One of the essential components of a teacher’s character is the firm belief that things can begin anew. We meet a fresh new set of faces at the beginning of each school year. We pledge ourselves to do more of what worked well and to rework those things that did not fly. We figure out how to align our own best practice with what is expected of us for the 180 instructional days before us. We polish up the desktops, virtual and actual. We decorate the walls and streamline the schedule. And then we reinvent it.
One of my favorite aspects of the school year is the opportunity for continual reinvention. No one who has done the job will dispute that is challenging, sometimes to the point of being backbreaking. But there are built in rest stops to the journey we are on. We greet each fall with renewed energy and enthusiasm. We are steadily worn down by the demands of September, October and November. Then comes the Thanksgiving holiday and its long weekend to recharge. The next four weeks are typically packed with special events and lists of things to do at home and school, all leading to the Christmas holidays and its accompanying time away from the classroom. The end of the semester follows the winter break and we pause to quantify both how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.
It is also the time of year when the calendar page turns over and the rest of the world is making their New Year’s resolutions. For me, they always feel like a bit of an afterthought. I have tried exhaustive lists and simple ones. Some themes recur each year. I am a bit of a “self-help” article junkie and this year I stumbled upon a suggestion that may finally offer me success.
Instead of specific resolutions, it recommended a word for the year. By keeping it in the forefront, the choices we make will remain true to the path of improvement that we envision for ourselves. My word for the year is prioritize. It’s deceptively simple, but extraordinarily hard to do. I still get caught up in what doesn’t matter. But I do seem to be catching myself more quickly than in the past.
One of my few January resolutions is to be the first to say hello. I like to think I am very good at offering a smile, a nod, or some other affirmation to those I meet. What I realized that I was not doing was greeting people verbally or by name. I was subconsciously waiting for them to make the first move. I’m not shy, I’m usually pretty good at remembering names, so those are not excuses. I was resisting making the overture, the connection, taking the tiny risk of being rebuffed.
No more. I’m resolving to connect, by name whenever the opportunity is presented. I have made a practice of greeting each child by name as they enter the classroom for many years. This practice needs to expand to my entire life.
Some wise person once said that you cannot feel loved by someone if you do not feel known by them. Beyond knowing and using those names regularly, I want to know these students, the names of their siblings and pets, their weekend plans, their hopes and dreams. These kinds of connections between staff are an important ingredient in the success our school experiences each year. We know, care about, and reach out to each other.
This model of relationships is an important gift to our students. It is easy to complain about what our students don’t have in the way of connections and support. It is also easy to provide some of this, in small doses, every day. It soon becomes addictive; you find yourself wanting more and more of it every day. Praise delivered with the name feels more personal. Correction offered by name is buffered by its show of personal concern. It is impossible to get the same kinds of discipline results with “Hey you” that you can with a child’s name. Did your mom use your middle name for added emphasis, just like mine?
Most of my September resolutions remain on track. This new January overlay fits nicely over the top like a blanket that reminds me how warm and comforting personal attention and commitment can be. It is and will remain priority one.