Welcome to Episode 11 of the Podcast. It’s nearly holidays – time to Refocus.
Is your energy level dropping? Do you feel burdened with too much work and too little time to do it? Do you sense that your students are becoming lethargic? Then you and your students may be experiencing “we are nearly at the end” droop–an insidious yet common syndrome. Why? When enthusiasm wanes, the ability to cope with stress decreases and the joy of teaching is sometimes lost.
At the start of the year, energy levels were high as you and your students got excited about what was to come. Now that some of you have just finished the HSC practicals with your year 12 students, you realise that learning is not so rosy. Survival experts tell people caught in a bottomless quagmire in the woods to stop struggling — uncoordinated effort only causes the victim to sink ever deeper. Only by calm, purposeful and coordinated actions can the victims save themselves by swimming through the muck or sand to the safety of a solid shore.
How can you recover yourself from the ooze of a sinkhole?
Try a REFOCUS strategy. REFOCUS means:
Recognize your achievements and the achievements of the students so far. Remind yourself that lessons were well organized, delivered and received. The visuals enhanced understanding, the assignments sparked critical thinking and you used innovative ways to activate and encourage your students in the learning process. Give yourself a pat on the back for learning all your students’ names, staying after class to answer questions, meeting with your students even though you don’t have an office and taking the time to develop the individualized feedback designed to help each student improve his or her performance. Recall the work that you and your students have completed despite the demands of other classes, a job and perhaps a family. Acknowledge everyone’s achievements and improvements.
Create a list of your strengths as a teacher. Are you an excellent communicator, manager, instructional designer or leader? When are you at your best — leading a discussion, planning a collaborative learning activity, delivering a lecture, or going one-on-one with a student who needs help? Maybe you’re an outstanding motivator. List your five greatest personal achievements in the past year. Can you remember how you felt during these moments? Reliving these peak experiences can really empower you to teach with greater enthusiasm and sense of purpose.
Take a quick look at your syllabus or planning setup. Are you on track? Will there be enough time? No? Then you have a management problem. Use a triage system to gain control of the situation. Triage is a strategy used by hospitals to deal with patients in the emergency room.
Number 1: treat those who benefit the most and who are easily treated
Number 2: move on to those who are more difficult to treat but benefit the most and lastly attend to those who have the most difficult treatments and probably won’t benefit from it. In other words, when time is short and learning is slow, work on the material that will bring the greatest reward with the least amount of effort. Plan to accomplish first the learning tasks that will bring the highest reward for your students. This will encourage them to continue to work right through to the end of the calendar year.
Since you started the year, the stresses and strains of teaching and daily living may have caused you to veer from your original targets for each group that you teach. It is easy to do. By refocussing on the situation, you can create altered learning targets for your classes. This will allow you to take the pressure off yourself because, in your mind, you haven’t been able to maintain the program that you originally initiated. This is quite normal because each child is different and their learning speeds will vary.
The number of variables in the learning process are too many to control, so once you have worked out your new plan of attack, commit to it. Don’t waste time rewriting it, just make notes and reschedule in your day book. Review and reflect at the end of the year, when you have the time to deal with it.
Tony Robbins calls it “leverage”, and we call it “delegate”. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be yourself. You may hold the expectation that teacher should have all the answers. Once you accept the fact that successful teachers emphasize the roles of learner, presenter, guide, coach, facilitator, designer, evaluator, manager and leader and minimize the role of expert, you unburden yourself from unrealistic expectations. Then teaching becomes much easier and more enjoyable. Delegate what you can to your students and other colleagues to assist in making the teaching experience a less stressful place.
The elements of surprise can be the most powerful motivator for you and your students. When you are feeling a little stressed or flat in class, why not introduce the element of surprise. Tell a story or create a crisis, develop a new game or use tactile materials to juice it up. Whatever strategy you use, pick something that you haven’t done with this class before or something that you haven’t done for a long time. It will keep the students and you on their toes and help to keep you re-energised as you head on into the last quarter of this year.