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Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers

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Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers
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Now displaying: April, 2021
Apr 28, 2021

This was the most challenging school year of almost every educator’s career.  We’re used to certain aspects of the work getting easier over time, but there were so many new challenges in 2020-2021 that even the most experienced teachers often felt like it was their first year all over again. 
 
You had lots of personal and professional growth, of course … but somehow you’re feeling less confident in your abilities now than ever before. It’s a very weird dichotomy, to feel like you worked so hard and learned so many new things, yet there’s no sense of a commensurate payoff.
 
So what does it look like to wrap up a year feeling like this? How do you get a sense of real closure?
 
I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re all experiencing various levels of collective grief right now. There’s a sense of loss for what we’ve missed out on: “regular” school, being close to family and friends, traveling, vacations, and our normal way of life. Some are also grieving deeper losses for any number of reasons, and not being able to process those losses in our normal ways is also painful.
 
The thing about grief is that we each experience it differently. And, there are many different phases and types of grief which people might cycle through. 
 
Some days, I’m content. I’ve made peace with the limitations I have in my life right now and the things I love that are unavailable to me currently. I feel content and able to embrace my new routines for as long as I need to.
 
Other days, I’m simply resigned to these new routines. I’m restless and frustrated. Sometimes I’m deeply sad. I have moments when I feel hopelessness and helplessness that won’t ever seem to end.
 
But that’s the other thing about grief, right? It doesn’t feel the same forever.
 
The ups and downs are all a natural, expected part of the process.
 
So if that’s how you’re feeling as the school year draws to a close, know that you are not alone in experiencing those mixed emotions.
 
There’s a surreal quality to the end of this school year, because many of the activities and face-to-face goodbyes that create closure have changed or been eliminated. Traditions have been altered. Not shutting down classrooms with our colleagues and celebrating together in the usual way makes it harder to emotionally and mentally transition into summer.
 
On top of that, the excitement for summer may also feel a bit muted, with fewer plans to look forward to.
 
And throughout all of this, there’s this sense that maybe you didn’t do a good enough job, because you could have done MORE.
 
The what-ifs start to swirl: Would that student have passed if I’d done A,B, and C? Would that parent have been on my side if I’d offered X, Y, and Z? Would that kid I yelled at have participated in our Zoom meetings if I’d done a better job connecting with them?
 
All of our lowest moments of the year circle around in our heads: the mistakes made, the opportunities missed.
 
And this year that feeling is intensified because of all the limitations in how we were able to reach our students. The number of kids who were disengaged and not making learning gains is probably much higher for you this year than any other in your teaching career.
 
My encouragement to you is to avoid dwelling on the losses. Don’t focus on the things you could have done, or wish you had been done differently. Don’t torture yourself by imagining how much better everything would have been if only certain conditions had been different.
 
Your kids’ learning gains this school year are NOT an accurate measure of your abilities or theirs.
 
Their learning (or lack thereof) is NOT reflective of your worth, or theirs.
 
You’ve been teaching through a crisis. And if you’re reading this, that means you’ve made it this far. 
 
That’s worth something. It’s worth a lot, in fact.
 
I hope you will look back on this school year as a test of resilience and fortitude that you have passed.
 
You did it.
 
You got through the sudden and expected transition from the style of teaching you’re used to, and fully immersed yourself in something completely different and nowhere near ideal for you or your students.
 
You’ve faced limitations and setbacks and confusion with the best you were able to give at the time. 
 
And now you will face the end of the school year with that same determined attitude. 
 
This is a time for patience and flexibility. It’s a chance to learn to be soft-hearted toward ourselves and others when our basic instincts want to flare into anger and indignation at having to deal with problems we never signed up for.
 
This is a time for going inward — to stop looking for validation from outside sources, to stop seeking out others’ approval — and make peace within ourselves. 
 
It’s a time to let go of regrets and “could-have-should-have” anxiety. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you made. Open yourself up to repairing the harm done via honest conversations and apologies where needed. Make peace in every way with what’s already done, so you can have a fresh start moving forward.
 
Give grace toward yourself and everyone around you. This is a time for more humility and patience and understanding than ever before.
 
With time, we can let go of regrets and what we hoped would be, and practice radical acceptance of the experience we are currently having. 
 
That is the BEST possible way to position ourselves to move forward and face whatever comes next.

I hope the previous 6 weeks of Wednesday emails in my “Power Through” series helped encourage and energize you through the spring months.

