Teacher turnover has become an important topic in recent years. In his article Revolving Door of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year, Owen Phillips shares the startling statistic, within 5 years, “nearly half of those [new] teachers will transfer to a new school or leave the profession altogether.”
Why is this happening? What is causing teachers to burnout within the first 5 years of their teaching?
Many teachers credit a stifling environment due to implementation of high-stakes testing, No Child Left Behind and the Common Core as major culprits. U.S. News and World Report cited a lack of creativity as being detrimental to teachers and students referring to it as “The Long Death of Creative Teaching.” Gone are the days of teachers being referred to as artists who craft and create a rich and engaging curriculum. This has been replaced with scripted curricula and “math-in-a-box” programs that tell teachers not just what to teach but word for word, how to teach.
So how can teachers begin to find their creativity and bring this back into the classroom? How can students be taught the required curricula while also learning to think outside of the box themselves?
The answer might lie in one of fashion’s greatest icons, Isaac Mizrahi. Long known for his daring and creative approaches to fashion, Mizarahi is the first to admit that he is no expert. He cites inspiration as the main driving force of his creativity. He can find this inspiration anywhere, “A lot of my designs come from mistakes and tricks of the eye.” Perhaps his most important comment regarding inspiration can lend well to the new scientific approach to developing a standard curriculum for all students, “It does not come for me from research.” This is one of the biggest arguments of teachers of the Common Core. No elementary teachers were on the board that created these standards. The standards were largely created by University academia who viewed the creation from a research standpoint, rather than an educational one.
The reality is that there is little an individual teacher can do to get rid of high stakes testing or curricula purchased at a district level. But, there is something she can do to change the individual experiences of the children in her classroom. Rather than trying to change the entire curriculum, teachers can find inspiration in their day to day lives and use this as an enhancement to their lessons. Mizarahi finds his inspiration from everyday occurrences such as light, movies, people walking down the street, and astrologers.
Often times, teachers put an undo amount of pressure on themselves trying to be the best. Mizarahi explains that he never goes out to be the absolute best. He tries new things and, “I don’t say it’s good, I just think it’s not boring.” Perhaps this lesson from one of the fashion world’s most creative designers can realign teachers’ expectations. Rather than making a goal of designing the most engaging and creative lessons, first, attempt to make it “not boring.”
Do you think Isaac Mizarahi is right in his approach to inspiration? Should teachers first try to be the best or should they first strive for simply “not boring”? How do you bring your own ideas of creativity to the classroom regardless of mandated curricula?
Why would it be essential for students to have a comfortable, working, rapport with their teachers? Initially it may be difficult for the teacher to consider the importance of teaching through relationships, because many teachers may come from a generation where these relationships between student and teacher were virtually nonexistent and completely professional; drawing a clear line between the teacher and the student. It is important for teachers to understand why it is important to create a comfort level in the classroom where students can safely thrive through being themselves and accepted what ever their style of learning.
Have a sense of humor:
When teachers smile and laugh with students, there is an instant form of connection. Humor in the classroom can help students feel more comfortable and open for learning. It can also be a great way to shift emotional gears when a student may have had an unfortunate event prior to walking into the classroom. Anytime there is a positive emotional connection like humor, the content the teacher is conveying is much more memorable and more inclined to stick!
Connecting to students my help students to connect with each other:
There may be times a teacher has a difficult time in the classroom because students may not be connecting with one another or even more simply, they may not be kind to one another. The lack of kindness and empathy between students can be a huge distraction in the classroom. Teachers may not think of themselves as a facilitator of relationships; however, when there is a social vibe in the classroom there can be a sense of family where acceptance, community, and a comfort level which can open students to more effective learning.
Be aware of a student’s discomfort:
It is important to scan students for behavior which may indicate they are uncomfortable. Students who are uncomfortable will not be open to learn and may be fixated on their discomfort. Examples to look for in students are tiredness, hunger, or restlessness. Recognizing and talking to each student about their discomfort simply shows them you care. The remedies for these minor difficulties can be simple from a quick drink of water, running a short errand for the teacher, a small snack, stretching, or allowing the student to stand.
Talk about what is going on in YOUR life!
Students like to hear about how the teacher’s weekend was, what they like to do, and stories they may have from when you were their age. This opens a window of opportunity to become familiar with the teacher as a person and someone they can more easily relate to. Students may have a desire to connect with the teacher’s hobbies, and family even if they don’t have the opportunity to experience it first hand. Students, especially young ones, often picture their teacher living at school! When they imagine their teacher in more traditional settings it makes teachers more approachable and easier for the students to relate to.
Teacher’s, don’t be perfect:
Teachers are always thinking of how to improve the student’s performance and what skills they may be lacking in. Additionally, other students, in many cases, are aware of strengths and fragilities of their fellow classmates. Students, however, find it very interesting and appealing when they know teachers may have their own struggles and similar problems. When teachers are able to communicate comfortably skills and traits they are improving, it models a behavior for the student to be comfortable with any areas of needed improvment they may have. Sharing imperfections may help students to be comfortable with their flaws more openly.
Illustrate to students how much they are valued: Tell students as a group and individually you believe in them. They need to hear they will make a difference someday, and their life has a purpose along with they will be successful. Ask the students how they are, what they need, and what their opinion is. Tell them you value what they have to say and their opinion matters. Find out what their plans are. They will feel appreciated and want to excel even more.
