impressed.
Embracing the fact that not everything is for everybody will help you move past feelings of being a fraud. Try to be open to the critique, and self-reflect:
What is the grain of truth in what the person is saying that’s worth holding onto, even while you disregard the part that isn’t helpful?
How can you use the situation to your benefit and an opportunity for growth?
Do you have a solid rationale for WHY you’re making the choices you’re making? If so, practice articulating it; if not, dig deeper to uncover whether your choice was the right one, or if this is an opportunity to go in a different direction.
When you are grounded firmly in the WHY behind your choices and are honest with yourself about your shortcomings, you can confront Imposter Syndrome without trying to wait until every person approves of and is impressed with your work.
Some people will not like what I do, but if I can use their critique to help me figure out where I need to improve, I’m less likely to feel like a fraud because I can respond with honesty: Thanks for pointing that out — you’re right, this is something I should take a look at. And when the critique is not valid, it’s still an opportunity for self-reflection. It’s a chance to reflect and make sure my words and actions are aligned with what I really believe.
I’ve found that when you’ve truly analyzed your decisions and know you’re making the right ones, you won’t feel so much like a fraud when someone questions or criticizes you and you can rebound from Imposter Syndrome more quickly.
5) Be honest with your students when you don’t know what you’re doing.
Imposter Syndrome tends to crop up in classroom-based work a lot because children are like little Authenticity Detectors. They can tell when you’re being fake, and their facial expressions will let you know if they’re not buying what you’re selling.
The best approach I’ve found is to just level with them. Tell them, “I want to try something out that I saw online. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, but it would make this lesson better and I thought it was worth trying out. Let’s give it a go, and then afterwards, we can talk about if the activity is something you want to try again and if so, how we can improve it together.”
Kids respect this sort of transparency from their teachers. Saying, “I don’t know, let’s figure it out together” is preferable to making up an answer. Be honest when you need to Google something the kids ask about, and model that as a problem-solving strategy. Use the LCD projector to let them see the exact phrase you type into search and how you figure out which result is accurate.
You can even let them know which unit is your weakest and hardest for you to teach, and model how you’re overcoming that challenge. My students knew I struggled with science, and knew hardly anything about the solar system before becoming a third-grade teacher. We brainstormed ways I could become more knowledgeable and I shared my learning with them, for example, by letting them know when I found a good documentary on TV the night before and a new nugget of information I picked up. They loved learning alongside me and delighted in saying, “Mrs. Watson, did you know…?” and hearing me say sincerely that I had not known, and they’d taught ME something.
When you drop the persona as Grown-Up-In-Charge-Who-Knows-Everything, and are instead positioning yourself as a fellow learner, you don’t have to fake your way through the day as much, and Imposter Syndrome is easier to manage.
6) Find a colleague who’s willing to be your Imposter Syndrome Co-Conspirator.
It’s important to have another teacher you can be vulnerable with and admit when you have no idea what you’re doing. I like to think of this person as a co-conspirator in fighting Impostor Syndrome because you can equip each other with the information needed to feel more competent. Instead of showing up to a meeting and feeling totally out of your depth, you can go to your co-conspirator and say, “I’m having an Imposter Syndrome moment and am clueless about what I’m supposed to say at this meeting. Can you help me figure out a couple key things that will help me feel more prepared?”
If you’re wondering how to find that person you can go to when feeling like a fraud, I’d say that the best way is by being that person for someone else. Other teachers are more likely to be vulnerable and transparent with you when you are that way with them. We all know teachers who are brutally honest and real, and we’re drawn to them like magnets, right?
Try opening up at a team meeting about a minor issue you’re struggling with, and watch the reactions of the effective teachers who you really respect. Which person immediately latches on and chimes in with his/her own struggles? That’s your Imposter Syndrome Co-Conspirator.
7) Change your self-talk so Imposter Syndrome propels you to be even better.
Choose to fight that imposter syndrome each time it crops up. Actively push against the internal voice that says, You’re not good enough. You need to do more. Remind yourself:
“I am enough. My efforts are enough. I have a limited amount of time and energy, and I choose to channel my resources into doing the best job that is sustainable for me, regardless of what everyone else is doing. My room and my lessons don’t have to be ‘perfect’; and will improve over time as I get feedback from my students and learn from them what’s most impactful. I’m going to stay focused on the kids and streamlining the learning process because if I do that, I can’t go wrong!”