You did it, my friends. You’re powered through, and you’re almost at the finish line for the school year.

And I’m not going to leave you now! Here’s how we can stay connected:

#1  I’ll continue sending my Sunday night emails with free encouragement and practical tips (sign up here.)

#2  My Truth for Teachers podcast will continue to release new free episodes through the end of May. The regular episodes are longer than the “Power Through” ones (about 20-40 minutes usually) and there’s a blog post transcript for each one. We take a break each summer and then resume with new episodes in August.

#3  You can connect with me regularly on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. (My most personal reflections are on IG.)

#4  I’ll have a free webinar over the summer to help you counter the “lost year of learning” narrative and craft an inspiring, achievable vision for next school year (more on that soon!)

#5  The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program is open to new members from June 15th-July 15th. If you want a full year’s worth of ongoing support, encouragement, and practical resources for streamlining your workload, 40 Hour is the place to get it. Our community focuses on professional development AND personal development, so you don’t have to navigate any aspect of the new school year on your own.

Thank you for supporting me, and supporting my work.

Each time you listen to one of my podcasts, visit my website, open my emails, engage with me on social media, purchase one of my books/courses/printables, or tell a fellow educator about my resources … know that it is so appreciated!

I’ve chosen this work because I want my ideas to make a difference for teachers and kids, and it’s an honor to have your time and attention. More great stuff for you is on the way!

Want to start this series from the beginning? Sign up for the Power Through series emails on this page here.

Apr 25, 2021

When a problem seems insurmountable, try creating change one name at a time.

Because if you can solve a problem for one person, that means it IS a solvable problem ... and you can solve it for the next, and the next.  

In this episode, I’ll share how often the solution to big problems is solving smaller ones. You’ll hear NYT bestselling author Dan Heath share a short case study from Chicago Public Schools that illustrates how this name-by-name approach worked for reducing dropout rates.

And, I’ll share an intuitive 8 step approach you can use to tackle big problems like student engagement or work completion. You can practice solving for individuals first, and notice patterns in what your students need in order to scale those solutions.

There’s something powerful about knowing that even if you can’t solve every problem for every student, you CAN help solve THIS thing for THAT kid. 

This is how we make progress. And, this is how we create better systems: by designing those systems for individuals rather than trying to force individuals to fit into the systems.  

Click here to read the transcript and participate in the discussion or, join our podcast Facebook group here to connect with other teachers and discuss the Truth for Teachers' podcast episodes.

Apr 21, 2021

There are few things more frustrating than working hard and not seeing a ton of results. 
 
It’s even worse when your hard work is unappreciated, and you’re criticized for not doing enough or for doing things wrong.
 
When you’re trying your absolute best to teach well in a pandemic, the reality is that your best might not always be good enough
 
Sometimes what you’re able to give really isn’t sufficient. 
 
Of course you feel inadequate, when you know what you’re capable of under optimal circumstances, and also know you’re not working with anything even close to optimal circumstances.
 
So the only options are to try to single handedly compensate for all the adverse circumstances and perform at a superhuman level every day, or adjust our expectations.
 
You know which choice I’m going to advocate for.
 
I want you to let go of the “shoulds” and regrets about this school year. I want you to celebrate the small wins, instead of focusing on all the things that aren’t happening.
 
I’m going to talk more on that next week.
 
For now, I want you to focus more on who you are becoming, instead of what you are able to do (or not do) for your students.
 
Ask yourself, Who do I want to be on the other side of pandemic teaching? What kind of teacher — and what kind of human — do I want this experience to shape me into? 
 
Because in our rush to figure out logistics and lessons and activities … we can’t forget that who we ARE is more impactful than what we DO.
 
Our beliefs, values, and worldview shape the way we interact with kids and impact every decision we make, from classroom management to curriculum.
 
Unpacking our identities and the “who” we bring to the classroom can be a grounding force that holds us steady through change.
 
Of course, you don’t have the time or mental bandwidth right now for a deep meditation on who you are as a person and a teacher. And as always, I’m encouraging you not to make this more complicated than it is. 
 
Self-reflection is a continual process, and it’s often more about letting go instead of trying harder.
 
Focus on showing up as your true, whole, healed, essential self … letting go of any thoughts, beliefs, and actions that don’t serve the highest good. At your core, you are loving, patient, kind, and compassionate. You are full of life and energy and purpose.
 
