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January 4, 2018

How to Move from Surviving to Thriving

Ever feel like you’re treading water as a teacher? Like you’re juggling priorities without ever feeling like you’re fulfilling your dreams as an educator?

You’re not alone. It’s common for teachers in the first, second, and third years of teaching (and beyond!) to feel like they’re merely surviving in the classroom. Yet, thriving is the goal. Thriving occurs when you’re innovating and transforming yourself. And when you reach that point, you’ll become a more effective and happier educator.

How can you transition from surviving to thriving? The following tips can help.

Choose to Change

Preparing for change in schools can be invigorating or it can induce further stress. But, as an article in Educational Leadership noted, “Change is our constant companion in education, especially in the past 16 years, which have given us high-speed internet, mobile connectivity, and a variety of policy shifts—some fairly tumultuous—around testing, standards, and accountability.”

The key is embracing change and focusing efforts on changes that bring powerful results.

Set Clear Objectives

Clear objectives are the pathway to change. Since change can be overwhelming, you may want to choose just one focus. That singular focus can help you stay motivated and prevent you from becoming too overwhelmed.

Educational Leadership added that people are most motivated when three conditions are met: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

“Teachers who want to avoid burnout need to make strategic choices about managing change. They must have some autonomy in their choices, and must be guardians of their own time to approach mastery. And if a teacher doesn’t recognize or agree with the purpose behind a change, that change effort is doomed to mediocre implementation at best.”

Once you focus on the single item you want to change, you can work on the small things that you can do to make it happen. Organize those into three categories:

  1. passion projects – creations and teaching experiments that excite you
  2. mandates – changes stemming from official policies and contracts
  3. school goals – arise from collaboration, discussion, and analysis

Take Risks

“To build a classroom culture where risk-taking is encouraged for students, a teacher also needs to be willing to try new things,” according to AJ Bianco, a middle school social studies teacher, in EdSurge. “By taking risks, and in some cases even failing in front of our students, we demonstrate that not everything works as planned and prove that we can rebound from any situation.”

Some actions can help with taking risks. Saying fears out loud and discussing them with colleagues can help define fears, flesh them out, and prepare for worst-case (and best-case!) scenarios. You can also add notes (Bianco calls them “considerations”) to your lesson plans for resolving challenges that arise in class, and even including backup activities if things start to unravel. Finally, celebrating large and small victories is important, because there is no end to innovation. That can be the driving force to keep moving forward.

Take Care of Yourself

You’ve heard it before, but taking care of yourself is vital. Teachers experience stress on a daily basis. When you fail to integrate self-care strategies into your life, a wide range of challenges can disrupt your physical and emotional health, as well as your career and personal life.

You can’t maximize your impact as a teacher if you fail to take care of yourself.

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