How to be the Best
Imagine someone starring in the movie, ” THE BEST TEACHER in the WORLD! “
What do you see in the star’s actions and behaviors? What traits do they exhibit? Pause here and brainstorm those before reading on. Better yet, have a conversation with a colleague where you compare your ideas…
The truth is, no one can be THE BEST teacher. It’s an impossible goal, and frankly, one that would wear anyone out. But, we can reflect on the gap between the imagined BEST and where we are as educators, and work on closing the gap.
I’ve been searching my entire 27 year career for what will make me a better teacher. I’ve earned higher degrees, taken additional classes, attended numerous trainings, observed other teachers, read countless books, etc. With experience comes wisdom, and an epiphany I’ve had lately is rather than searching for something outside myself that will make me better, I need to look inward to improve my teaching. I need to look at my daily habits. By strengthening my good habits, I strengthen myself as a human, which strengthens me as a teacher.
Three areas I’m currently working on are managing my energy, developing my growth mindset and redefining my relationship with technology.
A strong teacher needs strong energy reserves. Teaching middle schoolers requires high energy all day long! It’s a joke with my husband that I come home every Friday night after a week of teaching, tell him to turn on a “good movie” and I’m fast asleep before the opening credits have ended. I’m exhausted! I need to do all I can to store up energy reserves. Specifically, I’ve been focusing on food, movement and sleep. Food’s the easiest one for me. I have complete control over what I put into my mouth. I know exactly what crap I need to stop eating and drinking. Michael Pollan says, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” My husband and I cut down on sugar. A great place to start, but not easy since I’m a chocoholic. I feel better when I eat less sugar. I have less highs and lows throughout my teaching day.
I’m also trying to move. Every day. No negotiations. I don’t have to go to the gym every day, but I have to do SOMETHING. At 5:00 AM. It’s the only time of the day that’s mine and I cherish it. Some days I swim, or run, or do yoga in my basement, or walk my dog. Movement builds up energy reserves more than sleeping in for an extra hour. It took a while for this to become a habit, but once it did, I noticed a great improvement in my energy level throughout the day.
Second, I’m working on my mindset. We’ve all heard the importance of promoting growth mindsets. I’ve been preaching Dweck’s work since I first heard her speak in Portland years ago, but what about my own mindset? As an adult, I need to model my willingness to try new things and fail. I need to put aside my fears and hopes for perfection. How about you? Are you afraid of the new resource your district is unveiling? That’s a fixed mindset! Do you think you have nothing to learn from the new teacher next door? That’s a fixed mindset! The best way to open up your mind is to be curious. What can you learn from the new district math textbook? What can you learn from the newbie down the hall? What topics have you always wanted to study? What instrument have you wanted to learn? Be brave! I’m learning guitar. It’s a big stretch for me and my old hands that don’t seem to move the way the young YouTube instructor’s do, but I’m making progress. I’m also working on my golf game. It’s a great challenge to my growth mindset state. I gave up keeping score because that frustrates me, but I enjoy being out on a beautiful day with friends laughing and learning from my mistakes.
I’m also expressing gratitude every day. The research is clear that daily thoughts of gratitude improve your health. I keep a gratitude diary by my bed and record at least 3 things I’m grateful for. Every day. You can turn challenges into gratitude. An upset parent? “Thank you for reminding me that we’re all irrational about our own children.” A co-worker with family issues? “I’m grateful she felt comfortable enough sharing her grief with me.” Be grateful and thankful for the lessons you’re learning.
My third area of internal focus is technology management. If you’re like me, your job is creeping into your home life. I teach all day, shut down my computer, but then see the parent email pop up on my phone after dinner. I think it’s time we put boundaries around our technology. Let’s tell parents that we want THEM to have family time every night and turn off electronics and we’ll do the same! Most emails can wait until the next day.
I’m trying to be present during meetings, with my family during dinners, with my friends when we gather face to face. That means I turn off electronics. I make eye contact. I listen to the person speaking and have a meaningful conversation with them. There’s a time for technology, but we must balance it with meaningful conversations when we really listen and empathize and hear all points of view.
I’m also practicing a digital sunset to improve my sleep. One hour before I want to sleep, I shut down all electronics and move them to our spare “office” room in our house. Research shows just having your phone in the room with you, disturbs your sleep. How do I wake up every morning at 5am? A good, old fashioned alarm clock! I’m finding when I place boundaries around my technology use, I’m more energized to teach the next day. I’m more focused on my students, on my job, on my co-workers, and the added deep sleep helps keep my energy level high all day long.
I will never be THE BEST teacher in the world, but I can work on my habits to become better at my craft. Every. Single. Day.
Anne Keith has been teaching in the Gallatin Valley for 27 years. She proudly served as the 2010 Montana Teacher of the Year. She won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math teaching. She’s awaiting her special place in Heaven for teaching middle schoolers for most of her career.