All the traits that are counter to that are simply baggage and coping mechanisms you’ve picked up along the way in your journey through life in a very challenging world. They’re reactions you’ve developed as a result of fear, emotional wounds, defensiveness, prejudice, biases, outside expectations, and so on.
 
Growing as a person can be an act of returning to yourself and embracing who you really are, instead of trying to constantly change or improve yourself.
 
Your very existence, your presence in the classroom, has value. And the more that you show up with an open heart and mind, free from limiting beliefs about yourself, your students, and your school, the more your essential self will shine through.
 
So as you plan what you need to DO for kids … don’t forget to think about who you need to BE. Your essential self — who you are at your core — is exactly the person your students need this year. 
 
Sending you much love and support.

Sign up for the Power Through series emails on this page here.

Apr 18, 2021

How do you develop confidence in your teaching when you’re constantly hearing about everything you’re doing wrong?

How do you know what you should and shouldn’t be focusing on, and discern what’s a good use of your time and what’s not?

And most importantly, how can you be sure you’re showing up as the person your students need you to be?

Answering these questions is a personal, lifelong journey, and I think the answers from my guest today will really get you thinking about how to answer those questions for yourself. I’m talking with Gerardo Muñoz, a teacher of middle and high school social studies who was named Colorado’s 2021 Teacher of the Year.

Gerardo is here to share how his teaching identity has been shaped over the years, and how he’s learned to prioritize what matters most. He discusses how he’s developed the confidence to live and teach authentically, and ways he supports his students in also truly being themselves:

“I'm like every kid's hype man. I think that most of what we bring into our classrooms as teachers is the work that we've done on ourselves. That happens before we can work on our students. And so, I have to create a mindset in myself that says, ‘Every single young person in this room is exactly who they are supposed to be’. My job is not to change their personalities; my job is not to make them different humans. My job is to help them identify their strengths, and help them gain skills and behaviors that are going to amplify who they are.”

Gerardo then shares how he was on the verge of quitting the profession back in 2017, and what practices from the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program enabled him to not only stay, but to thrive. We talk about setting boundaries, and not being flattered into saying yes to everything.

When you know what you’re truly, uniquely good at — what matters deeply to you and what really lights you up — it becomes much easier to say no to obligations that pull you away from those priorities.

Confidence and authentic teaching are inherently intertwined, and the work we do on ourselves is what helps us uncover what to focus on. As Gerardo says, “Our lens becomes our practice, so we need to interrogate that lens.”

Click here to read the transcript and participate in the discussion or, join our podcast Facebook group here to connect with other teachers and discuss the Truth for Teachers' podcast episodes.

Apr 14, 2021

We’ve all had moments this school year when making it to summer felt impossible. You might even be feeling that way right now: like your job has just taken everything out of you, and you have nothing left to give. 
 
Being in that headspace is very normal, and it’s fine to allow yourself to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. You don’t have to talk yourself out of your feelings, ignore what your body is telling you, and push through no matter what.
 
(There’s a difference, after all, between pushing through and powering through. Pushing through, at least to me, means doing it regardless of how you feel and just get it done with no regard to the outcome. I see powering through as tapping into the source of your energy and motivation to see things through with strength. We want to power through, not push through.)
 
The determination to power through comes partially from reminding yourself that the way things are now is temporary. No circumstances stay the same forever.
 
I guarantee that you will not be dealing with this exact same set of problems in the fall — your workload will change, your students will change, and YOU will change. 
 
Some of it will be for the better and a few things will change for the worse, but it will be DIFFERENT. You will not feel exactly like this every day for the rest of your teaching career.
 
Recognizing the temporary nature of our problems is a technique I learned when studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The most influential CBT strategy for me has been learning to recognize my own distortions in thinking that create problems, and then reevaluate them in light of reality.
 
(I’ve actually written an entire book about this, called Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching. If you want to do a deeper dive into what I’m about to share, check that out.)
 
A pessimistic viewpoint is that problems are permanent, pervasive, and powerless. That means they will never go away, the problem is the same everywhere so you can’t escape it, and you are powerless to do anything about it.
 
An optimistic viewpoint is that problems are temporary, specific, and changeable. The circumstance will not last forever, it’s specific to this particular situation and is not something you’ll have to face everywhere all the time no matter what, and you have some control over how you respond to the situation in order to make it better. 
 
Dr. Martin Seligman’s research has shown that we can train ourselves to be optimists. Or, if you prefer, you can train yourself to be a realist. 
 
