If you’re a teacher, you know the unique bittersweet feeling that arrives each year around the first week of August.
Whether you like it or not, the “back to school” season is here, bringing with it the excitement of a new year and (unfortunately) the dread of the unknown.
As teachers, we each respond to this new season in unique ways. Holding out for a few more relaxing days, you might put off thinking about it until your first meetings start. Or you might embrace the prospect of a fresh new semester.
Either way, you have the power to make this your best semester ever.
1. Trust in Your Greatness
It can be painfully difficult to keep things in perspective when organizational hassles and minor setbacks get you down.
No matter the challenge, keep in mind that you are here to educate and inspire. You are here to connect with your students and empower them to achieve greatness.
So don’t forget how great you are. Take a cue from the greatest boxer of all time:
I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.
Before you walk into your first meeting, remind yourself of your greatness, even if you don’t yet know how great you are.
2. Visualize Your Success
Before the (Olympic) trials I was doing a lot of relaxing exercises and visualization. And I think that helped me to get a feel of what it was gonna be like when I got there. I knew that I had done everything that I could to get ready for that meet, both physically and mentally.
If you want to reach your true potential, you can give yourself a huge leg-up by honing your mental skills.
Develop a detailed sense of what it feels like to be a successful, inspiring, engaging educator. Take 5 minutes each morning to visualize a successful upcoming lesson or performance in as much detail as possible.
Read more on visualization: How to Unlock Your Pro Potential.
3. Dismiss Negativity
It’s really easy to get caught in a never-ending cycle of negative thoughts when the stress of a new school year starts to build up.
We’ve all been there: “I can’t do it.” “There’s just not enough time (or money).” “My administration doesn’t respect/value/trust me enough.”
Once you’re in a negative loop, you might feel like you will never escape.
Don’t worry, just take a few minutes to reset.
Give yourself 2 minutes to observe your thoughts. When an unpleasant thought arrives, simply notice it. Instead of ruminating on the thought, observe that it is there and then let it float away.
Read more on negative thoughts and self-criticism: How to Silence Your Inner Critic in 5 Minutes.
4. Set Mini Goals
For me, there are few things that match the satisfying adrenaline rush that I get after achieving a goal.
The best part is, I don’t have to achieve some crazy-difficult goal to feel satisfied that my effort is paying off.
Even small goals offer the necessary confirmation that the work we do is worth the effort we put in.
In addition to your long-term goals (like major concerts, conference presentations, or program development projects), add a series of short-term goals to keep you motivated along the way.
5. Prioritize Fun
We’ve known for a while that play is critical for optimal childhood development.
But recent research suggests play is just as vital for adults as it is for kids.
A few minutes of play each day can boost creativity, joy, and productivity. Anything that you enjoy can serve as play. For some, that can be as simple as having a conversation with your cat or going for a short walk. For others, play might involve sports with friends or chatting over coffee with a colleague.
When you prioritize play, you prioritize fun. What would the world be like if we all had a little more fun in our lives?
6. Move Your Body
Physical activity can be a powerful treatment for anxiety. And if the beginning of a new school year isn’t anxiety-inducing, I don’t know what is.
You don’t need to be a marathon runner to reap the benefits of regular physical activity.
“Physical activity” doesn’t have to mean running, heavy weight lifting, or vigorous yoga practice. Any activity you enjoy that raises your heart rate above normal could serve as valuable physical activity.
Avoid burnout by maintaining reasonable expectations about your physical abilities. If you’ve been inactive for a while, a reasonable goal might be to walk for 15 minutes every day or to take the stairs at every opportunity instead of the elevator. Build a strong foundation of basic fitness and you’ll be tackling larger fitness goals in no time.
7. Develop Emotional Resilience
The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.
When facing a difficult problem, it can seem impossible to bend without breaking.
As you start this semester, keep these things in mind to develop your emotional resilience:
- Maintain your priorities
What is most important to you? What do you need to do your best? What can you give up and still maintain excellence?
- Check your emotions
When you feel yourself starting to react negatively to a difficult situation, take a moment to breathe before you act. I cannot count the number of times I have used this technique to solve problems that I may otherwise have lashed out over.
Teachers are often naturally resilient thanks to the kinds of challenges they face on a daily basis. By continually developing your emotional resilience, you may surprise yourself at how much you can handle while remaining poised and content.
8. Practice the Art of Saying “No”
Has this ever happened to you?
After a leisurely summer, you get an invitation to participate in a new ensemble, committee, or other service activity.
You accept the invitation because it sounds pretty cool. Why not accomplish as much as you can in the new school year?
Then you get another interesting invitation. Then another. Then another. And you accept ALL OF THEM.
By October you’re barely able to keep your head above water and you’re just praying for Thanksgiving to arrive as soon as possible.
It took me many years to figure out the importance of politely saying “No.” I never wanted to miss an opportunity, but I had to learn to prioritize what was important to me and start rejecting things that wouldn’t help me achieve those goals.
In order to maintain your sanity and your high expectations, carefully consider the value of each opportunity that presents itself. Consider the time commitment, potential value to you and your community, and any possible scheduling conflicts that might arise.
By not over-scheduling your life, you’ll suddenly have more time to spend on your most valuable projects. And you’ll be available for other really cool projects that come up at the last minute.
9. Build (or Maintain) a Strong Home/Work Division
After a busy day, it’s often difficult to disconnect from teaching-related worries.
While driving home in the evening, you might habitually ruminate over silly administrative policies. Then you might start sending the occasional teaching-related email from your home computer. Before long you realize that you work at work AND you work at home — you never get a break from teaching!
First, develop the discipline to leave your teaching-related worries at work as much as you can. If you need to check your email or do other work at home, craft a schedule that allows for these activities during certain limited times of the day.
Then, build activities into your schedule that separate your work-life from your home-life. Think of these activities as dividers. Once you’re finished working, you use a habitual activity to mentally flip the switch from work to home.
Listen to a non-teaching-related podcast on the drive home. Or, when you get home, walk your dog and focus your mind on the nature that surrounds you. Or call a friend and chat about something you both enjoy.
As you develop habits that separate your work-life from your home-life, you’ll discover new energy for teaching, you’ll better connect to your family when you’re at home.
10. Reward Yourself
As a teacher, you spend countless hours benefiting the development of others. You play a crucial role in the long-term success of your students, no matter the subject you teach.
You deserve to reward yourself.
Find small rewards that you can bestow upon yourself for each Mini Goal you achieve, for each successful meeting, for every productive parent-teacher conference.
Thank yourself for your hard-work and truly enjoy your continued success.
Dreading the New Year?
What are you worried about as this new school year begins? I’d love to chat about it! Leave a comment below.
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