5 Characteristics of Phenomenal Educators

The other day I was talking to a good friend of mine, also a principal, about the recruiting process and what we look for in teachers as we go through the many CVs and interviews.  While we both agreed that there is no magic formula for finding excellent teachers, we did settle on a few characteristics that we look for while we’re going through the search process.  I wanted to share those with you today because I believe it’s good to take time to stop and think about ourselves from a more holistic perspective, which I’m encouraging you to do.  

  1. They are a “striver”.  I used to use the term ‘hustler’ but was never happy with that for various reasons.  However, when I imagine a teacher who is always giving their best effort to grow, improve, and help their kids succeed I get this image of a teacher who is constantly working hard and doing anything possible to get better.  A teacher who is consistently putting forth effort to improve and be better for their students is a striver, and someone I would want to hire!  (I took the term ‘striver’ from a book by Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  Here is a cool piece that explains the idea of ‘striver’ vs ‘natural’ in a musical context.)
  2. They have balance.  It’s one thing to be a striver but it’s a total other thing to be someone who works themselves into the ground.  There is a saying that I learned from a mentor of mine that goes, “If you’re solely committed to an institution, you should be.”  The idea is, making work your only focus is completely insane.  Education is a non-stop pursuit and if you dedicated every minute of your life to it for the rest of your days, it still wouldn’t be perfect.  We need to know where to draw the line and find the balance in our lives so that we are able to work hard for our students, day in and day out, while still living our own lives beyond the walls of the school.
  3. They are positive.  This one is hard to see on a CV but it certainly shines through in an interview.  No one wants to work with people who are constantly finding problems, complaining, and bringing the overall culture of a school down.  Positivity goes a long way in any business but I believe it goes even further in a school community.  Kids are naturally positive people, why should adults be any different?
  4. They are diverse.  People demonstrate diversity in a lot of different ways.  Having a wide variety of experiences, teaching a variety of subjects and/or grade levels, supporting various extracurriculars, and showing your range as an educator, are all great ways to stand out.  People with diverse experiences tend to have more open minds about challenges and opportunities that may arise unexpectedly.  This kind of flexibility is invaluable, especially in international schools!  
  5. They love working with kids.  Again, this is tough to see on a CV but completely obvious when it comes to interviews.  Educators who love working with kids show it as soon as they start talking about their jobs.  Their eyes light up as they tell stories of their students and their energy immediately increases.  Teachers who truly love working with kids, while seemingly common, are much harder to find than most people would think.  

There are many more attributes displayed by great teachers but when I meet someone who displays these particular characteristics in a truly authentic way it is clear that I’ve found an absolute diamond in the rough.  

Take a moment today to consider yourself from a different perspective.  Try to step back and ‘zoom out’ a bit.  How do you view yourself as an educator?

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Pursuing Passions

Last week we started our Pathways conversations with our Year 10 students.  At the beginning of this process, which will ultimately lead to their decision about whether to take Full IBDP, DP Courses, or SBDP, they are still wide-eyed and confused.  As Year 10 students, these kids are only 15 or 16 years old and many of them haven’t figured out what they’re going to do over the weekend, let alone what career path they want to follow.  Yet, as they begin to consider their Pathway for Year 11 and 12, they are being asked to simultaneously consider their field of study for university and what career they would like to pursue…yikes!

Personally, this is crazy to me!  I told these kids and their parents a little about myself as an introduction to this conversation:  When I was their age I knew I was going to be an architect, 100%.  Then, by the time I finished Year 11, I really had it figured out, I was going to be an accountant.  In fact, I was almost three years into my accounting degree when I realized I wanted to be an educator.  How could I have been so wrong and what changed for me to make such a huge jump?

I didn’t know it when I made the decision to walk into the College of Education at my university but that day, for the first time ever, I was pursuing my passion.  I can see it now in hindsight but at the time if you would’ve asked me why I was there, I would’ve had no answer for you.  I was there, however, because I was passionate about coaching.  I had begun coaching younger kids in basketball when I was in High School and had continued through university.  It was something I enjoyed and was something more than just a summer job.  It was, without even knowing it, my passion.  

I’m sharing this today because I want to ask you to do two things:

First off, take the time to step back and reflect about why you got into teaching in the first place.  I saw a great Twitter post the other day, “Said no teacher ever…’I became a teacher for the money and fame’.”  I’m guessing that money and fame weren’t your motivations, so what were your reasons?  Why are you an educator today?  

