Many of us are either already back in the classroom, or heading back very soon. As I prepare to head back for our teacher work week, I’ve started to think about what I still need to do to be fully prepared for the upcoming school year. While there is still much to do, I comforted myself by thinking about the fact that I am excited to be embarking on year two of a textbook pilot. It happens to be a textbook that I absolutely love and really hope our district ends up adopting. We ended up getting a second year with the pilot because we loved it so much that the pilot is expanding into the other grades. So, part of me took comfort knowing that I will be teaching out of that same book, and teaching the same content and curriculum that I have for many years now. This made me think about something that a lot of teachers may not readily think about when preparing to return to the classroom. I started to question – am I getting too comfortable with what/how I am teaching and what I am doing daily in my classroom? Let me explain…
I remember when I first started teaching and there were several veteran English teachers who had been there forever. They had taught the same thing year after year and were very comfortable with their curriculum. After all, these two ladies had created much of this curriculum and had been implementing said curriculum for all of these years. Both of these ladies were quite close to retirement when I entered the picture, and neither of them had any inclination to change their ways. I always found this to be frustrating, because I was new and fresh out of college, and I was ready to change the world! But, trying to change something that has been in place for so many years just wasn’t an easy task. So, I went along with what had been taught for years before I began my teaching career there. I taught what they told me to teach and taught it how they taught it because it was how it had always been done, and no one was interested in doing it any differently. If you ask me, some of the most dangerous words in a workplace are, “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Yet, that was definitely what I encountered when I first started teaching.
Now, believe me, I get it. I do. I am now that veteran teacher! It seems like a lot of times there are crazy mandates we are asked to implement, and a lot of times, many well-meaning districts attempt to implement the next latest and greatest initiative into our curriculum so that many of us are resistant to change. But, after all of these years – I have never forgotten those two teachers, so very set in their ways and unwilling to change anything, “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” In a sense, I am grateful that I had this experience, so now I am almost paranoid about getting and staying too comfortable in my teaching career. I have vowed to myself that if I ever utter a phrase about having always done something a certain way and that’s why we keep doing it, I will immediately reevaluate and seek change!
However, that isn’t always easy as a teacher. Let’s face it, comfort feels good! There is a reason we hang on to those worn-out old slippers or that ratty old t-shirt. These items are familiar, safe, and comfortable. Take a moment to think about what you are currently doing in your classroom that is tried and true, and you have done it for years now. Now take a moment to think about what you might do in addition to that or *gasp* instead of that. Scary isn’t it? Yes, change can be scary and uncomfortable. But, it’s been my experience that real growth happens when you step outside of your comfort zone. So, let’s take a look at five easy ways you can safely step outside of that comfort zone and make sure you aren’t being bogged down by stagnation and clinging to comfort this school year:
Collaborate with a colleague – Sometimes we get so hyper-focused on what we are doing in our own classrooms that we forget that there are others teaching the very same curriculum we are. Now, I know time can be a factor when trying to find time to collaborate. After all, we are all busy with our own lives outside of school hours, and the time that we do have after school, we are usually busy prepping, taking care of grading, or tutoring students. But, making some time to collaborate with others is one of the best ways to find new ideas to implement into your own instruction, breathe new life into your teaching, and can allow you to feel more connected and less isolated. Even if you can’t collaborate with others at your school for various reasons, how about trying to find someone in your same district, your ISD, or even online? Try it, you’ll like it! If nothing else, take some time to email the teachers who are teaching what you are to share ideas with one another.
Observe a colleague teaching – Closely related to collaborating with a colleague is observing a colleague teach. I have come to really enjoy having the opportunity to observe others teach. It is very exciting to me to be able to see what someone who teaches what I teach is doing in their classroom (it’s even wonderful to watch others outside of your core subject area too). Often, we end up doing what we have been doing in our own classrooms because we are comfortable with it, and it is safe. But if we have the opportunity to see something someone else is successfully doing in their classrooms, we are more apt to push ourselves to try something new and different. Observing someone else allows us to see teaching from a new and fresh perspective, which can then be inspiring and invigorating. Yes, finding the time to observe a colleague may be a challenge, but it will be worth the effort. Most administrators will likely be quite helpful in orchestrating the details of getting coverage for your own classroom if you express interest in observing a colleague.
Rearrange your room – For years, I had the same desk and chair configuration in my classroom. It worked, it was comfortable, and it certainly was ideal for classroom management efforts too. So, when I went to a conference about implementing a new type of reading program, I practically laughed when they suggested putting students into groups of four to allow for more meaningful interaction and more collaboration between the students. It took my co-teacher to convince me to try it, and she assured me that if it was a disaster, she would stay after school to help me move the tables and chairs back to that old-fashioned configuration. But guess what? The new set up with the students in groups was wonderful! It allowed the students to work together and to dive into literature in groups like I had never experienced before in my classroom. It’s amazing to think that something as simple as the seating configuration in a classroom can make such a significant impact. Step out of your comfort zone, and move those tables and chairs or desks around this year!
Redo a bulletin board to perk up your room or hallway – Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve had one of my bulletin boards up for at least five years. Yep. It looks nice, it has a great message on it for the students, and my incoming students have no idea it’s been up there that long. But, I know it’s time for a change. Could I use my time more wisely during this week of prep for the upcoming school year? Yes, sure. But, I know it’s time for a change, so I am going to use some of that precious time to perk up my room a little and breathe that new life into it. So look around your classroom or your hallway, find something that needs a pick me up, and just make the time to make that change.
Vow to try something new this school year – It can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. Maybe you want to try a new exit ticket strategy with the students, possibly introduce a totally new unit, or just tweak an existing lesson to make it a little different, new, and refreshing. Whatever it is, go outside of your comfort zone a lot or a little. Change can also come in other ways in your teaching. How about trying a new hairstyle, some new clothes, or even a different lipstick color? Trust me, a little bit of change can go a long way in your classroom. It will help you to get unstuck, see things differently, and feel refreshed. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” So do yourself a favor, make some changes and see the benefits immediately!