In fact, you can listen to it anytime you are feeling not good enough and are comparing yourself to others. you’ll get an audio lesson from Dan and me, as well as a PDF transcript and some reflection questions and exercises to help you work through Imposter Syndrome via the lens of freeing yourself from comparison to others.
You have the ability to confront Imposter Syndrome. Plan for it. Be prepared with these 7 strategies when the feeling of being an imposter pops up because feeling like a fraud will hold you back from taking risks. Figuring out a process to manage Imposter Syndrome is the only way you will ever do anything great. So, change your self-talk and learn how to practice believing in yourself so you can share your gifts with the world. Let your fears inspire you to do better and become the best person you can be.
It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. Click To Tweet
I am super excited to feature an interview with Dan Tricarico here in this post as part of my Truth for Teachers podcast. I normally condense the blog posts for interviews to focus on the key points, but because Dan and I were simply having a casual conversation about this topic, I decided to include the full transcript this time.
Today we’re going to give you some of our favorite mindset shifts and advice from the toolkit, and talk about some ideas that will really make a big difference in how you feel.
Click the play button above to listen to the interview,or use the download button to get the MP3 and listen later offline
WATSON: So Dan, you’ve been teaching high school English now for 25 years. What are some of the mindset pitfalls that you’ve observed yourself or other teachers fall into which create extra anxiety?
TRICARICO: Well, it’s a very stressful profession. Every profession is stressful, but I think that teaching is very unique. I don’t think a lot of people understand exactly what we do or what we’re up against every day. Some of the pitfalls I’ve seen during my career, and one of the big ones I’ve observed in other teachers that create anxiety, is isolation. Most teachers are in one room, they have very little connection to other teachers. I know in some schools you have to poke your head out the door and look all the way down the hall and hope that the teacher pokes their head out at the same time because you can’t leave your room. It’s against the law to leave the students unsupervised. So there’s just very little interaction, and that creates isolation, and that can raise anxiety.
Another thing is there’s just often a tremendous lack of support from the administration, from the district, even the state. For example, I’ve been declined for the last four conferences I’ve asked to go to just because there wasn’t funding for it for whatever reason, and I’ve had to pay for a number of conferences on my own. I’ve just stopped asking for supplies because they’re just not there or I’ve had to pay for them myself. And that creates anxiety because, for example, our PTSA does an annual PTSA supply day drive, and they ask parents and local businesses to donate supplies to the teachers. I keep asking, when was the last time Apple or Microsoft had to have a supply drive? It just doesn’t happen on that level, but we have to get donations because we just don’t have the stuff.
The other big thing I see, and this is not going to be news to teachers at all, is just a tremendous sense of overwhelm. There’s just always so much to do, and we have a 24/7 job. The powers that be keep adding and adding and adding and adding things for teachers to do with very little support, certainly no more compensation, and the teachers keep agreeing to do it because they’re givers and they put everybody else before themselves.
The problem is when you put all of these situations together, it’s a perfect storm of anxiety, stress, tension, and it just adds up, and it’s not sustainable. I can’t imagine doing anything else other than teaching. I love teaching. I’ve loved every minute of it. And I know a lot of educators feel that way, and that’s why we put up with this stuff. But one of the reasons that you and I do what we do is because, like I said, it’s not sustainable, and the stress has to manifest itself somewhere. A lot of times teachers burn out and I’ve seen them leave the profession, and you and I just want to make sure that it’s dealt with in a healthy way.
How do you, personally, cope with those moments of anxiety and all the pressure that comes with teaching?
That’s a good question. There was a while when I wasn’t sure how to cope with it, and in fact wasn’t coping with it very well. I slipped into some clinical depression. I was on antidepressant medication, and that’s about the time I said, “You know, I’ve got to do something here. This is not okay. I have to make it to retirement.”
And I saw other teachers melting down and burning out, and that’s when I started the Zen Teaching Project. I said, “These are some elements I can use to kind of calm down, to relax, to focus on what’s important, to get rid of the stress and have some intentional self-care practices.” I’ve used things like meditation and participation in what I call my Zen practice, which for me is writing because that’s the activity that makes me feel renewed and rejuvenated and fulfilled. But for other people, it might be gardening, quilting, working out, or whatever.
