Why is October referred to as the month of the “teaching blues? Why is this month so difficult, especially for beginning teachers? What makes school and district leaders feel so overwhelmed? What happens to cause overload, frustration and most importantly, zap that energy that happened when the pencils were newly sharpened?
Teaching is hard. Let’s not ignore this fact. Working every day to inspire, engage, support, encourage and create learning opportunities for every student is hard work. Building relationships, making connections and balancing all of this with the demands of curriculum and assessment expectations can take its toll. As the year progresses, the demands increase and the reality of this demanding work is felt in every hallway and classroom. Especially, when this is a new experience.
In a conversation this week with a school principal (Ross) we talked about how he could support his new principals. In his school of sixty teachers, fifteen of them are new teachers and for the first time this school year, he feels that they are struggling to find the balance of all that is expected. We talked a great deal about going back to the basics and really looking at the systems and practices in the school that might be causing some of the overwhelm and how to best keep distractors away from the teachers.
Ross knows that he has to continue to build a culture of trust at his school and he is working hard to do that. He communicates clear expectations for his staff and students and he asks staff (authentically) for their input. When I started coaching Ross, he admitted that he struggled with explaining the why of decisions and actions and spent too much time assuming that others understood why things were happening in his school. He is working on his listening skills and I reminded him that October might be a great time to take the pulse of the staff? Find out what is causing the lack of energy he is feeling in the building and actually talk about the struggles that are real to the teachers.
One thing that I often see in schools this time of year is a lack of confidence in our practices. I notice that leaders and teachers seem to question their own abilities more frequently when they are tired and overwhelmed. Continuing to build our own sense of competency is necessary. How do we do this when being busy is taking on a life of its own? It is important to accept that we can’t do it all and we have to prioritize what is truly important. What does this look like in a school?
I always see a level of confidence and belief in oneself improve when we focus on a few things and celebrate our accomplishments around these few things. For example, if you are a school principal reading this, when was the last time that you took time to check in on your priorities? What are you doing to be accountable for what you said, at the first of the year, would be the most important things to accomplish this year? Have you celebrated? Is it time to refocus?
Personally, it seems to take New Year’s Resolutions for me to reset my priorities and get focused on the important things in my life. Maybe October is our New Year’s in education… a great time to look at what we can do, what we can’t do and what we have to do. Current reality and focused, intentional actions instead of just spinning our wheels.
And, if you are a teacher reading this, what do you know that you are really, really good at? What classroom practices are your teaching strengths and how much time, right now are you spending connecting with your students? Have you asked for help from colleagues? Are you part of a collaborative team and benefitting from the expertise and experiences around you? Can you refocus in your classroom with goal-setting so that you and your students can feel successful in smaller chunks of time?
In our book, Leading with Intention, (https://www.solutiontree.com/leading-with-intention.html), chapters one and two offer a great many tools to help you refocus, redirect your energy and set those priorities. We also have a one-hour free webinar that is focused on this as well, https://www.solutiontree.com/leading-with-focus-and-intention-webinar.html.
Be well, be happy and refocus. Your personal energy is important to the students and staff that you serve. Have a great week.