Since the young age of 5 years old, I have always gone back to school in the Fall. Except twice. It struck me the other day; for over 59 years, I have returned to school following each summer break. Like clock work, when I experience the 4th of July after-glow and the Back to School ads emerge; I have a tendency to get a bit anxious about returning “back in the fall”. Always have.
As I write this in July 2021, I know that I may NOT be going back to school this fall; which would be only the third time in 59 years. Fortunately, life has presented a “transition” where I have been handed a break from the routine. And this has allowed me to reflect before I move forward. However things develop, I know that I am enjoying summer in the Pacific Northwest as I focus on being present with today.
For me, my true self, the summer version of me, leans toward longer days, more play, less work, and a natural rhythm between myself and the landscape develops. I spend more time outside than in. That’s what summer has always been for me. So when I have thought in the past about “going back to school in the Fall”, there’s a part of me that dies or better stated, “falls by the wayside” once I return to school.
What about you? What part of your life falls by the wayside when you return to school in the fall?
As far as “back to school”, this time may prove to be different for we really don’t know what school will be like this Fall. Are we truly going back to “normal” or is this another Covid Year masked in a façade of political uncertainty and topsy-turvy recommendations; whether it be from CDC , WHO, or other entities which we truly do not know or have a clear understanding of? Or trust.
So, I ask you the following question: If you were the King or Queen for public school policy, would you really go back to “normal”? If this was your call, would you go back to:
… Another professional development week before school highlighting the next “best practice” knowing teachers want to prepare for the opening of class, feeling that there isn’t enough time to get it all done, especially after a year like we just had.
… Uncertainty about class configuration and enrollment till the second or third week of school, knowing teachers hope to establish an immediate sense of community within their classrooms with there students ASAP.
… Watching your students squirm in their seats following hours of deskwork, knowing teachers experience the same sense of feeling locked up inside the classrooms.
… Watching numbers of students fall from grace once the “honeymoon” period ends, knowing teachers face an increasing level of discontent, disengagement, and disconnect from their students once the novelty of the routine wears off.
… Sitting in weekly staff meetings which seem to go on forever with little difference between this year’s meetings versus years in the past, knowing teachers wonder if things are really going to change for it all seems to be the same year after year.
… And early on this path you look at your calendar to see when the next holiday is scheduled to give you a sense of hope or relief, knowing teachers experience a sense of early burn-out earlier this year than in year’s past.
Does this sound familiar to you or is it just me? Am I jaded or is this something you experience as well?
Most importantly, does it need to be like this or do you have the opportunity to change it up and create a new perspective? I believe you do have the power and sense of agency to create a new version of “going back in the fall”. And I recommend the following as the means to do so moving forward:
Consider leaning into the following foundation for the year ahead and see how this changes how things develop throughout the year for you and your students: Consider the New Four Rs: Relationship, Regulation, Relevance, Resilience
Relationship: Imagine keeping the focus on relationship building, between yourself and the students as well as creating community within the class ALL year long. Rather than emphasizing SEL (social emotional learning) for the first few days or weeks, what if this was your foundation every day? For a reference, check out the SEL work developed by CASEL, one of the leading resources as well as other SEL or PBS (positive behavior) references: https://casel.org/about-2/ or .
Regulation: Imagine a classroom where your students moved from one transition to another seemlessly. Also, imagine a learning environment where the students followed your guidance with minimal manipulation or “rewards” as the carrot. This is where classrooms either flourish or flounder: Regulation or what we used to call “discipline”. Self regulation or self discipline requires a clear set of expectations, guidelines, or front-loaded consequences for every expectation – behavior – transition to unfold in the classroom. Simply, one needs to “teach” every behavior before we can expect the students to know what to do in every situation. Specifically, “front loading” by pre teaching every set of behavioral and academic expectations is required for every activity for so many of our students struggle with executive function development; especially when it comes to impulsivity. I strongly recommend the work of Dr Ross Greene and his website, “Lives in the Balance” as a reference. Also, check out the “Nurtured Heart Approach” for guidance as well: https://livesinthebalance.org/ and https://childrenssuccessfoundation.com/about-nurtured-heart-approach/.
Relevance: Imagine your class wanting to engage in your instructional activities in the same way they want to engage in video games or play at recess? At the core of this expectation is to assure the activities are relevant, meaningful, and fun. Also, like video games, the most engaging classrooms present lessons and activities within a multi-access / multi-learning style approach. Again, if one presents lessons in a one size fits all format, you only will engage a small subset of your classroom for today’s kids require variety and novelty at the core; ADD like tendencies are within ALL students. And the general sense of compliance has faded to the point of no-return. Kids today need a true connection or emotional carrot when it comes to learning. Here’s where Universal Design for Learning, UDL, comes into play. The foundation for UDL is powerful for it addresses an equitable sense of access for all students. And I strongly recommend the work of Katie Novak as your most trusted resource. Check her out at https://www.novakeducation.com/.
Resilience: And finally, imagine having the emotional – physical – mental capacity to be your very best self EVERY day throughout the 180 plus days of the school year; from Fall to Summer. This is where personal resilience serves as the foundational platform for your optimum self. We all have experienced “burn out” at sometime throughout the year. However, effective teaching is more like a marathon in contrast to a sprint. So it’s critical to focus on self-care throughout the year to truly serve your students every day. This is most notable within the context of a trauma sensitive classroom. For teachers to be present with their students, to truly “see them for who they truly are”, their very best, we have to be our very best no matter what each student brings to the classroom. Our resilience supports our students bar none. And this is research based as a “best practice”: Teachers who experience a deep sense of joy, compassion, and emotional – & physical resilience, their students out perform their peers year after year.
For more information about resilience development, the following book, Outward, by Elena Aguilar, is by far the best resource related to educators I have ever seen, Personally, I highly recommend two resilience related programs I have participated in through trainer development: Institute of Heartmath @ https://www.heartmath.org/ or Breath for Change @ https://www.breatheforchange.com/. And for a more comprehensive approach to being your true optimum self, I swear by the work of Brian Johnson and the optimize team at https://www.optimize.me/.
All in all, wishing you a remarkable year ahead. Whatever 2021-2022 throws you, only you can make the difference determining your success at the end of this year. For our true selves is ultimately guided by the actions, the behaviors, and responses we present as life unfolds; it’s really NOT about students nor politics, or Covid, or any other influence outside ourselves. Coping with change is an inside job.
I will leave you with an inspirational quote from one our most brilliant social psychologists from the 20th century, Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
No matter what 2021-2022 throws at you, you got this!
Blessings to you and yours.