In the process of working through the Zen Teacher Project, I’ve come up with what I call The Five S’s. Actually, I didn’t come up with them, but I label them “The Five S’s,” which are stillness, silence, space, subtraction, and slowing down. And I have to tell you, practicing The Five S’s has really made a huge difference in calming me down and lowering my stress, decluttering and being still, and being silent, and just breathing, and stopping, and slowing down. Because we don’t do that in our society.
Stay focused on the 5 S’s: stillness, silence, space, subtraction, and slowing down.
Just one quick example: As you know, I private tutor on the evenings and weekends. Almost every teacher I know has a second gig to kind of make ends meet, and that also increases the stress and tension. And with every client, I arrive about 10 minutes early, and I park kind of down the street from their house, and I just sit in silence and stillness for a while to meditate or go over my lesson plan or just think about things, and it’s become so valuable to me.
I’ve gotten some funny looks from the neighborhood watch people, but that’s okay. I’ll take it. I don’t care. It’s important to me to do that. We could all do that. We could do that on the way to school or on the way home before we kind of re-enter that family situation that sometimes just shoots us into cyberspace.
It only takes a few minutes. Just stop, slow down, be still, be quiet, listen to your intuition, listen to the universe, and see what happens. For me, that’s been transformative, so I highly recommend The Five S’s.
That piece of stillness, I think, is so important, and you are a much better practitioner of that than I am. I really struggle with that. It’s taken years of practice, as I know it has for you as well. But it’s something that I still struggle with because if I had 10 minutes to wait on someone, I would probably want to pull out my phone and answer a couple emails …
Oh, I do that too.
Yeah, exactly. It’s such a temptation. We really have to be intentional about saying, “Here is just a couple of minutes to myself. This is what I say I want all the time. Can I just have a couple minutes of peace and quiet to myself?” Instead of rushing to then fill that with something stimulating and to feel like I’m doing something, just to relax back into that stillness. I think that is so powerful, and I don’t feel like this is something people are talking about enough in general, but especially not with teachers.
That’s one of the things that I love so much about your message, it’s not big, complicated, time-consuming stuff. I mean, you’re talking about just a few minutes of self-care, right?
Absolutely. I mean, some people feel like they have to fly to the Caribbean and spend a few days at a resort. No, it’s just a few minutes. Even when I was growing up, blue-collar family, we could never afford anything like that. So just finding those few minutes.
You said a very important word, which is “intentional.” If we wait for it to happen, it’s not going to happen. We have to plan it. And the second thing is I’m as addicted to my phone as anybody else in this world and this society we have today. I’ll find myself on my phone when I’m in those 10 minutes, and I’ll say, “Wait.” Again, it’s coming back, reminding myself, waking myself up again and saying “Wait. You wanted those few minutes, you have them now, don’t be on your phone.”
In the Finally Free toolkit, which we created together, there are 10 audio modules, and each one addresses a different aspect of teacher anxiety and overwhelm. So there’s one that a teacher can listen to when you feel like you’re drowning and can never do enough, one for when you’re worried about not being able to reach a student or prevent failure, one for when you feel guilty about letting others down, and so on.
We basically surveyed teachers to find out the types of anxious thoughts they were feeling most frequently and then we created 20-30 minutes of audio speaking directly to that issue in a way that is meant to be encouraging and helpful. It’s something you can listen to over and over again, whenever you’re struggling with that feeling. Which of those modules is your favorite, and why do you think it’s so impactful?
I think for me, the last module, number ten (Freedom from Neglect) is my favorite because it’s all about self-care, and that’s my jam. That’s what I’m all about. I think that module is so important because in our society, our culture, we don’t value taking care of ourselves. We seem to idolize this idea of busyness and overwork and over scheduling, and that’s why everybody’s so frazzled and burned out. No one stops to take care of themselves anymore, and that’s why I’m on my soapbox.
I always like to talk about how there’s a difference between being selfish and practicing self-care. Selfish says, “I want this for me, and I want more for me than everybody else.” Self-care says, “I want this for me, because I need to take care of myself so that I can be better for myself and everyone else.”
That’s a huge difference. It sounds the same and it kind of looks the same from the outside, but it’s different, and I think that’s one thing we talk about in that module. When I think of my favorite, that’s the one that comes to mind.
