Give Yourself Permission – It’s All About YOU

Give yourself permission

 

I know you’re passionate about what you do. And I’m going to bet that sometimes you overdo it. If so, you’re in good company here!

Be Cognizant of the Propensity to Overdo It

When I’ve overdone it, my body tells me. I physically hit a wall, and I have to stop (You know the migraines I’m talking about, right?)

Because it’s July, I’m already thinking about the school year ahead. I bet you have those whispers too. Wondering what day you’ll start getting your room ready. Who will your kids be? How will you hook them on day one? But it’s also important to be thinking about yourself. What will you do to avoid hitting the wall, even in the busiest times, this year? If you don’t, you’ll be no good to anyone.

Give Yourself Permission

This topic has been on my mind a lot this summer. As I stretch myself to do new things, I’m cognizant of the propensity to overdo it. So I tried to think of advice I’d give to new teachers. Those who have yet to go through the full cycle of the year. The most important step I realized, is to give yourself permission. Permission to step away, re-group, and rejuvenate so you can come back fresh and full of joy for those you serve.

Listen Deeply

I hope you’ll take a moment to ponder this. To listen deeply to what it is you’d like to give yourself permission for. What will be your buoy in the coming year? Please share it in the comments. Who knows how many people you’ll touch by sharing your wisdom!

For concrete tips on how to create time for yourself see my guest post on TeacherPop, Teach for America’s blog, 9 Ways Over 9 Months to Create Time for Yourself as a New Teacher“.

 

 

A Slice of Certainty

Slice of Confidence

If you’ve found my blog you’ve likely noticed the tag line. I wrote it to resonate with you, the teacher reading this. But I also wrote it for myself. You see I wanted to remind us all that even when we don’t feel like we’re doing an amazing job, it’s likely we’re still doing great things. And we need to be certain of that fact.

When I first started teaching I lived in constant fear of being found out. I was terrified that someone was going to walk into my room and see that I really was a horrible teacher after-all. Who is this woman, they would say, and why in the world did we hire her?!

Too much uncertainty will deplete you.

It’s not that reality substantiated these fears. No, the opposite was true. My colleagues were complimentary. The principal wanted me to increase my time. My job was secure. I even received a couple of award nominations from students. Together these things seem like they would show a person she is successful. However, I just couldn’t be certain. And this uncertainty left me depleted and distracted.

Now, I’m sure some of this is just my personality (yes, I can be a bit self-critical). But I also believe this is a commonality in our profession. I say this because I’ve seen it so many times. Some in tears, unsure of their abilities as they blamed themselves for a lesson gone wrong. Others questioning if the principal really thought they were doing a good job. Usually these comments came from the most respected teachers. People who I, and others, aspired to be like.

Your quest to improve doesn’t implicate lacking.

Of course taking responsibility, and being on a quest to constantly improve, is a good thing. It’s part of being a great teacher. If we think we have arrived, it’s a sure sign that we haven’t. But it’s a fine line between questioning one’s abilities and reaching for more. The former tends to get in our way, while the latter is a propelling force.

It wasn’t that long ago when I finally realized that advancing my practice does’t have to be based in uncertainty and self-criticism. Instead, I can be both confident in my current capacity and still endeavor to be better. When this finally settled inside of me, my teaching changed. I became lighter. People actually told me I looked younger. Having fun while learning became more of a goal. Taking risks to try new things felt invigorating. And all of this rubbed off on my students.

Savor your wins and build from there.

Too often, in school, learning how to do something means there was a time we weren’t good at it. While there may be truth to this, it’s time to switch the paradigm. I no longer believe it’s productive to concentrate on what might be missing, on the things we aren’t sure about. Instead we need to focus on our/our student’s strengths. Let’s savor our wins and build from there.

As I end my first year of being in a new position, I realize that I truly did let go of my fear of being found out. Although I had many moments of being nervous about doing well, and I constantly sought to improve, I didn’t doubt myself in the same way. Instead I moved through the year with a slice of certainty. And that slice had a sweet taste indeed!

Want to know more about teaching with certainty?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are some ways you’ve been uncertain, or doubted yourself, as an educator? Does that get in your way? What have you done/realized to change your perspective?

Growth Mindset (or lack thereof) – Finding humor and human in a difficult situation

We have a special code at my house for “good job”. Step in the door with a high grade, a win, or any other action worthy of commendation, and you’ll receive the exclamation “Bad Addis!” (I’m sure you get the euphemism). But it didn’t start that way. When I first heard “Bad Addis” it really meant, “You’ve done a bad job Mrs. Addis”.

