Last week, I shared 10 growth mindset shifts to help you enjoy teaching more, and gave examples of negative, fixed mindset thoughts that can be reframed into something that helps you perceive your job as less stressful and more meaningful.
This week, I want to go deeper with that, and talk to you about how the story you tell yourself about teaching is probably not true, and ways you can choose to see things differently. You can reframe your work to recognize and appreciate what a tremendously important job you are doing every single minute of the day.
Do you think you wasted the last 15 minutes tying shoes and zipping coats? No, you smiled at each of your students as you bundled them up to protect them from the cold. That might be the most loving, nurturing gesture some of those kids got all day.
Do you think you just lost an entire afternoon to a pointless data chat meeting? No, you got to step back and look at all the hard work you did compiling and analyzing information over the past week. You got to see all the evidence of just how well you really know your students, and you got to learn even more information that is going to empower you to take your kids to the next level tomorrow. Who cares if your principal’s attitude made the meeting miserable? Look at what you did! Look how ready you are to meet your students’ needs because of your hard work! Don’t let anyone take that away from you!
Do you think you just taught a developmentally inappropriate learning standard that less than half your class of 30 kids truly understood? No, you helped 12 kids meet an incredibly difficult objective. 12 different kids, all at the same time! And you planted a seed for another dozen kids who are now a few steps closer to understanding the concept when you re-teach tomorrow.
This is not overly optimistic thinking—this is realistic thinking. It’s reality. This is exactly what you did. The difference is in the story you tell yourself about teaching.
The story you tell yourself is how you experience life, and you have to line up your mindset with positive habits in order to make them stick. This is why most New Year’s resolutions don’t work: people choose new actions, but keep telling themselves the same old discouraging stories. The old mindset does not support the new habits, and the mindset is far more powerful.
If you keep telling yourself that your job is too demanding and you’ll never be able to keep up with it all, that will continue to be the story of your life, and the attempts you make to change won’t last very long.
If you keep telling yourself it’s impossible to have any time or energy for your own kids and family, that is the story you are destined to live. You might try to implement some family‐first ideas, but your mindset will keep pulling you back to that same story and old patterns of behavior.
Here’s the good news: you can re‐write those stories about how you are helpless and powerless, and start telling yourself that you can change things that are not working in your life. You can write an empowering story that you will enjoy living. Your new story will be grounded in the same reality and facts as the original story. It’s just interpreted differently. It’s written in a way to produce feelings of empowerment rather than discouragement. It’s designed to let go of old, unproductive ideas about teaching and replace them with the mindset that you are completely capable of thriving in any situation.
For each new story you write, you can choose a new habit, as well. This habit will reinforce your new story and help make it a reality. Over time, you can add more habits to support your new story and create the life you want to live.
Here are some examples of stories you might currently be telling yourself, along with a new story and habit to change it:
I can’t have fun with my students because there’s no time for it.
New story: I create daily routines that make learning fun for me and my students.
New habit: Use the 30 second dance party to celebrate kids’ work.
My district makes it impossible for me to teach the way I want to.
New story: I choose to exercise my freedom and creativity every chance I get.
New habit: Find one fun new teaching strategy for each unit I teach.
I can’t feel good about myself when I’m being evaluated unfairly.
New story: I know my own worth and define success for myself.
New habit: Repeat my vision every day before and after work.
I can’t keep a good attitude because I’m surrounded by negativity.
New story: I choose to seek out people who inspire and uplift me.
New habit: Join a Facebook group for positive teachers who enjoy sharing ideas.
I donʹt have time for getting the sleep I need.
New story: I make time for sleep because I know it creates more energy the next day.
New habit: Go to bed at 11 pm every night, regardless of what’s done or not done.
Every time you find yourself thinking along the lines of your old story, stop and replace it with the new one which is an empowering truth. Repeat the story you want to live and practice the new habit with intention on a daily basis. This will retrain your mind to internalize the new story and make it a natural part of your life in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Once you successfully put your new habit in place and your new story starts to become your default thought pattern, you will realize just how simple the process of re‐writing your teaching story can be. Your initial success will give you confidence in the process and yourself. The new story will start popping into your head automatically and you will see more opportunities for habits that support that story.
When you feel ready, stack another habit on top of the old one. For example, if your new story is that you can thrive as a teacher no matter what kind of leadership your principal provides, your first new habit might be related to taking charge of your own professional development. You might choose to learn about a topic that you’re interested in, despite a lack of support from your principal.
Once you’ve successfully created that habit, keep repeating the new story about thriving no matter what, and stack another habit on top, perhaps finding a mentor for yourself so that you can hear positive and constructive feedback on your teaching. Later, you might add a habit of meeting with your grade level team once a week during lunch to share what’s working. These habits, once accumulated, bring your new story to reality.
You can also begin tackling more stories. Maybe your other big problem is that you’ve convinced yourself you’ll never be able to find the time, energy, or money to do things you enjoy. So, write your new story: I make time for the things that matter most to me, and I am a priority in my own life.
Create and implement one habit related to the new story, such as reading something you enjoy from 10:15‐10:30 pm every night. Then stack another habit on top: going out for happy hour with friends once a month. Stack another habit on top of that: going to a yoga class two times a week, or joining a club centered around that hobby you’ve always wanted to pursue.
Before you know it—often within only a week or two–you will find yourself beginning to live out your new story. As you stack more habits, you will start to see major changes in your energy level, productivity, and satisfaction with work and life in general. Your new, positive story will become part of your natural way of thinking, and your new habits will ensure that your lifestyle is aligned with that.
You see, you can’t allow lies about teaching to permeate your perspective. You show up, day after day, and work these little miracles with kids all day long without even realizing you’re doing it. You’re probably so focused on everything you didn’t do that you don’t realize how much you’ve actually accomplished.
I am urging you—stop for a moment. Be present. See what you are doing. Really, truly, see it.
To help you with this and to connect you with other teachers who are trying to do the same thing, I’m going to be running a free online book club for my book Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day…No Matter What in February.
This group + the book will help you re-write the story you tell yourself about teaching so you can weed out those lies and replace them with the truth.
The discussions will be held in the same private Facebook group as our club from the summertime, which means there are already 2,500 supportive, knowledgeable teachers in the group who are sharing advice and encouraging one another. eBook versions of Unshakeable are available right on my website and both print copies and eBook versions can be purchased on Amazon so you can start reading right away.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 10-15 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section!
Next week: How to support kids who don’t take ownership of their learning
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