A realist sees things as they really are, which means giving an appropriate weight to the good stuff that’s happening and not allowing our lizard brains to only focus on potential threats and problems. 
 
You don’t have to choose a negative framing for your situation: “Teaching is just completely untenable for me. It’s never going to get better, and in fact, it’s only going to get worse. There’s no point in trying to find another teaching position where I can have better working conditions, because it’s terrible everywhere and I probably couldn’t find another job anyway. The whole profession has gone to hell in a handbasket and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
 
While you are entitled to think these thoughts whenever you wish, I think it’s obvious what kind of depressed feelings that choice will create. 
 
A realist would examine those thoughts, and consider what else might also be true: 
 
Is there any way to know for sure that teaching is always going to be too demanding and miserable for me forever? Of course not.
 
Is it absolutely true that there are no schools that have better working conditions? Nope.
 
Things will never get better? No, we don’t know that for sure, either.
 
Once we recognize that this pessimistic viewpoint — that the current situation is actually permanent, pervasive, and powerless — is not really true, we can choose a more accurate perspective. For example: 
 
“Teaching is super tough for me right now. Next year will have different challenges, and they could be better or worse. The situation in each school was so unique this year, so I know what I’m going through isn’t exactly what everyone else experienced — there ARE some things that can be done to make things better for teachers and kids, because those things are actually happening in tons of classrooms all over the country. I don’t have control over as many factors as I’d like, but I do have some choice in __, __, and __. So I can focus my attention on the things I can do to make this situation more bearable, and set myself up to have better choices in the future.”
 
So you don’t have to worry about how you’ll be able to keep this up until retirement, or even for just a couple more weeks
 
You can handle ANYTHING for just today. Focus on what you need to do just for now.
 
And then tomorrow when you wake up, remind yourself, “It’s not going to be like this forever — things can change at any time. I can handle the current situation, just for today.”
 
Repeat until you’ve powered through to the finish line.
 
Because while you may not feel like you have the strength to get through ALL the school days right now...you also don’t NEED the strength for all the school days right now. All you need is strength for today
 
And if that feels like too much, focus on just the strength for right now. Just this moment right here. And then in the next moment, focus just on that second in time, too. Keep doing that, one moment after another. 
 
We’re powering through this, together.

Sign up for the Power Through series emails on this page here.

Apr 11, 2021

Constantly issuing reminders and following up with kids is exhausting. Helping kids understand how their brains work and explore ways to funnel their focus, time, and energy is fascinating. 

So, how do you approach time management through this lens?

The teachers who are most successful at managing their time don’t see doing so as a burden.

And, they don’t see mismanaging their time as a failure: it’s part of the experiment of learning what works for them and what doesn’t. They’re constantly trying out different approaches according to their moods and the changes in their workload, and adapting for new changes and preferences. It’s not something they try to figure out once and for all. 

Having this perspective on your own time management naturally flows over into the way you treat students.

You no longer expect them to just “buckle down and get it down” since you’re aware of all the mental tricks and productivity hacks you yourself use to follow through on tasks.

You no longer get as frustrated with kids who waste time because you understand some of the root causes and you have tools to help. 

What if we approach productivity as one giant experiment that we can have fun with doing alongside our students?

Learning to manage your time is a highly personalized lifelong process, and it can actually be a fun adventure if you approach it through a self-development lens.

Listen in to learn more about how there’s no “right” or “wrong” approach to man aging your time, and how to teach kids that it’ normal and okay for productivity levels to be inconsistent.

Then, click here to enter your email to have a PDF of tips to help you teach time management to students. You’ll get more practical advice, teacher-tested tips, and photos sent straight to your inbox.

Click here to read the transcript and participate in the discussion or, join our podcast Facebook group here to connect with other teachers and discuss the Truth for Teachers' podcast episodes.

Apr 7, 2021

The uncertainty and constant changes have been one of the most stressful parts of this school year.
 
Nearly every teacher I know has invested countless hours into setting up a system for one approach to learning, only to find out that everything’s going to be completely different the following day … and then it’s all going to change again two weeks after that.
 
Resilient pedagogy (as defined by Joshua Eyler) is “a combination of course design principles and teaching strategies that are as resistant to disruption and to change in the learning environment as possible.”
 
The idea is that the essential qualities of your lesson plans will be in place, no matter what changes in the way you deliver instruction.
 
A resilient approach to teaching requires us to SIMPLIFY and SCALE DOWN.
 
