Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Teaching Well is About Balance

Teaching well is about balance.  Easier said than done, but a good teacher, like a good parent, has a sense of balance when it comes to what matters. As I begin to think about the school year ahead, I'm beginning to focus on what matters and what the balance needs to be to best teach my students.

Good teachers need to be healthy.  It's important to be there each morning energized and ready to meet the needs of many students, colleagues, parents, administrators and others.  The contact time is intense and the pace amazing.  Hence, making the time to be healthy is critical.  Healthy habits will vary from teacher to teacher, but those that come to school each day with zest generally exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep.

You've heard the phrase, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," well the same is true for teachers, "All work and no play makes teachers (and the classroom) dull."  Hence, make time to recreate, and plan some fun getaways during the school year to refresh and renew.  The teaching job is limitless, and it's up to you to plan some time for fun and life outside of school.

Life Long Learning
Similar to leisure, if a teacher isn't taking part in developing his or her own learning, then he/she has little to bring to the classroom.  The world is constantly evolving and it's up to teachers to make time to grow intellectually throughout the year.  Twitter and educational blogs open multiple doors for educators with regard to professional growth.  It's a great medium because it fits well into our busy schedules and the balance of home and family.  Other optimal learning opportunities include system-wide book clubs, professional courses, and conferences. Taking the time to research upcoming conferences in your field or area of interest during the summer gives you the lead time to make the professional request and plans so that you can attend the event.

Routines and Patterns
Creating optimal routines and patterns prior to the school year supports balance.  Our family creates a weekly schedule and we try to stick to it as much as possible.  My husband and I choose nights that are "ours" so if we want to schedule a late meeting, meet a friend or take a course, we generally try to schedule it for our "night."  The same is true for the classroom; an optimal routine helps with planning so you meet all the curriculum standards, provide each child with the time they deserve, coordinate with other professionals in the building and employ the teaching practices you've deemed essential.  It's worth securing steady child care, after school activities and other routine events for your own children as it enables you to do your job well with the security of knowing that your children are in good hands.

Teaching, particularly when you have a family, can be challenging with regard to your relationships.  As stated earlier, it's an endless, demanding job that includes tremendous contact with a wide group of people each day.  Hence, making time for relationships can be difficult.  Making a plan as to when and how you'll meet up with friends and relatives throughout the year helps.  Also planning events outside of your house such as a shared hike, day at the beach, or bike ride can give you time to stay healthy and enjoy friends too.  Scheduling realistic dates, such as the third Wednesday of every month, can help you to plan your energy and efforts, so you're ready for a enjoyable times with those you care about.

Sometimes, since the classroom can be demanding, you feel like you just don't have the time for the collegial aspects of your job.  That's a mistake. Research shows that when we work collaboratively, we do a better job.  Also, getting involved in new initiatives and endeavors with colleagues is energizing and in the end, makes you more targeted and efficient in the classroom.

A Positive Attitude
The saying goes, "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem."  It's easy to get drawn in to the negativity at school, and it's okay to disagree or see how something can work better, but it's not okay to continually complain without seeking systematic ways to make change.  Yes, sometimes complaining can be cathartic, but mainly it pulls others done when it's excessive and not connected to positive action.

School life can fire one up as well as repress.  Every day one can expect the unexpected. A positive, pleasing, professional demeanor is integral to doing the job well.  Again, that doesn't mean you won't disagree or get upset--that's going to happen and when it does give yourself a "time out" to center and list the concerns you'll deal with later.  Also, make it a rule not to deal with issues on the fly and without all the facts.  Simply stating, Let's make a time to discuss that or Once I understand all the facts, let's talk will make a challenging situation one that's manageable.  There will be emergencies, and it's always best to act on the side of caution by alerting authorities utilizing school protocols sooner than later with the best interests of students' and staff members' emotional and physical safety first.

Classroom life, particularly at the elementary level, involves a multitude of materials.  Making the time for optimal classroom (and home) organization makes more time for the essential elements listed above.  Keeping only the best of materials at home and school can simplify that process.  "A place for everything and everything in its place," is a great guiding rule for classroom organization.  It's important to make the time at the start of the year to teach the students about your classroom organization and routines, so that they can help you to keep the room organized to best serve learning endeavors.

It's that time of year when I'm planning for the ideal year, one where I'll employ all the elements listed above.  It won't be perfect, but if I start now and try to include what's listed, I'll have a better chance of achieving balance which will positively affect my students and work.

Do you have tried and true practices that help you achieve balance during the school year?  Did I leave out any critical elements one should consider?  I look forward to your responses.  Thanks for listening.