Passion cannot be faked. Students can tell when we’re just going through the motions. But how can you summon the energy to teach with passion when there are so many distractions from what really matters? And if you barely have time for taking care of yourself, how can you have anything left to give your students? In this episode, you’ll learn three principles for becoming unshakeable and enjoying teaching every day, no matter what.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunes to get new episodes right away.
In today’s episode, I’m going to talk about how to become unshakeable in your enthusiasm for teaching. Here’s what I mean by that.
I think we’ve all started off the school day determined to have one of those great days we dreamed about before we got our first teaching job, where it’s going to be like Dead Poets Society and all your kids are going to fall in love with learning. You sit down at your desk and a message goes over the intercom saying that your colleague is absent and there’s no sub, so they’re splitting her class and you have 8 extra students today. Before you can try to make extra photocopies, the phone rings, and it’s a parent complaining about the amount of homework you gave the night before. By the time you get off the phone, you realize it’s 8:00 and you forgot to send down your progress reports to the principal. At that moment, your students come in, all trying to get your attention at once and tattling and reporting that two other students are fighting out in the hallway. It’s now five minutes into your day, and already, you’ve completely lost your focus, motivation, and energy.
This is how it feels sometimes, right? You start to wonder: When do I actually get to TEACH? It’s all testing and paperwork and behavioral issues and meetings, when do I get to inspire kids? And we’re feeling disillusioned and burned out before 8 am! Which means we’re losing the battle before it even starts on a very, very regular basis.
So, how is it possible to become so unshakeable in your enthusiasm for teaching that this kind of stuff mostly rolls off your back? How do you stir up that inner drive and motivation, and passion with all that other stuff coming at you?
This is a question that I’ve been thinking really deeply about for a long time. I know teachers who are unshakeable that most things don’t really bother them. They go to work each day and focus on the kids, and they get a lot of satisfaction from that. They just have this mindset that is super resilient and positive.
Now, I used to go through an emotional roller coaster as a teacher. I was pretty much the opposite of unshakeable until I started studying mindset and learned how to renew my mind according to what I knew was truth rather than just following my feelings. I wrote about that whole process and the principles I identified in my book Awakened; Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching and later in a faith-based workbook called The Awakened Devotional Study for Christian Educators.
The mindset piece is a lifelong journey, don’t get me wrong. But once I felt like I had that mostly in place, I was still looking for ways to enjoy my work more. I felt like I had the positive, resilient mindset in place, but was still stuck in a lot of negative habits that didn’t support the mindset. I had to find daily practices that would keep me in a positive mindset even when surrounded by negative coworkers, and practices that would give me time to enjoy my students and make the most of every moment with them despite all the pressure I was under.
So I had been thinking about this concept of what makes a teacher unshakeable for many years, and last spring, I decided to explore this in depth and make it into a book so that teachers could have a set of clearly defined practices they could pick and choose from to bring more joy to their teaching. I started writing that book last March, and it’s going to be released next week.
Now the interesting thing about writing Unshakeable is that when I started telling people last summer that I was writing it, I started getting requests to speak about the book. And before I knew it, I had all these conferences and keynotes lined up to talk about a book that hadn’t been written yet. I thought that was kind of a big gamble, but I was talking to one of the conference organizers about it, and he was like, “I think it will be great. It’s like when you got to a concert and the musician says, ‘I’m going to play a song from my new album, no one has even heard it yet, you can’t buy this anywhere’ and people get an inside, first look at it.”
I really liked that concept and I decided to go ahead and start speaking about Unshakeable. Each chapter in the book was going to be based on one way to become Unshakeable, and I had already chosen the topics for each chapter. I didn’t know exactly what each one was going to say, but I knew these key principles I wanted to hit on.
The cool thing about creating a keynote before finishing the book was that I really had to distill the whole thing down into its most important elements. Obviously, I wasn’t going to get up there and rattle off 20 different ways to enjoy teaching — that would leave me like two minutes to talk about each one. So I had to really think about the big themes of the book. What were the most important unifying elements that I wanted teachers to understand?
I wanted to share with you today those three big themes I identified — those big ideas that I think all the different strategies for becoming unshakeable fall under. And, I want to share the overarching principle — the single phrase that I think holds the key to enjoying teaching every day, no matter what.