You’re not going to be able to offer kids all the resources and options you wish you could … and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
 
Everything in our world right now is limited and restricted to an extent. If you go to a restaurant, for example, there are limitations as to where you can sit and probably fewer choices on the menu. 
 
It’s the same for your instruction: the menu of options is different, and simplified. Since we were trying to cram in way too much to our pre-pandemic instruction, resilient pedagogy returns us to what is essential and most important.

As you think about supporting your students during these final weeks of the school year, ask yourself, What would this look like if it were easy? 

Then pick simple, flexible options that are going to reduce stress for you, your students, and their families. 
 
I know that many of you are under immense pressure to hold to pre-pandemic expectations and learning standards. Many of your students are going to be taking standardized tests this year.
 
Do what’s necessary to power through this … but don’t devote a ton of time, energy, or attention to it.
 
Check the boxes, dot the i’s, cross the t’s. But keep your gaze steadily focused on what matters most for your students. 
 
No one gives 100% to everything they do, so stop pressuring yourself to uphold that standard. Figure out what’s worth the investment and pour your heart and soul into that, and give 75% or 50% or 25% to the other things.
 
Think about what you’re doing that is really moving the needle for kids, and how you can get a return on your investment of time with future classes.
 
What things have you done this school year that were really effective and that can probably be used next year?
 
That’s where you want to devote the majority of your time and energy. 
 
Obviously next school year’s still a question mark for many of us, too … but that’s where a resilient pedagogical approach really shines. Invest in lessons and activities that are context-independent (things that can work no matter what the teaching format is like in the future). 
 
The stuff that’s just useful for now, or isn’t really doing much for kids? 
 
Simplify it. Scale it down. Cut it out altogether if possible. 

Flexible resilience seems like a necessary survival tool for the foreseeable future. Let’s lean into that instead of resisting it. 

Because this is not a “lost year of learning” as so many folks outside the profession like to call it. 
 
Sure, many kids will have adverse effects on their mastery of content due to the pandemic. That’s true. But just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s healthy or useful to dwell on it. You don’t have to choose that framing, or think and talk constantly about “how far behind” kids will be. 
 
Because it’s also probably true that some of your students are actually doing better now than they would be in a traditional classroom during a typical school year. 
 
Some of your kids may be struggling academically or socio-emotionally, but not necessarily both, and some are experiencing some truly wonderful benefits right now, too. 
 
Many of your students are learning to develop critical thinking, tech proficiency, self-advocacy, time management, socio-emotional regulation, and other important life skills in ways that far surpass their abilities earlier this school year. Those skills will help them get back on track with any content-area loss … this is probably also true, right?
 
And it’s certainly true that you will not be the only teacher grappling with this problem next year. The entire country (and many other countries around the world) will be dealing with how to keep moving kids forward after the disruptions we’ve experienced. 
 
So, this is not your problem alone to solve. It’s a bridge that all of us are going to have to cross when we get there. 
 
Can you see how this is a better-feeling thought than, “Half my class is failing and they’re never going to catch up?” 
 
You can choose these better-feeling thoughts and then actively look for evidence of them throughout the day. 
 
You can train yourself to focus on assets instead of deficits, or (as Dr. Byron McClure puts it), focus on what’s strong instead of what’s wrong. 

Be flexible. Be resilient. Support your students in doing the same. We’re going to power through this, together.

Sign up for the Power Through series emails on this page here.

Apr 4, 2021

What if this is the perfect time to normalize outdoor learning and make it a permanent part of how we do school?

What exactly does outdoor learning look like, and how can we provide equitable access to it?

These are questions I’ve been mulling over for quite some time, and I’ve collected some fantastic photos, links, resources, and case studies to help you find a way to bring your classes outside.

I’ll share a bit of the history of the “open air schooling movement” from the 1900s and 1910s, when the fear of tuberculosis and later the Spanish Flu created a shift in how some children were educated. We’ll touch briefly on the historical (and current) inequities in how outdoor learning is offered, and examine how to bring classes outside even in areas where nature access is limited.

You’ll then hear 2 case stories directly from the teachers who made outdoor learning happen in their schools (a high school teacher in Texas and a first grade teacher in Massachusetts).

Outdoor learning doesn’t have to be complicated, and as you’ll hear in this episode, even short periods of being outside have proven benefits for both teachers and children.

Access images, links, and resources in the blog post here

Join our podcast Facebook group here to connect with other teachers and discuss the Truth for Teachers' podcast episodes.

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