Secondly, I’m begging you, please, to take some time and share how you identified your passion(s) with your students.  Perhaps you knew when you were 15 years old, or perhaps you were more like me and had an epiphany later in life.  Whatever the case may be, take a few minutes and share that story with your kids.  Explain to them why you’re telling them this story, let them know that this process isn’t always easy and that at 15 it’s okay not to know their whole life plan.  

If you ask me, we’re lucky, we’re the wise ones who identified the passion for teaching in ourselves and were lucky enough to choose the greatest profession ever 🙂  Share that story with your students, and while you’re at it, share it with each other!  

Begin Sharpening Your Saw

I decided to write next week’s “Nudge” a little early.  Since we won’t be here Monday I think you’ll see why I chose to write today.

This is a crazy time of year.  There are tons of things going on and we’ve been working hard for these first 14 weeks of the semester, with only a few left to go.  We’re all tired, stressed, and run down.  Sickness is becoming more common for staff and students.  

This three-day weekend couldn’t be more needed than it is right now.

The late Stephen Covey, perhaps most famous for his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was a huge proponent of “Sharpening the Saw”.  Basically, the idea is that if you are working to cut down a tree with a dull saw, then you’re not going to get very far.  The same is true of us as educators.  If you’re run down, unbalanced, and not well, then you’re not able to be your best for our students.  

“Sharpening the Saw” isn’t something that can happen over night, or even a three-day weekend, but it is a process of finding balance in your life.  Physically (working out, sleeping well, eating well), Mentally (growing as a professional and personally), and Spiritually (finding time to connect to what is important in your spiritual life)…these are all essential parts of “sharpening the saw”.  By finding the time to do the work you need to do to be best for our kids, while also finding the time to be balanced in these other areas allows you to maintain a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.

Take this three-day weekend to recharge a bit, get some rest and find the time for the things that make you happy.  Maybe that is sleeping in and eating ice cream like I always say to our students or perhaps it means checking things off your “to-do list”.   No matter if it’s one of those or something else, take the time to relax and enjoy this weekend.  Look at this weekend as a starting point for establishing that balanced lifestyle but also as a chance to recharge your batteries in preparation for the final push to Semester Break.

Sleep, rest, relax, and recharge…you deserve it!

 

5 Ways to Stay Alive Until Summer

We’re almost there, summer.  You can see it on the calendar, you’ve started making travel arrangements, and your classes are nearing the end of the syllabus!  Also, if you’re anything like most of us, you’re tired right now and hanging on the edge.  We all understand and totally get it, summer is coming and it will be gloriously refreshing and help us all recharge.  However, we’ve still got a few weeks left – how do we find the energy to get to the end?  

I read a couple great blog posts the other day that inspired my post this week, I like some of the ideas and will share those here along with a few of my own.

  1. Stay planned and organized:  The end of the school year is always crazy because there are a million things happening around school.  If you have kids of your own you’re juggling their end of year schedules too!  Similarly, if you’re moving away there are countless numbers of things that need to get done before the end of the year.  How do you do it all without the stress wearing you down?  Get organized.  Not only does this help relieve stress but the feeling of achievement as you cross things off your to-do list will give you the much needed boost of dopamine.  You’ll feel better and in turn be more motivated to keep moving forward 🙂
  2. Take some time to reflect:  The school year has been wild and crazy, and busy!  And if you’re struggling with staying organized (see #1) you probably haven’t taken much time to do this yet this school year.  I know you’re busy but hear me out – taking time to reflect on your successes this school year can help you relive the positive experiences and boost your serotonin.  Serotonin is a natural antidepressant and a chemical in our body produced to help us feel good and positive!  On a similar note, if you’d rather help make someone else’s day, write them a note to show your gratitude…it will make both of you feel better!
  3. Take a chance to breathe and find work/life balance:  This might be the hardest thing to do as we try to squeeze in every last bit this school year.  However, it may be the most important thing we can do for ourselves.  Taking a walk, going for a run, doing some yoga, seeing a movie, or reading a book are all possible ways you might step away from the craziness of everyday life.  Whether it’s 30 minutes before or after work, or an afternoon on a Saturday, take some time for yourself to unwind and relax.  I just looked back and realized that I wrote about this very same idea almost exactly one year ago – it’s that time of year!  
  4. The First Five:  It’s okay to stop and give a few minutes of your class time over to talking with your students about non-academic stuff (gasp!)  Yes, it is, really…give it a try!  I’ve written about the importance of positive relationships with our students and that doesn’t stop.  Keep the lines of communication open with your students by showing that you still care about them, even with the craziness of the end of the year upon you.  Not only will your students feel better but so will you, the connection helps everyone feel like there is more than just content, content, content.  
  5. Face the FOMO:  It’s the end of the year.  There will be parties, gatherings, group outings, and all sorts of social events.  Just like I tell new teachers at the beginning of the year – you don’t have to do everything, in fact skipping some things is healthy!  FOMO or “fear of missing out” is real…no one wants to be the only person to miss the party and they certainly don’t want to be sitting at home thinking that everyone else if having fun without them!  However, sometimes that’s okay, in fact it’s more than okay.  Taking a night off and missing a social event is a healthy choice, especially when you know there are a million things getting squeezed into the last few days of the school year.  We’ll never be able to do everything and we have to be okay with that, knowing that our lives are full of wonderful experiences and missing this one won’t ruin our lives!  