The first key is authenticity. Integrating your authentic self in your classroom is so important because it balances all the acting involved in teaching. We have to act excited about teaching a lesson when we feel tired. We have to act enthusiastic about small bits of kids’ progress when we feel frustrated that they haven’t made larger gains. We have to act like we are calm and in control when we feel like screaming. And we also have to act like we are interested in teaching stuff we don’t enjoy teaching.
If you don’t tie in pieces of your personality whenever possible, you’re going to find yourself counting the moments until you can get “get off the stage” and be yourself again. You’ve got to find ways to express yourself and your personality in the classroom.
I’ve written chapters on incorporating playfulness and humor in the classroom, even if you are a naturally serious person like I am. I wrote about creating curriculum “bright spots” that you can’t wait to teach even in really dull areas of your teaching standards, and uncovering the compelling reason for every lesson you teach so you have a meaningful purpose. I wrote about being truly present and looking for the lightbulb moments. These are all ways you can bring your authentic self into the classroom and make your lessons not only enjoyable for kids to learn but enjoyable for you to teach, too.
So the first key to being unshakeable is authenticity. The second is vision. Your vision as a teacher is what should define your value and your measure of success. Not your principal’s evaluation of you based on the 10 minutes he stood in your classroom one afternoon. Not the scores on your students’ standardized tests. You have to have a clear, driving focus that compels you to do what you do every day and helps you tap into intrinsic motivation.
So I’ve outlined how to create a vision — and not just one that sounds good, but one that really means something to you personally and motivates you to work hard even when you don’t see results, even when no one says thank you, and even when people criticize you.
And this vision that you create for yourself impacts everything you do in the classroom. It will help you assist your students in uncovering THEIR vision, which will motivate them to work harder. Your vision will help you innovate and adapt to all the constant changes in education that wear you down, because when you define success for yourself, you learn to create the goal posts and reflect on your own progress. You become more self-confident because you know how to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work. Changes don’t scare you because you know how to be resilient.
When you have a vision for your teaching, you can take charge of your own professional development and do your part to create a positive school culture. Each one of these ideas is a chapter in the book, so I explain in really concrete terms what I mean and how you can implement everything.
So we’ve got authenticity and vision. The third theme for the book and key to becoming unshakeable in your enthusiasm for teaching is creating a reciprocal energy flow.
This might sound familiar to you if you’re a big Truth for Teachers fan, because I talked about the reciprocal energy flow at length in episodes 4 and 5 of the podcast: Gaining energy from kids instead of letting them drain you, and motivating students to take charge of their own learning.
You see, when you have a reciprocal energy flow, your connections with kids motivate and energize you. You learn how to take time to really enjoy the kids and empower them to take charge. It is incredibly enjoyable to teach children who want to learn and are actively engaged in their learning.
Authenticity, vision, and a reciprocal energy flow. There’s also one overarching theme of the book that I didn’t even realize until I was about 90% done with writing it. It just kept coming up in different ways, chapter after chapter. And that is: energy management.
How do you figure out what’s most important and let the rest go? How do you create periods of rest and downtime for yourself during the school day? How do you establish healthy habits for taking work home and turn your mind off at night? How can you not only conserve energy but also replenish it? It’s not enough to be able to manage your time — you have to also manage your energy levels so that you have the stamina to complete the tasks when the time comes.
So I know I’ve given you a lot of information today and I’ve just barely touched the surface of it. I want to make my presentation on Unshakeable available to each and every one of you, whether you ever get to hear me speak in person or not. I’m going to be sharing a free 60-minute video in which I elaborate on each one of these themes in depth, so you can learn more about how to bring authenticity, vision, and a reciprocal energy flow to your teaching.
Here’s what you need to do: Enter your email address here. I’m going to send you sample chapters of the book and some quick videos about how Unshakeable came about, what it’s based on, and how I believe it will transform your teaching.
When the book is released next week, you’ll be the first to know about it, AND you’ll get free bonus material, including some helpful worksheets that will assist you in analyzing your teaching and the practices you can put into place to help you enjoy teaching more. In a couple of weeks, I’ll send out the 60-minute video to help you dive deeper into what you’ve read so far. So, make sure you’re signed up for Unshakeable resources or for my main email list so I can send you more great free stuff for making teaching more enjoyable!3 keys to loving teaching no matter what: authenticity, vision, and reciprocal energy flow. Click To Tweet
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