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September 7, 2018

Back to School "Hard Routine"

Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Andy Williams’ iconic Christmas carol just seems to ring in my ears every time back to school time rolls around. Partly due to a Staples commercial that used to run every year around this time but also because, while I was a teacher, I would be getting fired up to enter my new classes with new ideas, gear and energy.

Every teacher has their own special place to get their head in the game after sipping cocktails and avoiding anything that resembles report cards for two months. I liken it to the “hard routine” that the famous S.A.S., the U.K.’s premier special forces unit, would do on an operation. It requires laser focus, discipline and perseverance; there’s no room for self-indulgence, selfishness or distraction. Although a class full of hyperactive 7th graders isn’t exactly a hostile enemy force, going into that first day unprepared will surely result in mission failure. As the S.A.S. would say:

"Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail"

So what to do? Any teacher with a few years under their belt can usually confidently stroll into the year with their “hard routine” well established but there are those first year teachers and those on new contracts with four or five new preps that are now in the midst of their own new battlefield. Whether you’re the former or latter teacher this year, here are some strategies to employ for mission success:

Define your Situation

Defining your situation gives you a big picture perspective of what you’re facing this upcoming year.

  • Example: I’m teaching 7, 9, 10th grade science; I coach the senior football team and I’m running an extra-curricular urban gardening club. The school has implemented new Learning Management Software (LMS) and the budget has been cut for science department.
What is your Mission?

The best advice here is “Stay in Your Lane”. What do I mean by that? Don’t try and fix issues that are above your level of competence or pay. You can’t fix the school budgetary issues, nor can you change the current tech policy - embrace it! Change what you can control and forget the rest. And don’t forget your KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

  • Example: This year I will teach all of my classes using all the digital applications available, to the best of my ability, and I will ensure that my extracurriculars are well managed and bring me happiness.
How are you going to Execute?

The big HOW. This is crucial. Use what techniques and procedures you already know, learn to perfect them in the process. Breaking this down into smaller phases may help.

  • Example: The main effort for this year will be teaching my classes using digital applications in order to increase efficiency and reduce time spent on corrections and parent communication.
    • Phase 1 - Familiarize myself with any new applications and develop a rollout strategy for my classes and extracurriculars
    • Phase 2 - Rollout to students on day 1
    • Phase 3 - Observe, manage and readjust
What are you using for Support?

This includes everything that gets you to achieve your mission from apps and tech to family and friends. Refresh your list of things you can be using. I’ve attached a list here from TeachHub.

  • Some other examples include:
    • A digital planner and project manager such as Studyo
    • A means of acquiring immediate feedback from students at the end of lessons and evaluations. I liked using Socrative and Google Classroom.

Going into the new school year with a solid plan will keep the stress levels low and the focus high. Refer back to your plan when things get tough and remember that your students need your guidance and support. Take the time to refocus, periodically, so that your school year takes less of a toll on your morale and effectiveness.

And remember...

Teach Hard!