The second one I love would be Module 2: Freedom from Worry about Students because I think every teacher worries about his or her students. A lot of teachers you’ve heard refer to the students as “my kids,” right? We take their well-being very seriously and we lose sleep over how they’re doing and their home life and all of that.
And I don’t know if it ever stops, because I’m thinking of a former student of mine who now happens to be a Facebook friend, and she’s been posting that she’s having some health issues and she’s been in the hospital, and I’ve been very worried about her. She was in my class over 20 years ago, she’s over 40 and an adult in every way, but I’m still worried about her, because she was “one of mine,” and I don’t think that ever goes away.
Those are two modules that I really get behind and say, “This is something that teachers are dealing with, and these lessons might really help them.”
That emotional component, that emotional connection to students, it’s so important to your success and effectiveness as a teacher, but it can be very draining because you’re giving of yourself all day long. I think that’s just such an important point. I thought about this question for myself, to think about which module was my favorite, and I feel like there are little gems in different ones, and I particularly like the two that you pulled out.
I think I also really like the one about freedom from guilt because that sort of ties into this whole obligations-to-other-people type of thing, too. Because a lot of times, I think as teachers, we feel guilty about letting other people down, and we’re always letting someone down, right? Because when you stay late at school to do more for your students, you’re letting down your family, and then when you say, “Nope. I’m leaving at 3 o’clock. I’m going home. I want to be present with my family,” you feel like you’re letting down your students or your colleagues or the school community, and so it’s this sense that you just can’t please everyone, and it’s very draining when you try.
I really like that module, Freedom from Guilt, because we’re sharing these strategies around how you can’t base your self-worth on what you do for other people, because then when you DON’T do something, you’ve made yourself less valuable. That’s a really dangerous road when you’re in a service-oriented profession like teaching because there are a lot of people who are going to want your time and your energy and your emotional labor.
None of us can be or play the role of the teacher or the life partner or the parent, whatever role we’re playing, we can’t be that person that we want to be 100 percent of the time. And so we have to retrain our minds to love and accept ourselves unconditionally, no matter what we do or what we don’t do.
One of the points from the toolkit that we talk about is separating who you are from what you do, because who you are is always just right, even when what you do is maybe not the right choice or maybe you made a mistake or maybe you let someone down. Who you are is different from what you do, and you have to really value yourself and get your sense of self worth from just being who you are, because you have inherent worth and value, and you don’t have to earn that. Your worth doesn’t come from pleasing other people 100 percent of the time, because that’s not going to happen.
No, and I think you’re absolutely right, and I think what you said about you’re okay the way you are regardless of what happens with what you do is so important, and that took me years to figure out. Like you said, it’s unavoidable. You’re always letting somebody down.
The energy that you have and the emotional component that you mentioned is finite unless you recharge it. That’s the beauty of it — it can be recharged. But try using your phone when all of the energy is gone, and you haven’t plugged it in. It’s not going to work, and you’re not going to get done what you do. You can recharge it, but it’s not going to work until you do, and you have to recharge yourself, too.
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I want to let teachers in behind the scenes a little bit to how we made decisions about the format of the toolkit because there really isn’t anything else like it. Basically, we decided you can go through the 10 modules and complete them in order like a course — we provide the structure for that, and you can sign up to get an email once a day for 10 days or once a week for 10 weeks and feel like someone is following up and reminding and encouraging you to stick with it.
And we did that because when we surveyed teachers about this, there were some people who worried they’d buy the toolkit and then never remember to use it if they didn’t have follow-up. But we were really intentional about calling it a toolkit because we don’t want this to be one more thing you feel guilty about not keeping up with. So you can just listen to whatever module you need, whenever you need it. You might listen daily for a week and then go a few weeks without using it at all.
You have this for the rest of your teaching career and can use it as needed. And though you do get a PDF version of the transcript if you’d rather read, it’s audio based, so you can just listen during your commute, or while exercising, cooking, cleaning, and just going about your regular routines.
Can you talk a little bit about why we chose audio over video and what we’re hoping the format of the toolkit does for teachers?
