Morning Rituals for Teachers: Beyond Coffee

coffeecatEverybody has a morning ritual.

For some people, it’s elaborate. Drinking a pressed-kale smoothie, then Yoga, then seeing what’s new on the “cosplay” thread on Reddit.

For others, it’s more bare-bones: get up, fall out of bed, drag comb across head, find way downstairs and drink a cup, look up, notice it’s late. Then, grab coat and hat, make the bus in seconds flat, find way upstairs and have a smoke, etc.

Like that.

The question is not whether you have a ritual, it’s whether your current ritual is a good idea for you as someone with one of the hardest jobs on earth.

On mornings where I adhere to my sacred ritual, I set myself up for a great day.

Does it mean I will have a great day? No. But it might that if the day sucks, it’s partially because I didn’t do my best to get it off to the right start.


calendarcatMy ritual starts the night before:

  • Review tomorrow’s calendar. This will help you mentally step into the flow of the day. When will you rush around? When will you sit at your desk and space out? When are your meetings? Additionally, this will help you catch mistakes: “I thought that meeting was next week” is an excellent thought to have the night before. It’s a very bad thought to have when you realize you’re half an hour late.
  • Put out your outfit. Make sure you love what you wear and you wear what you love. Your outfit should match the intention of the day. For me, I like to wear a black or grey suit on monday with a fan-freakin-tastic tie. Why? Well, do you remember how fun it was to go to school when your mom had just taken you shopping and you had new British Knights and a new pair of Girbauds and couldn’t wait to show them off? Me neither! I shopped at Target. But you get the idea. (For more about the interplay of style and how you feel, visit StyleForDorks.Com)
  • Talk over any worries you have with your spouse, significant other, friend, roommate, or parrot. Tell him or her what’s on your mind. Feel free to share things you’re looking forward to, as well. And if you feel like your significant other is just parroting back to you whatever you’re saying, you might actually be married to a parrot. That’s cool.

boatcatIn the morning:

  • Bath or shower. Make sure you have yummy soap. You should love the way it smells. If you don’t love it, find one you do. I like this oddly shaped sandalwood soap I got from chinatown for 2 bucks.
  • If you drink tea or coffee or yerba mate, do it slowly. Carve out 10 minutes.
  • Listen to music. At least 2 songs.
  • If you can budget the time for a stop at a cafe for coffee and journaling and music, you’re really off to a great start. You need to feel like you have a life outside of your otherwise all-consuming job and your family. I do this little “morning-spa” twice a week.

cocktailAfter Work:

  • Don’t take your stress home with you. See if you can build in a trip to the gym, a cafe, or a pint at the pub. ONE pint.
  • If you’re an introvert, arrange some “hamster-ball time” – even five minutes – with important people waiting for you at home. A five minute buffer to change into comfortable clothes, to sip a cup of tea, to journal about something in your day will make you a better roommate, partner, spouse, or parent.
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Connect to Others, Protect Yourself: Develop Your Professional Persona

mepersonav3This post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app,Class Dojo.


Teenagers are among the most interesting people on earth, combining paradoxes in fast succession:

  • They are oddly predictable and unusually unpredictable at once.
  • They are idealistic, able to wish for a better world with a zeal many adults cannot fathom – but they’re unbelievably cynical about even the smallest thing.
  • They are passionate and emotional and also can put up emotion-squelching walls that nothing can pass through.
  • Working with them can be exhilarating. Working with them can be devastating.

How can a non-teenager connect to teenagers – visiting their world for inspiring, aiding, supporting and encouraging — for teaching — without being sucked into the chaos and instability?

Create a persona.

Practice it.

Rely on it.

Now, let me begin with what a Persona is not.

  • A persona is not “being fake.”
  • A persona is not “inauthentic.”
  • A persona is not a “mask.”

On the other hand, a persona is:

  • Your best self.
  • A professional identity that can defer your own needs — and focus on children’s needs.
  • Endlessly positive, endlessly patient.

Is this possible?

It is. On the one hand, this isn’t different from what professionals do all over the world, every day. If you’re a barista at a coffeeshop, the fact that you detest the ever-popular triple-double-decaf-halfcaf is irrelevant. You’re there to make drinks to order.

If you’re a zoo keeper, the fact that you prefer pangolins to penguins is irrelevant. It’s feeding time for both.

On the other hand, some careers require a deeper-dive into the persona.

Stand-up comics: the moment they become frustrated or angry with their audience is the moment they’re booed off-stage.

Therapists: the moment they demonstrate their boredom with the client’s complaining is the moment they lose their client – and deservedly so.

Teachers: the moment their frustration with teenager’s admittedly frustrating behavior becomes evident is the moment they lose the respect of the students. It’s the moment they undermine their own potential to teach.

Your persona is your voice-box. Your buffer. Your shield. It’s the point of contact between you and the children. It’s the difference between Evan Wolkenstein and “Mr. Wolk.”

When I enter the school, I am Mr. Wolk. You can find your persona, too. Maybe our personas can have lunch.


Persona Dos and Don’ts:

Do:

  • Not a good persona.

    Not a good persona.

    Dress the part. Wear something nice every day. Show that you respect your profession, you respect the students, and you respect yourself. For more on the power of a great outfit, check out my blog, Style For Dorks!

  • Reflect on the kind of traits you’d want for someone teaching a child close to your heart. Write about them, talk about them, and look for them – in other people, in movies, in books, and on the street. Practice and emulate.
  • Do develop phrases and mini speeches to help you communicate potentially frustrating messages in a non-emotional way.

Example One: “I just want to remind everyone that this is quiet work time. If you’re talking with your neighbor, now is the time to refocus back on your work.”

Example Two: “I just want to remind everyone that this class is for this class only. If you are [working on homework for another class, passing a note, surfing the net on your phone], it’s time to stop.”

