How to approach teaching with a spirit of adventure

EP08: Don’t let the hard parts of teaching steal your sense of accomplishment and keep you from recognizing the magnitude of the awesome work you’re doing. Learn how to push through the fear of failure and constant distractions to experience the adventure of watching your students learn and grow.

This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunes to get new episodes right away.

A big thank you to this episode’s sponsor, SnapLearning. SnapLearning is a provider of fantastic digital reading resources, including materials for close reading. You can get a free demo of the product at snaplearning.co.

We have a rather unusual topic for this week: how to approach teaching as an adventure. I’m guessing that’s something you haven’t really heard of or thought about before.

But this is a message I’m really passionate about sharing, particularly after I do professional development in a school or speak at a conference. That’s because those tend to be moments when teachers are on a bit of an emotional high. When you’ve just heard a really inspirational message or have a lot of new ideas to take into the classroom, you get really fired up and you feel ready for anything. I hope you feel that away sometimes after listening to certain episodes of this podcast.

But here’s what happens afterwards. You step foot back into your classroom on Monday morning and reality comes crashing down on you. Your work starts to feel monotonous or unrewarding again, or you start feeling discouraged and overwhelmed when another new problem crops up. Everything you learned and everything that motivated you goes right out the window and you slip back into survival mode and those same old habits.

Here’s what I want you to do when any of that stuff happens. I want you to think of teaching as an adventure.

What is an adventure, to you personally? Skydiving? Exploring a new city you’ve never been to before? Showing up to an outlet mall with $100?

There are three elements of adventure that I want you to remember. The first is that every adventure involves the unknown. There is no adventure without an uncertain outcome–by very definition, you can’t be certain about what’s going to happen during an adventure. That’s what makes them so exciting and fun. If your work in the classroom is feeling monotonous and boring, that probably means you’re not taking any risks.

A feeling of monotony is a sign that you are embracing only the known and attempting to avoid the unfamiliar and uncomfortable at all costs. You’re sticking to the same old teaching strategies and getting the same old results and it feels boring after awhile. It’s time to shake things up, take a risk, try something new and unknown.

Don’t let the hard parts of teaching steal your sense of accomplishment and keep you from recognizing the magnitude of the awesome work you’re doing. Learn how to push through the fear of failure and constant distractions to experience the adventure of watching your students learn and grow.

Or maybe your problem isn’t monotony, it’s frustration. Maybe you’re showing up to school with your game face on and then five minutes into your day, you’re discouraged again. That means you’re letting the unexpected knock you off your game. So again, you need to embrace the unpredictable and unknown.

Everything that happens to you in school, no matter how frustrating or time-consuming or seemingly pointless, can actually be an opportunity to work toward your vision, to learn something new, to improve your teaching practice and your relationships with students.

So every adventure involves risk-taking and the unknown. The secret to making teaching feel like an adventure is to embrace that risk and the unpredictability of it all, and view that as part of the adventure of being a teacher.

How to see teaching as an adventure

The second aspect of adventures is that they also involve the possibility of failure. There is a good chance things will not turn out the way you planned. They might be better, they might be worse. Woody Allen said, “If you’re not failing every now and then, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

Don’t be afraid to try something and have it fail spectacularly and blow up in your face. It is GOOD for your students to see your mistakes AND how you learn from them. Model for students how to embrace unexpected change and new challenges, how to rebound from failures, how to learn from the things that didn’t go right. Have a positive attitude about it: failure is how we learn.

The third aspect of adventures that I want to share with you is this: every adventure involves something that is not fun. You might have to save up money for it, you might be really really tired afterward, or have to travel a long way to get there.

My mom always asks me how I can stand to fly so much to speak to teachers. I’m like, “Mom, no one likes flying. I don’t like flying.” I like being in awesome places. It’s worth it to be uncomfortable for a little while in order to experience something really cool.

