This week on the Truth for Teachers podcast: How can a teacher stay optimistic and focused despite low school morale?
Every couple of episodes on this season on the Truth for Teachers podcast, I’m going to be featuring coaching calls. I’m answering teachers’ specific questions about productivity, balance, and managing it all. Think of it as instructional coaching and life coaching rolled into one–and you get to listen in!
The teachers you’ll hear me talk with have completed their year in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and are now enrolled in the graduate program. This means they already have lots of insight as to how to be intentional about their time and their teaching, and are ready to take streamlining to the next level.
Today I’m going to let you listen in on a coaching call I did with a 3rd grade teacher named Daniele. Like all the teachers I’m conducting these free coaching calls with, Daniele completed a year in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and has a really good understanding of how to be intentional in her teaching and maintain a positive, productive mindset.
However, as we progressed through the conversation, it became clear she’s dealing with a whole lot of things that are completely out of her control, things that are increasing her workload and stress level exponentially.
About halfway through the call, I think we got to the real heart of the issue, which is that morale at the school is really faltering right now and it’s incredibly hard to hold onto hope every day and keep doing the work when the school climate is filled with a constant low-grade anxiety.
Daniele’s given me permission to record our conversation and share it here with you so that if these are issues you’re facing in your school, hopefully our thoughts will give you some encouragement.
Click the player above to listen to our conversation.
A summary of Daniele’s questions and my responses are below.
Sometimes I get caught up on how “unfair” it all is – the inequity between schools, the implementation of processes like RTI, people not pulling their fair share of the load, etc. How can I get out of this negativity trap?
- Be intentional about focusing on the positive. Practice gratitude daily. You have to train yourself to see the good — it will not come naturally to many people. But what you give your attention to, you get more of.
- Practice focusing on the things you CAN control. Look for the ways that you do have authority and influence and exercise them.
- Evaluate your thoughts on the basis whether they are helpful to you and letting them go if they are not. So when the negativity comes in, you can choose not to hold onto those negative thoughts and let them go, turn your attention and mental energy to something else. Sometimes that’s fairly easy and other times it’s very hard, particularly when the negativity is valid and warranted. But you need to practice letting it go. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to stay stuck on those negative thoughts and then intentionally replace them with something positive and action-oriented.
This winter seems like a season of sacrifice, and I totally wasn’t prepared. My school is facing a lot of challenges and placing a lot of demands on my time. What can I do to transition into a more accepting mindset?
- Life comes at us fast sometimes and it only takes one phone call with bad news or something to throw our entire lives off kilter for week or months or years. So what you’re asking is about transitioning into a more accepting mindset, of coming to terms with the fact that this is what life is for you right now.
- We tend to show far more grace to other people than we do ourselves. So notice your self-talk, your internal dialogue. Be kind and gentle.
- Remind yourself that this is not going to last forever. We tend to get into this pessimistic, permanent way of thinking where things are bad or hard right now and we don’t see a way out, so that must mean they’re going to stay that way for a long time. The truth is that life can change for better or worse at any time.
Holding onto hope is one of the hardest parts for me, especially now. I teach in a high-poverty school that is primarily Latino, and everyone’s feeling very unsettled and unstable after the election. My students are facing so many obstacles–how do I stay optimistic for them?
- Sometimes all it takes is just being there for the kids, listening to their fears. In many cases teachers CAN’T say very much. But you can listen.
- You can make sure they don’t feel alone or unheard. You can amplify your student’s voices and allow them to make themselves heard beyond just the four walls of the classroom, too.
- Model resilience. Model how to recover from setbacks. Point out when they do the same thing so they realize they have those skills, too. You’re reinforcing these concepts just by the way you interact with your students each day and the classroom culture you create.
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 15-20 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead.
This episode is sponsored by TheTeacherToolkit.com, a free website with over 60 teaching tools designed to help make your instruction engaging and meaningful. For each strategy, you’ll find step-by-step instructions, editable templates, and even video footage from real classrooms to show you the strategy in action. To check out these free tools and the growing collection of affordable online courses, visit TheTeacherToolkit.com.