Example Three: “I just want to remind everyone that when I say it’s worktime, it’s not a good time to start a conversation. I’m looking for people to move quickly into work groups.”

Bottom line: You don’t have the brain-space to be creative – and you can’t afford to be reactive. So memorize a nice, little speech, and if you need to repeat it – or say it louder – or call a student’s name and then repeat the speech, so be it. My tip: start your speech with, “I want to remind everyone that…”

For a deeper dive, check out my blog post and animated cartoon, here.


Don’t:

  • Don’t Boast or complain about anything in your life. This is not about you. It’s about the students. That said, disclosure as a way of connecting to students and teaching is acceptable – as long as you never share anything private. Be reflective as you share about the message you are sending. The line is blurry one, so play it safe. If it feels weird to talk about it, it’s probably weird for them to listen to it.
  • Don’t Drop your persona when a student comes to you for a one-on-one on an emotional subject. That’s the time to be your most patient, kind, collected, and professional. Sharing your own pain on any subject isn’t helpful to the student. Being a kind, comforting, professional presence for the student is.
  • Don’t Confuse mock debates for actual debates. Argue about the superiority of the Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles. Do not argue about politics, religion, or personal values.
  • Don’t Drop your persona when you think students are not listening. Gossiping in the cafeteria with other teachers, cracking crass jokes – the students will see it. And it will undermine their trust.
  • Don’t Yell. Ever. There has never been a time when I yelled and didn’t regret it afterwards. Speak clearly, speak truly – and be controlled.

The Calendar and the Template: The Batman and Robin of Lesson Planning and Presenting

batmanThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners,a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


The hardest thing about lesson planning is the blank page.

And the hardest thing about starting class: when students enter the room, unless you make it so, your classroom is a blank page. Sure, you have posters on the wall, and you’re midway through a unit.

But unless your posters and unit are as interesting as whatever the students were talking and thinking about in the hallway on the way to class (and let’s face it, to most students, it’s not), the students walk in the room with their own agenda. Their agenda is: try not to do anything.

The good news is that most students, being social beings, will step into line as class begins, even if you’re not playing your A game. The better news is that if you’ve set up class effectively, the span of time between “blank page” and “being productive” can be shortened.

How do you get students to get into gear? How do you reduce the behaviors that make it hard to start class? How do you get students thinking, quiet, and productive — reviewing the themes of the class —while you take attendance? How do you organize your lesson planning workflow so you never forget to include essential components?

The answer is the same for all these: lesson plan with a template, and make the lesson plan available to students upon entering class.

There are low-tech and hi-tech ways to do this; allow me to share a few, and their pros and cons.


Hi-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Google Calendar

By far, my favorite way to present the days work, including the vital “first thing work” that gets students quiet and engaged for 5-10 minutes is a shared Google Calendar. While many schools have a Learning Management System that allows teachers to post their lesson plan for the day, I often find that these LMS calendars similar to, well, the free email that comes with your Cable Internet – you know: lmaluddite@Glopast.com. It works. But the tool doesn’t get updated or improved or work well across the most common devices like Google Calendar does.

I begin the year, during the first week of orientation, teaching students how to bookmark the shared class Google Calendar from a laptop, and even a smartphone/tablet.

Each day, as students enter the room, they open their tablets, phones, or laptops and see the entire day’s lesson plan. It always begins with First Thing Work, and ends with Homework and students I need to meet with. For a detailed description of the various elements built into each day’s template, I invite you to check out A Template For Change – And Workflow.

Additional Benefits:

  • Unlike some other class calendars, a student can open the class Google Calendar integrated with their own Google Calendar. As a result, if they have already begun using Google Calendar for their own lives, they can easily keep track of classes they missed and the lesson plan, homework, and announcements for that day – on the same calendar they check which day they have Disney Musical Club, their Jai Alai tournament, and their family trip to Walla Walla.
  • If you make a mistake that needs correcting in class – the link to an assignment is broken, say, or you decide you want to change the homework assignment — once you change it in the Google Calendar, it’s changed for everyone, instantly.
  • You have the same access to the class calendar from excellent smartphone apps that you do from your work laptop. This means you can COMPOSE YOUR LESSON PLAN ON GOOGLE CALENDAR! I suggest you combine the calendar with a Template – to keep your thinking organized. For more on lesson planning with Templates, I invite you to read: How Not To Cook From Scratch.
  • Referencing how you did something last year: I used to use Word for lesson planning, and by the end of the year, I had dozens and dozens of files – one for each day. I could never find anything. Now, when I want to see what I did last year, I can browse the classes on the calendar – or search for a word or phrase I know I used in my lesson planning.
  • Fast and Portable Lesson Plan Fixing and Peeking: You’re in class, moving around the students, keeping an eye on the playing field. Are you going to bring your laptop with you? No. What do you do when you need to check what’s next? You look at your smartphone, where the same Google Calendar is ready for you to look at. Or, on the way to class, you can adjust a prompt, fix a page number, or jot a note under: assignments. From your smartphone! While walking!

Cons:

Students need regular access to a device: school provided or “BYOD.”


Low-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Overhead Projector

Ah, the lowly overhead projector. It’s actually not so lowly. It has major benefits over the whiteboard (the other place you might write a Low-Tech lesson plan)

Mainly: with a teeny bit of planning and the flick of a switch, your lesson plan is ready. You can write your plans in advance, file them in a filing system, and refer to them as needed.

Benefits:

Besides being low tech and inexpensive, it’s easier to browse your lesson plans written this way, just as it’s easier to browse through a book than to click and click and click.

Rewarding students for checking the calendar: how do you reward students for coming to class, checking the calendar, and getting to work? ClassDojo! The first three students quietly working get a badge! The last two also get a badge!