The thing that was amazing to me about this and about calling it a toolkit intentionally was that I consider myself a fairly with-it guy, and it was awhile into the process with you before I really kind of got the concept. That’s because I was used to online courses, and I was like, “Yeah, you would start at the beginning, you would go through, it’s kind of sequential.”
Then for some reason, as it will happen with students and learners, the light went on in my head, and I realized what you meant by “toolkit,” that each lesson was a specific tool to use when you needed it.
I looked at it this way: If I have a toolbox filled with a hammer, a wrench, a saw, and some WD-40, I’m not going to take them all out at once and use them in order. That’s ridiculous. If I need a hammer, I’m going to take out a hammer. If I need a wrench, I’m going to take out a wrench. You take out exactly what you need when you need it.
So that flexibility and that idea of, “I don’t have to do it all, and I have it whenever I need it, and I’m just going to take out this tool” is what we had in mind. Right now I’m dealing with guilt, so I’m going to take out the module on guilt. Right now I know I’ve been letting my self-care lapse, so I’m going to take out the module on self-care.
And you listen for 15 minutes, or 25 minutes, and bam, you’ve got a new plan. I love this image, that we are going to be that voice whispering in their ear and speaking into their hearts and mind about how to make small shifts to kind of change that mindset and take care of themselves. I am just so thrilled to be a part of that.
I love that analogy with the toolbox. I feel like this is sort of the coolest thing about when we work together, Dan, because we’re always thinking the same thing and saying the same thing, we just express it in a little bit different ways.
That’s the fun part.
Yeah, it is, it really is, because it’s not very often that I talk to people that I feel really have the same vision for helping teachers in this area that I do, and that’s how I feel about you and your work. For me, it’s just really exciting to feel like you are reinforcing all of the things that I’ve been teaching, and I’m reinforcing all of the things you’ve been teaching, and we’re coming from different perspectives with different life experiences, but driving home these key points in different ways. They complement each other so well. I’m so excited about it.
I think that’s true. I think we do complement each other, and in fact, I’ll tell you and I hope it’s okay if I’m saying this on your podcast, but I was very humbled when you said you were interested in working with me on this. I thought, “My gosh. She wants to work with me on this,” because I know your work, and I know how much you help teachers, and so I’m just giddy to be here, so thank you.
You’re very welcome. I think this is going to be amazing. I can’t imagine a better person to have partnered with on this.
Oh, thank you.
So enough about us, because I could just talk about how much I admire your work and how much I love what you’re teaching teachers all day.
And I, you.
I want to talk a little bit more about how these mindset shifts happen over time. It’s not something where you can just read about a new way to think and that’s the end of it. You really do have to “retrain your brain” to think in ways that FINALLY create freedom from anxiety and overwhelm.And that only happens over time and with practice.
For me, it’s taken years of self-reflection and learning to get myself to the mindset I’m in today — not in some super time-consuming or emotionally intensive way, it’s just a matter of being mindful. It’s observing the thoughts that are helping me and those that are harming me and making sure I’m slowly practicing mental habits that are positive. And a lot of it has to do with the influences around me, and the things I’m filling my mind with. Has it been the same for you?
Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about goal setting recently, and I think what happens is people think you need to make these huge changes, and that just becomes so overwhelming that they don’t do anything.
But I think the watchword is consistency. The phrase I keep in mind is “tiny shifts.” That’s what I always think of is, “All I need to do is make some tiny shifts but over time and consistently,” like you said, because if you make those small changes over time, but you stay consistent and you keep practicing those tiny changes, you create new habits, and then that’s what sticks, and then that’s when the behavior changes.
If you’re so intimidated by the size of the change that you don’t even try, then nothing’s going to happen, and the behavior’s just going to stay the same. So what I love about our program here is how we emphasize the small changes that teachers can make over time to reduce their stress and increase their self care.
I think another thing to keep in mind is that it’s a journey. You’re on a path now, and the path is not always going to be smooth. There’s going to be bumps and bruises and stumbles along the way. That’s part of it, and that’s okay.
When that happens, you need to give yourself some grace and some forgiveness. You need to say, “That didn’t work out exactly the way I hoped, but I can try again tomorrow,” and just giving yourself that grace and forgiveness is going to help you keep going and be motivated instead of just throwing up your hands and saying, “I’m out.”