Beginner's Mind Pin

During my decade-plus as a special education teacher I had the fortune of working with teenagers, many of whom communicated in their own ways. Some used their words, some used their drawings, and some used their bodies. Throughout the year I would become attuned to their modes of expression. And along the way I would discover both who my students were, and who I was. I would also discover that mistakes aren’t the end, they are the beginning (@34:19).

The event that sparked our family saying involved an angry, frustrated student. I can’t even remember why, so it must have been something small in my mind. Obviously it was something big in his. As a student of few words, he shared his sentiments by turning his back to me. Then he walked to a corner where a study carrel joined the wall, and stayed there.

I was doing the best I could.

Imagining myself the consummate behaviorist I was not going to “pick up the rope”. Instead, I would ignore his actions. And that’s how I found myself in the middle of a power struggle. He with his back turned, and me acting as if this was a regular school day. The more I ignored, the more he tried to get my attention, the more I ignored. And so we went, with little resolution. In hindsight this does seem a bit absurd, but in the moment I was doing the best I could.

As things progressed neither of us was satisfied. I really wanted to get him back on track, right then. He really wanted me to react. I know this because with the passing moments his behavior heightened. It began with surreptitious glances in my direction, ramped up to verbal accusations of “Bad Addis”, and crescendoed with declarations of “F*ck Addis”. Honestly I don’t even remember how the situation ended. Rest assured though, we do still have a positive relationship.

I felt it was a statement of my ability as a teacher.

Needless to say I ended that day deflated. Not only had I failed to teach my student, but I felt like all my training and expertise had left me twisting in the wind. I was confronted with my lacking and felt it was a statement of my ability as a teacher. At the time, growth mindset hadn’t hit the scene. I had no idea that mistakes are part of learning. I didn’t know that all successful people make mistakes, learn from them, and try again. I didn’t have the words to say to myself, “I’m not good at this yet, but one day I will be better. Instead I settled with “Boy do I suck!”.

After school I dragged myself home, hoping for some no-holds-barred sympathy. I imagined group hugs, and pats on the back, and lots of “It’s OKs”. At the dinner table I asked my family, “Wanna hear what happened today?” “Sure” they replied, with that questioning inflection that means not really but I’m trying to be polite. Deep into the story, as soon as I machine-gunned the phrase “Bad Addis” they burst into laughter. Actually it was more like doubled-over, belly aching, guffaws. No sympathy, just unabashed merriment at my expense. It was then that I finally saw the humor of my day, and I realized the gift my student had given me.

In that moment of laughter I was proud of myself.

I discovered in that moment of laughter that I was proud of myself, and proud of my student. I knew then that we had both tried our best, albeit in clunky unproductive ways, to communicate our needs. Both of us human, and both of us wanting something positive from the other. Me wanting him to learn, and him wanting me to acknowledge his frustration. And I also realized that we were both “Bad Addis!” for giving it our all. Even if I wasn’t a hero that day, I had put in the effort. Tomorrow would be another chance to do better.

So the next time you don’t get it right put your hands on your hips, relish that power stance, and declare that you too are “Bad Addis!” Tomorrow will come and you will have another chance to pour your heart in, just as you did today. Only you will do so having learned a little in the process.

Want to know more about Growth Mindset or Behavior Management?

Growth Mindset

Behavior Management

 

Five Secret Ingredients for an Inspired School Year (try them NOW)

Congratulations, summer is here! If you’re a newly credentialed teacher you’re poised to relish in these last few months before your new career begins. If you’ve been in the classroom awhile you’re looking forward to the replenishing days ahead. No matter who you are you know that teaching is fulfilling, but hard, work. At times it can be down-right difficult to be “an instrument of inspiration” for your students. Maintaining positivity throughout the school year takes practice and dedication.

Below you’ll find five secret ingredients for an inspired year. Use them now so that they become habits for the year ahead.

1. Savor your accomplishments

As a teacher it can be easy to feel under-appreciated. In the busy world of public schools sometimes expressing gratitude takes a back seat, and teachers feel that. However, this feeling offers the opportunity for building a practice of self-acknowledgement. Begin by recording your accomplishments in a journal. Starting now has three benefits: 1) You have time to ingrain your self-appreciation so that it still exists during the school year, 2) You’ll relish those pages when challenges are at a high, and 3) You can use your successes to stay inspired. Accomplishment #1 – You did the hard work to make it through last year!

2. QTIP

If you’ve ever had a negative interaction at school then you know the sting it leaves can become distracting, even make you lose a bit of your confident edge. To turn it around use the mantra “QTIP” (quit taking it personally). Doing so helps you depersonalize and maintain positivity. Practice this summer when someone steals your parking spot or cuts you off. Instead of getting caught up, say “QTIP” and move on to your vacation-time fun. Making this a habit will make it easier to stay inspired instead of being brought down by other people.

