Tuesday, November 1, 2016


      Sometimes I feel like my favorite football team: potential is there to have a winning season, but oftentimes they fail to live up to expectations. Sure, my team is beat up and filling spots with their practice squad guys they've had to sign to pick up the slack. But they still have potential. They proved what they could do recently on the football field. Sometimes I feel as though I have the potential, but I just doesn't click. When I get stressed over how things are going in my class, I think of the quarterback of my team. He urged fans to "R-e-l-a-x" and things would get better--everything would be okay. Even though we didn't go to the Superbowl, we had a good season and made the playoffs. In essence, he was right. When I get stressed over events in my classroom, I need a dose of that advice.
     What I have noticed after two plus decades of teaching is that nothing goes according to plan. Really, how could it? There's a variable in there that is not a constant--it's kids and they are never constant. Their worlds are rarely constant, so how can they be? Instead of getting stressed about their seeming lack of engagement, we need to relax as teachers and realize things will get better.
     It seems the holidays are the worst, at least for my demographic. For a myriad of reasons, life isn't always easy or kind to my kids, and it's worse during the holidays. I know they have a world full of complications in their lives outside of school that sometimes spills over into the school day. We can either approach kids with a firm, inflexible hand, or with empathy and flexibility. Does that mean we let them off the hook and not have high expectations of them? No, it means that some days we reduce our expectations, knowing they have a whole lot more important stuff on their mind than Walt Whitman.
     When I'm relaxed and in the teaching "zone," I know what I'm doing and things are clicking. Relaxing takes stress out of me, out of the students and out of the classroom providing a more appealing environment for learning.
     The key is that we, as teachers, help to establish the classroom atmosphere. Things may seem as though they are bogging down and kids are approaching school with a lack of energy, but we can change that through our own attitude. Maybe we do need a "recharge" of our attitude or approach to school. Maybe we do need to lighten up. Maybe we do need to relax. Our classrooms are a reflection of us--like it or not, good or bad. By relaxing and enjoying your students, you can create a less stressful environment for learning.
     The holidays can be stressful enough. For football teams and teachers. Teams are trying to wield their magic on the field in hopes of achieving that elusive play-off berth while teachers are working the same magic in the classroom, hoping to engage students and help them learn. Both can be difficult endeavors. And both can be doable. We just need to R-E-L-A-X. It can make all the difference.

Collaborating with Colleagues

     Everyone has their little kingdom. For some it's a cubicle. For others it's a home. For teachers, it's a classroom. It's their domain. Their dominion. I used to tell my students my classroom was a benevolent dictatorship. I was in charge. Me. Not them. Not ever. And consorting with colleagues? Unthinkable, right? Maybe in days past, but in today's educational climate, if you want to teach collaboration, model it yourself via your interactions with your coworkers.
     Colleagues are a teacher's lifeblood. They help sustain us via venting and brainstorming sessions. They encourage and support us. They are honest with us and tell us when we may need to shape up a bit. At least, this is how I think it works.
     I'm an honest person in that I honestly tell people what I think. Oftentimes I do this with little or no regard to being  tactful. Not because I mean to, but because that's how I'm wired. No excuses. I need to be more mindful of the behavior and change it. So why am I sharing this? Because it relates to my coworkers who have patiently dealt with this shortcoming of mine for years. Just as I deal with theirs. That's the key. As colleagues, we try to work through these things so we can be more effective as a team who supports our students.
     If I want my students to work together, is it right for me not to expect the same of myself? Shouldn't the teacher be willing to model the behavior he/she wants students to imitate? If only for this reason alone, I need to be willing to work with my fellow teachers.
      Sometimes there will be misunderstandings or a teacher will have a sucky day and let the suckiness invade the rest of the day.  In those moments, she will likely say something unintended or do something  she later regrets. Been there, yada, yada, t-shirt.
      I have patient colleagues who forgive my errant behavior. I want to be the same type of coworker to them--forgiving and willing to give out a dose of grace. "Treat others the way you want to be treated" is a favorite quote of mine from the Bible. And one I try to adhere to, the key word being "try." Instead of throwing up hands in defeat when I blow it, I  accept the misstep and welcome the chance to change my behavior. And I'm grateful to colleagues who extend the grace when I don't.
      So the bottom line is this: it's hard to collaborate with colleagues with whom you have issues. Deal with the problems head on, showing your students positive human interaction skills. Once you've attacked the problem, work together as a unified front to model how to communicate with others, work with others, and learn and grow with others.
      Don't be afraid to take on weird projects linked by only a tenuous thread of commonality between subject areas. Work with colleagues on projects, demonstrating the skills needed to do so. The result? Students will see a close staff who collaborate with each other in order to offer an engaging environment and maximize the learning experience.
      Some days will be great, others not so much; but in the end, it's all worth it. Look around your staff at the veritable gold mine of opportunities awaiting you--working with your coworkers. Just remember, it's all about the students. And if working with a fellow teacher can bring me closer to engaging students, bring it on. Collaborating with colleagues can make all the difference. Just try it and see.