I was searching for one of my old blog posts, and I found this one titled, “3 Reminders for the Beginning of the School Year” from 2018. I feel a lot of the ideas apply, but I want to modify them a bit for the beginning of the 2020 school year. Here is a little bit of a remix of that previous post.
As well, I recorded this accompanying podcast sharing these and other ideas. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Soundcloud.
One of my favorite quotes and ideas is one that I try to live by, from the famous Jim Valvano speech at the first ESPY awards. It is probably my favorite speech ever.
If you think of the last few months in 2020, for me, the crying part has come pretty easy! The “think” part is on full display, with all of the changes being created by educators to serve their kids best. I hope that we can find those moments to laugh and smile each day.
Even through isolation, connection to one another has significantly been essential, and I have watched many be more present with family and colleagues taking part more in “Zoom” happy hours to enjoy one another in any way possible. Connection matters with both our colleagues and our students.
As we enter the 2020 school year with so much uncertainty (or are in the middle of it depending on where you teach in the world) of how it will even look from day-to-day, here are a few reminders for the school year.
1. For some students, school is their happy place, and they missed their happy place.
I have seen countless videos of students sharing how surprised they are by how much they miss school. Not just the interactions with their friends, but also being around teachers that cared for and challenged them, even though they might not have realized how much they appreciated it at the moment.
Not all schools are returning to a face-to-face setting, though, and I have watched educators spend a ton of their own time to figure out ways to get to know their students in meaningful ways through technology, to the point where students have been staying late to interact with their teachers!
In the past few years, I have met students from all over the world, and they have inspired me with stories of perseverance and thriving through tremendous adversity. The adversity that I do not think I could have dealt with as a child. On the first day of school, many teachers, myself included, would focus on the “rules” of the classroom. Later in my career, I focused more on relationship building and creating a joyous but challenging environment in the first week more than I did on “rules.” This continued throughout the year. This doesn’t mean “school” should always be “fun,” but it is way easier to struggle in an environment that you enjoy being a part of than one you hate coming to every single day.
For some students, school is one of the most joyous places they go to in a day. If we keep that in mind and try to create that joy in learning, it is much easier to do the hard work of learning.
2. No matter how happy (or sad) your colleagues or students seem, don’t hesitate to share a kind word or action.
You never know what anyone is going through so if you think of something nice about a person, say it. Don’t ever let an opportunity pass to make someone’s day.
— George Couros (@gcouros) July 26, 2018
It is pretty natural to see someone as positive and happy and believe that they don’t need recognition or a kind word. It is often expected that some of the people we see as the most optimistic are still fighting battles that we do not understand.
Online, it is even easier to share a snarky or condescending comment to someone that may be one minute of your time but can ruin their entire day. Without the visibility of social cues we have in face-to-face settings, we often do not see the impact of our words, so I try my best to always err on the side of positive.
Going out of your way to share a kind word, saying hi in the hallway (always) or in a zoom call, or showing appreciation for great work, can make a world of difference. Displaying kindness can take seconds but can make someone’s whole day.
Assume that there is something you can do to make another person’s day better, and you probably will.
3. Give everyone a new beginning.We know that kids should always start every single day with a new beginning. Things may have happened in the past, but if a school is a place where we are supposed to grow, we need to give our students a fresh start so that they can step into that growth. As a principal, I remember having to suspend students, and when they would come back to school, the first thing I focused on was talking to them as a person, not focusing on the negative action. I wanted to make sure that they knew that although they made a mistake, they were a valued part of our community and that we were excited for them to be back and making a positive contribution to our environment. It made a difference for myself and, hopefully, our students.
But do not reserve the “fresh beginning” for students. Staff can get pigeon-holed, and the only way they can get a new start is if they leave or a new administrator enters the building. Expect your colleagues to impress you, and most often, they will. I am not going to pretend this is easy, but I will say it is essential. The “fresh start” should not be reserved only for your students.
Also, a fresh start every day should not only be limited to others but also yourself.
I wrote about this in “Innovate Inside the Box “:
Understand that some days will not work out the way you want them to, so it is okay to start again tomorrow.
I have had bad days as a teacher and administrator and as a human. You can go home and cry (you will sometimes) and be frustrated, but there is always the next day. You will not have to get the most out of every kid, every single day.
Think of it this way: If one of your students has a bad day, would you push them to stay at school until the day turned “good”? Or would you perhaps encourage them to step back and start again tomorrow? The ability to “get back up” is something we want to teach our kids, so it is okay to do the same.
Sometimes walking away, taking a break, doing something else, and starting again tomorrow is the best thing to do.
Give yourself the same grace you would give others.
As we enter the new school year, this will be one that students always remember. Thank you for all that you do to ensure it will be one that we can look back on in a positive way.
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