3 Commitments For More Calm This Back-To-School Season
This fall, I’m taking the lessons I’ve learned over the past school year and through my Summer Joy Experiment to bring more calm, peace, and ease into my back-to-school season. In this episode, I’m sharing the approaches, reminders, and mantras I’ll be using to keep myself sane this school year!
Commitment 1: Keep It Simple
I love ideas, and I love starting new things, and I love doing all the things. And that has been a great asset in my life, and it’s gotten me into a lot of situations that I wish I had slow-rolled a bit more. My tendency to dive into everything has meant that a) I start things that I can’t always finish, b) overcommit myself, and/or c) overcomplicate things for the people around me.
One major goal – or intention – I have for this year is to keep it simple. I can always add things, but it’s much harder — on me and the people around me — to quit, pivot, or change, something that I’ve started. It also doesn’t feel good to me — to backtrack on something I said we were going to do.
Simplifying My Procedures For Flexibility And Ease
With that in mind, as I create the systems and approaches in my classroom for the back-to-school weeks — from my classroom procedures to PBIS implementation and classroom management to instructional aspects like notebooking formats or material storage, etc. — I am aiming to keep it simple.
I don’t need to craft and teach a procedure for every little thing (something I may have done in the past). I can always add a procedure if I find something is not working for us, but maybe it isn’t necessary to dictate how a kid asks to go to the bathroom or sharpens their pencil. (And maybe it is! And if that’s the case, we can tackle that together as needed!) That said, I know I do need a simple system to get students in the door, to their seats, and ready to learn — that procedure, my warm up/bell ringer, will be taught and practiced and reinforced. Likewise, how my students exit the room will also be taught and practiced and reinforced, because I appreciate an orderly exit that happens after all materials have been put away, final discussions/reminders have taken place, and so on. Those procedures are vital — they will be part of the “keep it simple” plan.
But even for those, I’m committing to simplicity! I want to give myself flexibility to change “what goes into the routine” without changing the routine itself. This reduces the need for me to figure everything out this back-to-school season and allows me to hold off on making some decisions until I get settled with my new students.
For example, my bell ringer/warmup routine — my students walk into the classroom, take out their warm-up paper (has about two weeks on one double-sided piece of paper), and complete the prompt. I set a two-minute timer, either myself or a student stamps completed warm-ups as the timer is ticking away, I do a last-call for stamps when the timer goes off, and then we review. The routine is the same — but I may change the “content” of the prompts — maybe it will be a mindfulness/reflection task, maybe a gratitude question, maybe a content-focused prompt, or maybe a puzzle or emotional-wellbeing check-in. I’m not going to get myself stuck in doing it one way or another by implementing a more complicated system (ex/ Mondays are a mindfulness prompt, Tuesdays are a turn-and-talk, Thursdays are for gratitude/thankfulness, etc.) — I’m just keeping it simple so that I have the space and flexibility to adjust as needed.
Simplifying Classroom Design To Focus On The Essentials
Along those lines, I have – in the past – had grand intentions for decorating my classroom. I’ve had years where I’ve gone all out on classroom decor — painting furniture, covering walls, so on and so forth. This year, my goal was to create the vibe I want — the coziness, the warm feeling, the alternative lighting — with as little work as possible.
So it meant setting aside my ambitions to paint the black bookshelf that doesn’t match and looks pretty shoddy — I can save that project for next summer (maybe). It meant ditching my plans to cover the old chalkboard with laminate-paper. It meant forgetting about making curtains or making alternative seats. Not every project needs to be done on Day 1, and giving myself a little more time to enjoy summer (and later on, prepare for the actual work-of-teaching) is the priority this year. I’m aiming to keep it simple and focus on the essentials.
Keep it simple.
Good Is Good Enough
This one can be a hard one for me. I’m notorious for recreating the wheel because the existing wheel is exactly as I would have preferred. But for my own wellbeing, I’m committing this year to good is good enough.
In a way, this builds off the keep it simple. My classroom decor — good is good enough!
But it definitely goes further — I have a math and science curriculum. It’s new, and it’s decent. I’m committing to utilizing it as-is whenever possible. Sure, I might make modifications — knocking off some questions, tweaking how we carry out the lab to incorporate more exploration, picking-and-choosing problems and prompts. But I don’t need to start from scratch, so I’m not going to!
I know this will be a challenge for me, but I also know — finding that balance is vital to keeping my own wellbeing and my relationships with my family a priority in my life.
Good is good enough!
Have Courage To Be Authentically Me
My last promise to myself is that I will be brave.
I will be brave enough to stay true — to my values, to my priorities, to my experience.
Brave Enough To Resist Test Culture
This year, I’m teaching a very tested subject — math (in addition to my science classes). While I’m not in a school where test scores are everything, I’m still in a school where test scores are something. And I can already sense this pressure to — keep up with the pacing on the curriculum guide, “cover” all the things I’m supposed to, and prepare the students for the test.
And yet, I firmly believe – and research suggests – that inquiry-based approaches lead to active-learning. That we need to engage our students in thinking if they are truly to be learning. And that traditional teaching approaches don’t really achieve those ends.
I know that there may be pressure to “teach to the test” and to do things “the way they always have been done.” And I want to do everything I can to meet the expectations of my administrators and, of course, to have my students succeed (even on the stupid state tests). But I also need to trust myself, trust what I’ve learned, trust what I’ve observed works, and stay true to my own teaching approaches — approaches I know are rooted in education research and strong pedagogy.
I’m holding tight to these values even as I co-plan and collaborate this back-to-school season.
Brave Enough To Take Risks
And lastly, this back-to-school season, I’m reminding myself to be brave enough to take risks.
I want to try new things, new strategies and approaches, and commit to them bravely and fully — giving myself permission to make mistakes and experience flops and failure if it doesn’t work out. That is how we learn, after all, and while we may be teachers, we are still learners.
I am a learner. I take risks, I make mistakes, and I do better every time.
Commitments To Stay Sane This Back-To-School Season
So those are my commitments — my intentions — for this year.
- to keep it simple,
- accept that good is good enough, and
- be brave to stay true and take risks.
I want this year to feel calm and easeful, and I want to feel confident and authentic. While of course I won’t feel those things all the time, these commitments are designed to support those feelings.
Keeping it simple and accepting good is good enough helps me focus on what’s essential — releasing myself from the work-clutter of tasks that don’t matter.
And the idea of being brave — in order to feel truly confident, we must feel free to be our authentic selves, to take action that is aligned with our values and beliefs, and to know we are not our mistakes (or even our accomplishments) — that these can come and go and we are still worthy. For me, this takes bravery, courage — and in committing to that, I am recognizing that it may not always be easy but that I am also capable of doing it.
What are you committing to this year?
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