The school year is behind us. So many things went well; some things you might wish to forget. Sadly, many teachers find that their amazing accomplishments from the past year remain unacknowledged, or worse, unnoticed.
Here are five simple things teachers might consider doing this year in order to overcome feeling underappreciated.
1. Create, build, and maintain your virtual learning communities (VLC). Three years ago, my supervisor suggested I explore and experiment with Twitter. I opened an account, but didn’t know where to start. I lurked and only followed people I knew personally. Six months later, I finally engaged in my first Twitter chat. I thought my brain would explode from all of the concentrated thoughts expressed in 140 characters or less. Now I believe I have learned more online in the last two years than in 30 years of school-based professional-development sessions. Narrow down your interests and find your Twitter “tribe.” (See teacher Brianna Crowley’s video guide, “Twitter for Teacher Leaders” and follow her on Twitter @AkaMsCrowley.)
Another VLC to engage with is the Center for Teaching Quality’s Collaboratory. You can exchange ideas, receive training, subscribe to a variety of blogs, and participate in real-time chats and asynchronous postings.
For face-to-face tribes, you might consider starting a book club or actively collaborating with peers. Learning in a group increases self-confidence and recharges your batteries, while simultaneously increasing your teaching efficacy. It’s like the rule for airplane passengers: “Put your oxygen mask on before helping others.” It really doesn’t matter how you engage with others; what matters most is standing together.
For more information on VLCs, check out Jessica Cuthbertson’s article for Education Week Teacher, “How Teachers Can Benefit From Virtual Learning Communities.”
2. Remind yourself of the “wins.” With regularity, take some time alone—or with a critical friend—to reflect upon your practice. You might consider recording your thoughts in a journal or in the form of a personal blog.
What went well? Be specific and cite evidence. Recognize the small wins and the major victories. For example, one student went from plagiarizing her writing assignments to finding her own voice. When I read her last paper, I could almost hear her voice reading it to me.
What were your challenges? Point out events which caused you the greatest concern. The majority of my time spent “putting out fires” revolved around plagiarism. I had given students specific directions regarding presenting the work of others as their own, but that was insufficient in the eyes of the administration. At that moment it would have been easy to default into blame mode. However, the easiest path is seldom the best. It is often prudent to center your attention only on what is in your control.
How did you overcome the challenges? In my case, I agreed to construct clear writing procedure modules for students entering my class. I inserted them into my Google Classroom page using examples ranging from the lawsuit over Led Zeppelin’s song “Stairway to Heaven” to the recent controversy regarding similarities between political spouses’ speeches. Students need to complete these modules prior to beginning their coursework.
Be sure to include non-school events as “wins.” For example, the highlight of my spring break was celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary. Since I keep family photos in the classroom, my high school students are always curious about my spouse and kids. I was able to share my story and genuinely dialogue with them about their own special events—these relationship-building moments build classroom trust.
By reflecting accurately upon your wins, challenges, and next steps, you can intentionally orchestrate your professional growth.
3. Add positive books to your reading list. Similar to eating healthy foods, reading the “right” books can provide affirmation by recognizing the amazing things you already do. Additionally, you can think about how more amazing you will become. Your VLCs, friends, and colleagues are your best sources for book recommendations. Reading positive books, in addition to increasing your educator self-esteem, may also provide a solid framework on which to grow your professional practice.
4. Attend a workshop, conference, or institute. Fewer things are more invigorating than professional discourse. Invest in your growth as a teacher by attending one of many available conferences. Be sure to think about what interests you and dream big. Personally, I was invited to the 2016 Future of Learning Institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I did not pretend to be “wicked smart,” but Harvard accepted my application for two reasons. The first is that I applied. The second was that I was able to articulate a personal-learning need aligned with their purposes. Always remember you know the needs of students better than non-practitioners! Some school districts have funds available to support teachers attending events. If funding isn’t available from your employer, consider requesting financial aid from the institution, apply for a grant, or even engage in crowdfunding. Do whatever it takes; you are worth it!
If travel isn’t an option, you can still engage in quality learning opportunities individually or as a group. The ASCD, The Alliance for Excellent Education, and others periodically offer free webinars. You can participate in “live” webinars or view recordings of relevant webinars later.
5. Become the leader you want to be. Classroom teachers are the most important resource in the current educational reform movements. We see the needs, have a sense of what will work, and have bold ideas of how to do things better. Focus on one thing you would do to make teaching better and share it with your VLC. Take every opportunity you can to talk about it. Share your idea with administration. Don’t let a lack of funding slow you down. Submit your idea to the U.S. Department of Education’s Teach to Lead, apply for a NEA Foundation Grant, try to crowdsource financial support through a site like GoFundMe, or search for other funding sources within your realm of influence to support your idea.
This list is in no way exhaustive. There are many things you can do in your school, district, and community. The point is that the most important change agents are the teachers. We are the preeminent and, ironically, the least utilized resource for school reform and transformation. We have the heart, the experience, the wisdom, and the access to create the educational opportunities America’s children need and deserve. Instead of feeling unappreciated, you can focus your energy on self-empowerment to do the world’s most important work. Teachers, we’ve got this.