The school year is winding down quickly and so is my time here at AC and in Ecuador.  In fact, I just counted and there are only 43 days left.  I’ve got four trips planned, a hike up Pichincha, International Festival, my birthday, 29 school days, countless parties, and waaaay too many things on my to-do list.  Perhaps I wrote this post more for myself than anyone!!  It’s that time of year, be good to yourself and be good for each other!!

Burning Burnout

This week I was inspired by a couple articles that I came across on social media.  I find articles all over the internet, sometimes on social media, sometimes by reading educational blogs, and other times from regular email lists I’ve subscribed to.  Both of the articles that have inspired me this week come at a very poignant time for me and many of our colleagues.  

The first article that caught my eye is from Harvard Business Review and is written with managers (aren’t all educators managers?) in mind, the topic is burnout and how to avoid it in a hectic and go-go work place.  We’ve been going full-steam ahead for the better part of the last three months and everyone is more than ready for the upcoming holiday.  I’ve written about balance and how important it is to achieve at least a semblance of equilibrium in our lives.  This article does a tremendous job of identifying some of the most important warning signs as well as prevention methods for burnout.  

 

  • Prioritize Self-Care:

 

      • Good sleep habits
      • Nutrition
      • Exercise
      • Social connections
      • “Practices that promote equanimity and well being”

 

  • Shift Your Perspective:

 

      • I believe that the second article this week really shares a very important and interesting perspective on teaching.  The article, “My Name Is Tom. I’ve Been a Teacher for 10 Years and I Still Get My Ass Kicked Nearly Every Day”, is an outstanding piece about maintaining a growth mindset perspective as a teacher.
      • As Tom (from the article above) says, “The struggle isn’t just inevitable, it’s important. It shows us where to get better, where to adapt, where to throw out the old answers and come up with some new ones.”

 

  • Reduce exposure to job-stressors:

 

      • Be a professional, not a servant.
      • Set reasonable boundaries for yourself.
      • Give yourself permission to stop.

 

  • Seek Out Connections:

 

    • This is perhaps the best antidote to burnout…
    • Find rich personal connections.
    • Pursue meaningful personal and professional development.
    • Remember:  You’re not the only one!  

As Tom mentions, the struggle is real!  Remember, one of the most important pieces from above, we’re all in a similar position.  Reach out to your colleagues, make those connections and be good for each other 🙂

Granting Ourselves Permission

We have to grant ourselves permission to stop at some point, this is education and we could work 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives and the work still wouldn’t be finished.  The importance of slowing down and giving ourselves permission to search for balance in our lives is a crucial element of success in education.  

Each day that we work with our students we should be at our very best, but the reality is that none of us can honestly say that we’re doing this.  We come to school tired, sick, and overwhelmed by outside influences.  This is normal, everyone does this and that’s okay (to a point…stay home if you’re contagious!).  No one is going to have their best day every time they wake up and there’s a reason for that, we’re human.  However, despite being human, we are still able to control a lot of the factors that determine how balanced we remain.

We can help ourselves stay as healthy as possible by tending to our diet and exercise, we can ensure that we get enough sleep, and we can maintain healthy stress levels through yoga, meditation, or another relaxing activity.  Perhaps the most important way that we can help ourselves to stay fresh and in peak form is to grant ourselves the permission to stop.  Perhaps in no other profession does the anxiety over “getting everything done” build as quickly as it does in education.  After all, we’ve got these kids’ futures in our hands, if we don’t teach them everything they need they’ll never learn it…right?!?