There are parts of the process that you just endure because you want the adventure. In teaching, you’ve gotta endure the paperwork and the testing and behavioral issues and meetings and all of that not fun stuff to get to the adventure of seeing your students learn and grow. You just buckle down and get through the rest because you know on the other side of it is something worth all the effort and expense and inconvenience and discomfort.

Watching kids learn is one of the greatest adventures you’ll ever have. You have the privilege of seeing light bulb moments on a daily basis. You get to see emotional breakthroughs that kids make, and watch them experience developmental milestones. You get to leave work each day knowing that there are children whose lives are better now than they were this morning, knowing that there are kids who are smarter now than they were a few hours ago, who are becoming better readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and more all because of the hard work that you put in.

How to approach teaching as an adventure

Don’t let the hard parts of the job steal your sense of accomplishment and keep you from recognizing the magnitude of the job you’re doing. Don’t let fear of the unknown shake your confidence–we never know what’s going to come out of a kid’s mouth, or what’s going to happen each day in the classroom, and that’s not a problem, that’s part of what makes it fun!

Never be afraid to go on the adventure of helping kids learn and grow. Your failures and theirs are an important part of the journey.

I’d like to leave you with a motivational quote for the week ahead that I call the Takeaway Truth. This week’s quote is from Roberto Assagioli, who said: “There is no certainty; there is only adventure.”

You never know what’s going to happen when you walk into your classroom in the morning. And rather than try to control every variable and create certainty where it’s impossible, I encourage you to embrace the adventure. Embrace the unknown, embrace the possibility of failure, embrace parts that aren’t fun, and choose to view teaching as an adventure.

Next week: How to avoid discouragement in a thankless job

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go!  A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Felicia Sheedy February 8, 2015 at 6:21 pm

This was an inspirational message! As an assistant principal, I am honored to pass your energy and passion on to our staff! Thanks for reminding us all why we went into education! You are an inspiration! Thank you!!! We can never have too much adventure in our lives!

Reply

2 Angela Watson February 9, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Hi, Felicia, thanks for taking the time to share that. It really means a lot. I also appreciate you passing the info along to your staff. Teachers NEED school leaders who inspire their staff. You are an inspiration, as well!

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3 Rebecca Tabb February 9, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Yes, yes, yes. This happened to me over the summer. I read a lot of inspirational things and read good books and had a ton of great ideas and when the school year started I felt like I went very quickly into “Scrooge mode” because students weren’t doing what I wanted, procedures took a long time to practice, etc. etc. etc. I have been on maternity leave the last 12 weeks and I am going back next week. I am super psyched because I want to do a lot of activities with Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, World Book Day, World Read Aloud Day, etc. that is all happening the first week in March. Hopefully having a little fun project to look forward to will help me keep my energy up in the classroom. I am such a Type-A, productive, To-Do list junkie and I totally forget to make memories with my kids and just do FUN stuff.

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4 Angela Watson February 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

Congrats on your newborn! How exciting. And how awesome that you have some great activities planned for your class when you return. I think creating fun things to look forward to in the classroom will help ease the transition for you. :)

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5 Valerie February 10, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Such an inspirational post! I think so many times we, as educators, are afraid of teaching outside the box or changing our teaching methods because it might not work. Like we tell our students every day, we won’t succeed unless we try first. I love the quote about the secret of teaching. I’m going to print it out for my desk! When I was a student, I always remember the teachers who went out of their way to make learning fun and have us participate in learning events.

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6 Angela Watson February 12, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Great reflections, Valerie–thank you for sharing! You’re so right that we have to practice what we preach to our students!

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7 Kathy August 1, 2015 at 10:36 am

Thanks! I needed the reminder that failure is okay. I am embarking on a huge adventure this school year. Moving from elementary third grade to preschool. My goals sure have shifted over the last thirteen years of my teaching journey! One reality I can relate to: When you feel stagnated making a grade level change will shake up your perspective and brings much personal and professional growth!

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8 Tina Dalton June 5, 2016 at 9:05 pm

This was very informational. Loved it

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