Now is the time of the year when the daydreams of August turn into the real work of teaching. What were your hopes and dreams before school started? Have they gotten buried under a heap of paperwork, assessments, and things not going the way you hoped? Let’s dust them off and bring them back! My co-author and all around favorite human, Christine Hertz, and I are working on a blog series about integrating your beliefs into your curriculum, with (hopefully) some handy tips along the way.
I am sure you have had those moments in your classroom where your students are completely engaged in the process of learning, where magic happens in surprising ways. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s identifies this immersion in a task as “flow,” which he describes as “a sense of merging with the activity” (2000). It’s what we imagine will happen when we enter our classroom in the first place. However, with the disruptions and demands on our work, it can be hard to maintain. Csikszentmihalyi’s research explains that people can find that flow if they have “very high levels of intrinsic motivation . . . marked by . . . strong interest and involvement in the work” (2000). Our challenge is to figure out how to do this in our daily work of teaching.
How can principals help teachers build energy? It's an enduring question for a reason, with many possible answers. Don Graves once visited a school where each Wednesday morning the faculty met to have a breakfast of rolls, juice, and coffee and then moved into various curriculum focus groups. The faculty had one half hour together before school and then one halof hour after the children arrived on the busses. The staff ran the sessions and discussion groups. “I have but one requirement,” the principal said, “that everyone attend and no one be alone in their room. I make sure the kids are in a good situation for their half hour. Every June we reevaluate the Wednesday morning program and decide what specific interest groups will follow for the next year. In previous years we’ve produced lots of things: parent forums, a new math curriculum; we prepared a language arts presentation for parents.” This particular program had been going on for ten years. There is renewal for the staff in the middle of the week, and above all, keeps the staff in touch with each other and develops new ideas.
Teacher burnout is a growing concern in education. We are being asked to do more than have in the past with fewer resources than we need. The public narrative around teaching is that we should be doing things for the sake of the children, that if we cared about children, we wouldn’t be selfish and put our needs first.
Hogwash. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first or you won’t have the energy or ability to help anyone else. We hear this every time we get an airplane, but we forget to apply it to the rest of our lives.
There may be times in the year or your career when you find yourself hung up on details of a lesson, worrying if it is going to land and what the students might think of you if it doesn't. This can be especially true for new teachers.
In the following video, Ken Lindblom and Leila Christenbury, authors of Making the Journey: Being and Becoming a Teacher of English Language Arts, fourth edition, point out that students will accept it if you make a mistake or create a boring lesson that doesn't work, as long as students know, above all, that your main focus is their learning.
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We know this time of year can be difficult for many classroom teachers, especially new teachers. We’ve pulled together some of our best resources to help you beat the burnout and made them available to you and your fellow teachers at Heinemann.com/burnout. Don’t burn out, ignite!