I think it can be especially challenging for teachers who don’t have a positive, supportive mentor. I was in the classroom for 11 years and was never formally given a mentor, and a lot of the teachers that I sought out on my own for mental support were very negative just like I was. I wasn’t looking for teachers who would make me better, I was just looking for people who would sit around and complain with me.
That did absolutely nothing for my attitude or energy level. And you and I, Dan, we’ve discussed this several times, how one of the..
Today I’ve invited two current teachers onto my Truth for Teachers podcast to talk about what they’re doing with their students. This is something that I hope to do on the show more often because it’s just another angle of expertise that I think is important for you to hear as a teacher, rather than just hearing from “experts” like myself and others who aren’t currently doing school-based work. These two ladies are in the trenches, so to speak, on a daily basis, and they share about their work on social media, which is where I first connected with them.
Tamara Russell (pictured left below) is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist with 20 years of teaching experience. She is a third-grade teacher, blogger, and speaker in Central Florida. Sarah Plumitallo (right) is currently teaching ESOL students in grades 2-5 in a Title I school in Northern Virginia. She also runs a federally-funded after-school program that serves 150 students in grades K-5.
Sarah and Tamara are super close friends and I have had the privilege of connecting with them on Voxer for the last couple of months. We’ve had countless conversations about an issue we’re all very passionate about, which is education equity. They have shared so much wisdom with me in these private conversations that it just started to feel like a shame that no one else was getting to listen in. So, I invited them both on the show so that more educators can learn from their experiences.
Our conversation ended up running for over an hour! When I went back through the recording to edit it down, I realized that 90% of it was just too good to cut. That’s why I made the decision — for the first time ever on Truth for Teachers — to air almost the entire interview and split it into two episodes. The first half hour of our conversation was focused on classroom-based work, and the last 20 minutes was focused on building trust and relationships with families. You’ll be able to listen to both segments below.
Use the podcast player above to listen to our conversation, or read the highlights/summary below.
1. Get student buy-in for high expectations by skipping the gimmicks and teaching in authentic, culturally-responsive ways.
Let kids know they WILL be successful and there’s no other option.
Approach cultural responsiveness through a lens of responding to the students in your classroom, rather than making assumptions or looking for pre-packaged resources.
Use the 2×10 strategy with the entire class to get to know students and build relationships and trust.
Use Socratic Seminars and other strategies that allow students to examine current events that are relevant to students’ lives and think critically about multiple viewpoints.
Embrace opportunities to talk about current events, social justice, and equity issues with students.
2. Teach students how to advocate for themselves, their rights, and their education.
Help kids understand their rights and what they are owed by the school system.
Teach kids to see accommodations as something that is not shameful, but that allows us to see what you know about yourself and make sure you are successful.
Teach kids how to effectively respond when they have a problem with another faculty member, and articulate that you are a “safe person” in the school who will always listen to their side of the story and help them work through conflicts.
Help kids see themselves in college/career prep roles, but stay focused on the child’s goals rather than forcing a college track on him or her.
3. Build trust with families by empowering parents to believe they are worthy as their children’s first teacher and helping them see their children as high performing.
Earn back parental trust in the school system by actively working to undo marginalization.
Share things you learned through the 2×10 strategy to help parents see that you know and care about their kids as individuals.
Show off kids in an academic way so parents can see their children as high performing.
Equip parents to understand what and how their kids are learning, such as through Teacher Talk Tuesday (mini videos to show strategies for parents who want to know how to work with their kids).
Root out your own personal biases, including the myth that families in poverty don’t value education.
Work to understand that there are lots of factors that go into the culture of failure in high poverty schools. Much of that has to do with systemic issues and deficit thinking that teachers are often coached into believing about children raised in poverty.
Sarah Plumitallo is currently working with ESOL students in grades 2-5 in a Title I school in Northern Virginia. In addition to teaching and creating resources for other teachers, Sarah runs a federally-funded after-school program that serves 150 students in grades K-5. She is particularly invested in social justice as she feels that meeting the needs of diverse student populations and developing students as leaders through character education is a calling for ALL educators.
Tamara Russell is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist with 20 years of teaching experience. She is a third-grade teacher, blogger, and speaker in Central Florida. Tamara believes that social justice is not just a work for teachers outside of the classroom, but also one that her students can begin to take part in. You can find ideas for supporting elementary classrooms on her blog.