As a veteran teacher, I am constantly trying to find ways to grow and change so that I can become a better version of myself each year. I am also a mentor, so I need to be a guiding light to those just starting as teachers, offering ideas and suggestions. I always try to remember that while teaching can be challenging, it also should be enjoyable. I have found that the longer I teach, the more I question myself and the effectiveness of my strategies due to the changes in education and world today. In my opinion, teaching has always required teaching the “whole child.” I have always wanted to meet students' basic needs while having fun learning new things.
Teaching the whole child today means something very different than it did 20 years ago. Children have different needs, different family dynamics, are growing up in a different time, and are facing new challenges. This means that we, as educators, must continually find ways to reach the whole child. Now, more than ever, our students need a strong support system. Our roles must go beyond teaching content and focus on teaching children. We need to supply them with the tools to function in an ever-changing and unpredictable world as they grow into adults.
A book that has really pushed my thinking and helped me synthesize what I have always wanted to do with students, but couldn’t quite pull it all together into a cohesive mechanism, is HACKING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. My year school year started with establishing expectations, community building and teaching empathy. Empathy is something that many students need to learn and discuss, starting at an early age. Discussing empathy also helped our class understand how actions may impact others both positively and negatively. Throughout the beginning of the year I have introduced different mindfulness activities that I got from the book, in addition to researching some new ones on my own. Not only did I introduce these techniques, I practiced them with students early and often.
The hack that scared me the most was the use of a restorative circle in my class, however, circling up has been my biggest class success so far! More importantly, my students would also agree! Circling up is something that my students look forward to and many even suggest circling up when there is an issue to address. You will be surprised how your students respond to the hacks from the book as you incorporate them into your day. Don’t be afraid to take a risk with a circle as there are plenty of safe topics to circle up with and discuss. Circles fit in perfectly with my class goal of continuing to enhance relationships and community within the classroom. You can read more about circles on the Circle Up for a Better Culture and Climate blog.
The expectation for success starts with you! As a teacher, we are the role models. We have to believe in what we are doing, communicating, and modeling. Create a growth mindset for yourself and watch these hacks work. You will certainly stumble numerous times, but patience and persistence will pay off. We must continue to put ourselves out there, even if we have been teaching for many years. I wish that I had the opportunity to read a book like this, as a new teacher, and not as a teacher nearing her retirement years. After reading the book and implementing the hacks, I feel that I have been given an opportunity for renewed inspiration and growth as an educator. I am currently working with my school corporation to help lead changes around restorative practices using hacks from the book! I am also looking forward to working with BehaviorFlip, which is the app developed by the authors to track, monitor, and restore behaviors!
This guest post is by Sara Silber, a 5th grade teacher at Manassas Park Elementary. Follow her on Twitter @5Silber or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.