3. Remember your influence – to the north, south, east, and west

It can be common to feel powerless as a teacher, which often results in the unproductive blaming of others. Instead, as Tim Kanold eloquently suggests, consider how your “words and actions…impact those in your north, south, east and west spheres of influence”. In other words, look at the effort you put in to positively affect your bosses, colleagues, and mentees. Try it out this summer in your interactions with those you admire, those you take for granted, and those you believe are your equals. Take this time to build a practice of intentional impact. During the year you’ll feel more in control and inspired.

4. Fake it until you make it

It’s impossible to be an expert at everything a teacher does. However, that shouldn’t stop you from trying new ways of instructing. To move through the fear of not knowing exactly how to do something act as if you know what you’re doing, and do the best you can. Then keep practicing and searching for support. This summer, get in the groove of faking it until you make it by taking on something new, big or small. These experiences will help in the coming year as you inspire your own students to stretch their comfort zones.

5. Be proud of your career choice

Over the past few years there’s been a storm of political backlash against, and scapegoating of, teachers and public education. This can affect how you feel about your job. In the face of negativity it’s important to remember why you wanted to be a teacher in the first place. This summer, think about your story. What led you to this career? What would your elevator pitch be? Focus now on why you’re proud. Doing so will help you build an inspiring sense of self to share with your students and colleagues throughout the year.

Beginning Summer With Beginner’s Mind

Flower for Begining Summer with Beginner's MindImage found at https://flic.kr/p/eFPrAZAs

As I end this school-year, like many of you, I am asking myself: Have I really done all that I set out to do. Have I touched lives in the way I wanted to? Taken the chances worth taking? And although I’m wondering IF I’ve accomplished my goals, I’m also taking a look at WHY I want to. What is it that drew me to this career in the first place? Why is it that I will come back in the fall?

Of course there are obvious things like being a positive part of change, loving learning,  and working with amazing people. But there are many jobs that could give me this. Why education? In delving into this question I’ve come to realize that what sets teaching apart is its natural connection to beginner’s mind.

What is it that drew me to this career in the first place?

Why is it that I will come back in the fall? 

Why education?

Beginner’s mind is about having the wonder of the “first-time”, even when we are no longer novices. It is the hunger of possibility, even when we have traveled a path many times. It is a way of living into opportunity, even if we think we have experienced it all. When you meet someone with beginner’s mind they are wide-eyed with discovery, even if they are an expert. They bubble with the freedom of learning, although they already know so much.

Teaching is about creating the conditions of beginner’s mind.

Teaching is about creating the conditions of beginner’s mind. It’s how we add the wonder of learning to the drive for achievement. When we promote the safe space to be a novice, we promote beginner’s mind.  When we reframe mistakes as first steps, we shape beginner’s mind. And when we exude our own passion, we exemplify beginner’s mind.

At the end of the school year it is easy to find ourselves all out of beginner’s mind. Given the best of intentions, the course of the year can diminish our intrigue. The day-to-day routine can become mundane. After months of putting in so much effort, we may be just-plain-tired. In any of these situations it can be hard to see the world through inspired eyes.

Summer is the perfect opportunity to jump-start beginner’s mind. Here are three things to try to help you get back into your beginner’s mind:

  1. Do something new – Trying something new immediately puts us in a place of beginner’s mind because, realistically, we are beginners. Doing new things can be valuable whether big or small. You may hang-glide or just try a new coffee. You might call someone you have never hung out with, or just take a different route. Either way, notice the feeling of newness and discovery. What would it be like to bring this feeling to your routines during the school year?
  2. Start small Begin to think about your day-to-day experiences as if you were just having them for the first time. Remember the first flower you planted that bloomed? How about the first time you drove a car on your own? What about when you got a new pillow and had the best night of sleep ever? How about the first time you traveled somewhere new? Starting with small ways to view the world in a new light sets us on a larger path towards maintaining a mindset of inspiration. What would it be like to keep first-time excitement at the forefront of your mind all throughout the school year?
  3. Practice gratitude for the regular – Renewing our appreciation for things we have come to take for granted opens up space in our hearts and minds. When we take time to practice gratitude we build new mental habits, new neural-connections. Doing so gives us energy where we might otherwise feel drudgery (doing dishes again?). What would it be like to feel grateful for that one thing that happened again and again last year? Could gratitude give us power in those moments?

As you begin summer, I hope you’ll consider ways to conjure beginner’s mind. No matter if you are just starting your teaching career, or have long-standing experience, beginner’s mind can help keep your passion alive. To help myself, and get others thinking along these lines, I have posted this quote by my classroom door. Maybe you will too?

The person that inspired this post

Suzuki Roshi “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” 

The book that inspired this post

 Zen Mind Beginner's Mind