Six Phrases that Will Change the Energy in Your Classroom
Most educators today are familiar with or have actively engaged in the teachings of Carol Dweck's Mindset. There are so many facets to her research, but the power of the word "yet" is one of the main components of transforming a "fixed mindset" to a "growth mindset." For example, if you say "I can't do this," you have a fixed mindset and will probably give up and never learn to do it. You will believe you are not capable of the skill or concept, and that will become your truth. However, if you say "I can't do this yet, but I will try," you will give yourself the momentum to get through any obstacles to learn the concept or develop the skill you wish to acquire. This is true in your own learning and the learning of your students. If you have not read about Dweck's Mindset research, I highly recommend it for your own growth and the growth of your students. In addition to using the power of the word "yet," I want to introduce you to six more phrases that can foster a growth mindset, and bring positive energy to your classroom.
Instead of focusing on circumstances that are out of your control, focus on what you can control. As educators, we hear many heartbreaking and terrifying stories about what some of our students have to endure. Instead of saying "I don't know what I can do to help" or "How can I expect them to care about school when they have this going on at home," start thinking about what you can control. You probably already have started making a positive impact on your students just by developing a warm, welcoming and accepting classroom culture. Keep this energy going by focusing on the environment you create instead of what is happening outside of the school boundaries. To do this, it is important to use "I can" statements when you think or have discussions about your students who have a challenging home life. Start by saying, "I can make a difference for this child today just by smiling at them and letting them know I am happy they are here," or "I can provide a place for my students to feel safe and welcome during the hours they are with me." This is just one example of how you can change "I can't" to "I can." The power of "I can" actually works with anything you find yourself thinking you can't do. Believe in yourself, and remember, there is so much more you can do than you can't do.
This statement is very important because, as teachers, we make choices for ourselves and our students multiple times a day. You might find yourself saying "I should be moving on to the next lesson because I am getting behind on curriculum pacing." This thought will only bring on an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, and you will find yourself less engaged in the content you are teaching because you feel the need to move on. Instead, you should be telling yourself "I choose to slow down and reteach this lesson because that is what my students need right now." Using "I choose" puts you in control of your choice and forces you to take action. Using the phrase "I should" makes your actions less definite and takes the power away from you and gives it to an unknown variable. It is very important for you to stay deliberate in your actions and know the decisions you make for yourself and your students are your choice.
Every morning before you go to work, remember the things that bring you joy as a teacher. The "a-ha" moments, the excitement of a new lesson, the smiles and hugs you receive on a daily basis, or even the beautiful chaos dismissal brings—whatever it is that makes you want to go to work. Most of us became teachers because we are passionate about education and we wanted to make a difference in the world. Use the passion from your core beliefs about why education is so important to fuel your energy each day. Channeling these emotions will help you fall in love with teaching again, and teachers who love their work create fun and positive learning environments for their students.
You don't have to have a beautiful "Pinterest" classroom to be a creative teacher. Teachers are naturally creative in so many ways. So, instead of saying "I'm not sure how I am going to teach this," say "I know how to create engaging and effective lessons." You have been creating lessons since before you were a teacher. Creating opportunities for your students to engage in the content and grow from experience is what you were trained to do. Of course, there will be obstacles to overcome in the curriculum you are required to teach and creating learning experiences to meet those requirements can be challenging. When faced with this dilemma, just take a moment to look back at all the amazing things you have created as a teacher and reflect on what really worked. As you do this, you will start to get inspired and your brain won't be able to help itself. It will just get to work on creating the lesson you are struggling with.
Also, remember you don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of resources at your disposal if you are just willing to use your fingertips and google search. Using the ideas of other teachers only makes you stronger because you can find different ways to present content while still making the tweaks you need to meet the needs of your students. You are a teacher, you are creative, you got this!
Love is the most powerful emotion there is, and when you teach from a place of love, it's almost impossible to fail. So, instead of saying "I wish," try saying "I love" instead. For example, "I wish I had a smaller class size—thirty students makes it too hard to differentiate and meet all of their individual needs." Large class sizes do come with their own challenges, but instead of focusing on what you can't control, try loving it instead. Try thinking things like "I love all of my students and I only get this unique group for one year, so I am going to give them everything I have," or "I love my job and a good challenge. I have overcome obstacles before, and I can't wait to see what I create this time around." Whatever the challenge is, come at it from a place of love and you will see how amazing you can be.
You will come across students who make it harder to love them too. This is when it is so important to replace "I wish" or "I can't" with the words "I love," such as changing "I wish she would follow the direction just once," to "I love how she is at school today and I am going to keep giving her directions regardless of whether she chooses to follow them or not because I will not give up on her." Students know when you don't like them, and sometimes it can be hard to find something to love. However, if all your students know you love them, it will be so much easier than if they feel like they are disliked and not welcome. There is always something you can find to love about a child (yes, even those adolescent, pre-teen, fantastically sarcastic middle schoolers), so take the time to write to each of your students to let them know the positive you see in them. This activity will help you recognize what you do love about them, and it will show them how much you care.
This is the statement you get to use to celebrate yourself. I love this one because as teachers, we all bring unique strengths and talents to the table. Focus on what you are fantastic at and remember to bring that into the classroom as often as you can. You only get these kids for one year, and they need to learn from you. Children spend thirteen years in school and they will be exposed to so many fabulous teachers who will make an impact on them in different ways. You need to be authentically yourself, so you can share with your students the amazing things you are good at for the short time you have them.
For example, if you are amazing at project-based learning where students are actively engaged in the content through projects you have created, you need to own that and integrate it into your instruction as often as possible, because the teacher they get next year might have a strength in direct instruction, but does not do any project-based learning. Use what you are great at to make sure your students get the best of you while they have you.
Choosing the right words can make a huge difference in how you feel about your job. Teacher burnout is a real thing, and there are changes that need to be made at a higher level, but honestly, you have the power to keep yourself from burning out just by changing the dialogue you use to describe your life as a teacher. These six phrases help create a confident vibe within you and trust me when I say that vibe is contagious. Changing your inner dialogue will not only help you change your mindset, but it will also help you create a positive environment that your students, co-workers, and administrators can't help but notice.