Well, here’s a possible wake up call for you, if you’re burned out then your students aren’t going to learn much of anything from you!  Very often as educators we get caught in a cycle of coming in early, staying late, and then taking work home.  We want to try new strategies, give quality feedback, engage our students and increase student learning.  Don’t get me wrong, we should be doing those things…BUT…we need to do it at a sustainable pace, one at which we can stay healthy, relaxed and present for our students.  Find your limits and hold yourself to them without going over, it’s a long fall if you go over the edge.

It is essential that we acknowledge the fact that the work is never going to feel like it is done, that there will always be something more we could do.  Granting ourselves permission to draw a line and stop pushing for the sake of our own sanity must happen, or we will all work ourselves into the ground.  Prepare yourself at the beginning of the year, month, or unit.  Allot yourself time to complete the absolute essentials, then allot time for the balance outside of school,  and finally you can use what is left over to let yourself run wild with the “extras”.  To successfully maintain balance we need to plan for it and make it a priority.  

Including teacher inservice days we’ve been back to work for seven weeks now.  For new teachers tack on two more weeks dating back to your arrivals.  Some of you also spent a full week with kids on Discover Ecuador.  It seems like we just started school but we’re already well into the year!  Take a minute to check-in with yourself…are you getting the right amount of rest, what about your diet and exercise, and have you taken the appropriate time to decompress and relax on the weekends or with friends?

Grant yourself permission.

Pushing Forward with School Culture

Last week I wrote about school culture and how it is, perhaps, the single most important piece to achieving the academic success that we strive for in education.  I’ve continued thinking about the importance of shaping a school’s culture and have had a lot of conversations and feedback based on last week’s post (thank you to everyone for your thoughts!)  As a result of all these conversations I decided to start trying (and modeling) a few strategies that I thought could be beneficial to further engage our student and parent populations.  I’ve found a high level of success at the initial level and I’m excited about some of the feedback I’ve received from parents and students alike.

In the past I’ve written about the importance of feedback and how giving and receiving feedback are things that people need to practice.  Similarly, I read Thanks For the Feedback a while back, upon Dan’s recommendation, and have been thinking a lot about the concept of learning to receive feedback.  There are a lot of factors at play when receiving feedback, which is what we’re asking our students and parents to do as part of the process of further engaging with academics.  One of the most impactful ideas is that people need to be in the right mindset when receiving feedback, otherwise it may fall on deaf ears and be ignored.  

One challenge that exists when sharing feedback with students and parents is that all too often we only make time to share the “negative” feedback, the stuff intended to help our students improve and grow.  This is essential information and must be shared with students and parents, but it’s not the only piece.  Balance is an important part of life, in all aspects, and when it comes to feedback there is no difference.  In order to reach a level of balance in student/parent communication that will act to further engage these stakeholders we have to ensure that we aren’t solely focused on the “negative.”  If we only contact parents about “negative” issues or approach students with “negative” feedback they will begin to block us out and our feedback will be completely lost.  

Which brings me to my idea, one of a few I’ve been trying out lately…and seeing incredible results!  Positive messages home.  I’m not making things up just to have an excuse to contact parents and celebrate their kids.  Rather, I’m looking for the positive and taking the time to share the celebration with students and parents.  Meanwhile, I continue to make my usual parent contacts for less desirable reasons (detentions, missing work, etc.)  What I’ve noticed is that when I copy (CC) parents on these messages to the students (I always do this), I’m receiving a response from the parents 85% of the time when I share a positive message, compared to an approximate 20% response rate for “negative” messages.  One of my (many) theories is that as we engage more parents with positive messages that our response rate on “negative” messages will increase.  It’s only natural, that as parents begin to see that we’re in this together, that they’ll begin to engage further with their students academic pursuits.  When I have kids come up and thank me for sharing a positive message with their parents I know that they’ve had a conversation around this topic.  My hope is that we can find a way to help parents open the lines of communication by starting with the positive, then when the “negative” arises they’ve already established a path for having these conversations.

It takes a village to raise a child and we’re all in this together.  After a few conversations around this topic, some teachers have already jumped on the bandwagon and have begun to share more frequent (both positive and “negative”) messages home, with wonderful results.  If you’re keen to help continue this surge toward a more positive school culture I encourage you to give this a try.  Let me know if you’re thinking about it and I can give you some time-saving tips to help prevent spinning your wheels unnecessarily.  There’s no better time than the present to celebrate the wonderful students we are fortunate enough to work with every day, you never know when that one positive note home is going to change something for a student or parent!