10 Small Ways to Brighten a Student’s Day by Richard Regina
Teachers constantly strive to create a positive learning environment. To most, that positivity ties in to an environment conducive to learning. To students, a positive environment means a place they feel warm and welcome. Every day, a teacher has a chance to brighten a student’s day by doing something small. As a principal of a local high school, I posed a question to 15 or so teachers- What do you do specifically to brighten a student’s day? Interestingly, all of the little things they do are just that, little. They take little effort, cost little money, but all of them brighten a student’s day and that has a tremendous impact on a student. Students that feel positive and welcomed are more likely to take positive risks, face failure, and experience true learning.
More than anything else, one will see the way to brighten a day has nothing to do with content, tests, or the teacher; rather, it is the focus a students social and emotional needs. Students that feel good about themselves are more likely to engage in learning. Before, during, and after students are students, they are humans, and we have to figure out ways to humanize our schools and classrooms. This list, though, contains small creative gestures that can brighten a student’s day that do not take much effort, but just a little thought:
Stand outside your door during each passing period and try to greet each student by name and with a genuine welcoming smile. With large classes, one may not be able to call on each kid at some point during the instruction time, but we can for sure let them know that we “see” them individually as they enter my room. She has a stack of notes from former students and many of them mention this–it’s something she learned from “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Quote: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Do birthday cards and candy. At the beginning of every school year, she gets the birthdays of all students and puts the on a calendar. On that special day, she wishes the student a happy birthday and gives them a piece of candy. For all, it puts a smile on their face that someone is recognizing them on their special day. For others, it might be the first time someone says happy birthday to them as both parents may leave for work before the student wakes up. For a few, it might be the only time someone says happy birthday to them.
Recognize the most improved scores in each unit. Students with the highest scores always seem to get recognized. Taking the time to encourage the most improved puts the spotlight on a different student and really encourages the growth mindset. A student that previously scored a 52% on and assessment and now scores a 78% has made tremendous strides, and he or she should be commended. This way, the teacher is not necessarily rewarding the score, but she is rewarding the effort and improvement.
Dare to take an interest in something a student is interested in. This teacher had a couple quiet students interested in English Premier League soccer. Rather than play along in the conversation, he did a tiny bit of research and engaged the student in a conversation. In fact, when the bell rings each day to end class, the teacher plays a highlight clip from the night before and has created common ground with that student. Each day, the student looks forward to coming to class because he gets his daily dose of something he truly enjoys talking about.
If you have a student from your class lose a parent, make note and follow up. In fact, this teacher makes it a point to follow up the following years when he does not have student in class. While it is revisiting a tough time for a student, it is reassuring for that student that someone is still thinking about them. Losing a parent is extremely difficult, and one never truly gets over that. This is especially tough for a young student. Many may not show any outward signs that the death is impacting them a year later, and their current teacher may not know they lost a parent, but having an adult just checking in on them can be very comforting and give them someone to talk to.
Make a positive phone call home about a student and have a conversation with a parent. For many, the only phone call home is a negative one, and for many more, they never even get a phone call. Taking the time to make one positive call home daily will ensure every student gets at least one positive comment that school year. The impact of that can be powerful as it might spark a dinner table conversation at home. At school, it reinforces to students the teacher does see the good going on in class. It is one thing to tell a student they did a good job, it is even more encouraging for a student when a teacher shares that with another adult.
Take on a student in his or her comfort zone. For example, if you know a student is involved in chess club, show up at a club meeting and challenge the student. In your classroom, you are the content expert, but at chess club, the student is the content expert. Being vulnerable highlights the fact that you are human, and having a student see you as human is positive for the student-teacher relationship. Having a student teach you about something empowers the student and can create smiles in the classroom.
Tweet pictures from your classroom with positive comments. When students get home from school and check Twitter to see their smiling faces, it reinforces to them school and learning can be fun. In addition, it makes them think about the positive experience they had in class. Students are quick to retweet and like for their friends to see, so it is obvious that a simple Tweet with a small comment goes a long way.
Create a brag board that excludes work from your class. Students are accustomed to having their best work on display in a classroom, but giving them an outlet to brag about other things going on in their life creates a positive atmosphere. Some students may brag about an accomplishment on a football field while others may brag about something at home. Either way, it is a great way for students of different backgrounds to get to know each other as well as a tremendous outlet for students to share all the good they are doing in the world. There is more going on in a student’s world than what is going on in an individual class.
Set up a day to meet a group of students for breakfast over winter break. For most students, the holidays are a time of joy, but for others they are not. Setting up a day over winter break to meet at the local donut shop is a great way to make student smile and see you outside of the classroom setting. In addition, it may give some students something to look forward to over the holidays. Meeting at a public place on December 26 might just be the highlight of break for a student. For students that have a joyous break, eating donuts is just a bonus, and it might also spark conversations with students that normally do not talk to each other.
Certainly, we have heard about some of these strategies before so they are not completely new, but when consciously implemented, they can make a huge difference for a student. Making a student smile often requires a simple act that can have long lasting positive effects. The idea of brightening a student’s day is not a complex one, but it is one that requires effort and follow through. On the surface, this list does not seem all that creative as the gestures are simple, but as with many examples of creativity, it is the practice as well as the constant evolution that makes something creative truly effective. Though it seems exhaustive, creativity requires us to constantly question, reflect, and improve, so this list is just a starting point and not the solution.
While a student has a huge capacity for learning, as educators, we must remind ourselves that they are human beings and must find creative ways to address those social emotional needs. Shifting the focus from content and assessment to students and learning may seem like a massive change in philosophy, but just a few ideas strategically sprinkled with sincerity can make it a minor shift in practice, and the students will feel the difference in your classroom and you will see the difference in their performance.