Thursday, January 25, 2018

Hey Teacher, When You Lose Your “WHY,” Burnout is Inevitable!

As I type, the date is January 25, 2018, the midway point of the 2017-18 school year. For sure, this is the time of the year when many teachers across the U.S. start “feeling it.” Pressures are coming from every direction imaginable. Some of us are “feeling it” from administration which might include a lack of demonstrated appreciation for your work; some from the pressures of forthcoming standardized testing; some from a toxic school climate AND culture; some from parents who are not engaged nor productively active in their children’s lives; and some from either apathetic, disengaged, undisciplined, unmotivated, recalcitrant or defiant students.  The aforementioned are certainly enough to burn a teacher out or even force a teacher to reconsider whether or not teaching was the best career choice. Again, I thoroughly understand. But let’s delve a little deeper.

Somewhere in your journey called life, something crept into your head, your heart, your spirit or maybe even your soul that said, “I want to teach.” Only you know when this happened and what may have triggered it, but the bottom line is that the notion hit you. You were convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that you wanted to spend your career in the classroom teaching. But it didn’t stop there….no…in addition to this desire to teach, you also concluded within yourself that if given the opportunity to teach, your students would benefit immensely….your students would be at an advantage…your students would soar! That was your thinking and I challenge you to prove me wrong! You knew that YOU were the one that your students needed. Many of you were even intentional about where you wanted to one day teach. Many of you reading this blog post didn’t want to be in unchallenging environments. You actually desired to be in tough, economically disadvantaged urban environments or a challenging, economically disadvantaged rural environment. Moreover, many of you wanted to be in a challenging environment that had a sizable population of children of color – particularly Black and Latino children. Again, I challenge you to prove me wrong. You said about yourself, “I have just what the children of these environments need.”

But let’s go a tad deeper still. Not only did you desire to work in a challenging urban or rural environment for example, but there was a reason you wanted to work in this environment and it was very was personal! In other words, you didn’t conclude that you wanted to teach in a challenging environment for the sake of doing so. You had a PURPOSE for wanting to do so…you had a REASON for wanting to do so…you had a “WHY!” Consequently, toward launching your journey of preparation toward becoming a classroom teacher, you were driven by your “WHY.” Everything you had to do to earn your degree, your license and to land the position was all rooted in your “WHY.” When you ultimately started teaching in your “dream job” in a challenging school environment, it was your “WHY” that woke you up every morning. You didn’t need an alarm. Your “WHY” got you up and going everyday! And throughout the day your “WHY” drove everything you said and everything you did. It was your essence in the classroom.

My question then is, “What happened to so many of us?” Why are you burning out? Why are you struggling to get up in the morning? Why is going to your school to greet your students in the morning sometimes a chore? I think I can answer this….YOU HAVE LOST YOUR “WHY.” I’ll say it again…YOU HAVE LOST YOUR “WHY.” When you lose your “WHY,” burnout is inevitable! Whatever those challenges you’re facing in your classroom, that’s precisely what the motivation was for you to enter teaching in the first place. You cannot afford to lose your “WHY.” Your “WHY” has got to be your reason for stepping into that classroom everyday. Your students cannot afford for you to lose your “WHY.” Your students cannot afford for you to become discouraged. Your students cannot afford for you to lose your energy, excitement and enthusiasm, because when you do, THEY LOSE...AND THEY ARE CONSEQUENTLY DOOMED! Yes, there can be issues with administration. Yes, there can be issues with colleagues. Yes, there can be issues with parents. Yes, there can be issues with the overall environment. But as you know, your students need you at your best. They need the best you daily.

So teacher, on those days when you feel that you can’t make it or those days when you question whether you want to stay in this profession, revert back to your “WHY.” Keep your “WHY” close to the vest. Never again detach yourself from it. Keep your focus on making your children great…nothing more and nothing less. Despite the challenges of the work and the extra responsibilities that you may not agree with or feel overwhelmed by, get them done nevertheless, but keep your focus, your energy, your excitement, your enthusiasm locked into your “WHY” because again, when you lose your “WHY,” burnout is inevitable!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Diet & Exercise are ALSO Important "PD" for Educators…CRITICALLY IMPORTANT! (Take it from me...I KNOW!)

As professional educators, the volume of professional development (PD) that we can receive to enhance our practice is endless. There’s so much out there to learn toward making us all great at what we do. And when we take full advantage of all we can consume, our students are the ones who come out on top.

One topic that is not a typical PD workshop topic is “Diet and Exercise.” Certainly, when I was a classroom teacher, had I been sent to workshop on diet and exercise, I am sure I would have gotten a good nap in that day. I taught when I was in my late 20s through my late 30s. The furthest thing from my mind in those days was “diet and exercise.” I was too busy trying to be great in the classroom. Why would I need to spend an hour or more learning about taking care of my heath? In my mind, I was the picture of good health….although I ate fast food 5 – 6 days per week…hmm.

In my late 30s, I became a principal. This meant I slept less now and ate a whole lot more fast food. As a new principal, I was putting in a 12 – 14 hour day daily. On my way to work in the wee hours of the morning, I would stop at a fast food drive through window and order breakfast. For lunch which typically was at about 4:00 p.m., I would ask someone to bring me some fast food for lunch. On my way home late at night, I would stop through the fast food drive though for something to hold me over until I got home for a late dinner. Then I would start the process all over the next day. This went on for fourteen years as a principal, but in my mind, I was feeling great and in the best of shape. Little did I know, a life-threatening crisis was waiting for me right around the corner.

When I became an education consultant in 2015, my fast food diet intensified because now, I was on airplanes every night all night and all I had time to eat was fast food…so I thought. Midnight - 2:00 a.m. fast food dinners and then sleep 3 hours and start it all over the next day. Again, in my mind, I’m fine. Nothing will ever happen to me. Then on May 1, 2015, I reached “that corner.” In the middle of a keynote address at the University of Miami…BAM!!! A massive heart attack….right on the stage in front of an audience of 200 Miami administrators! MY main artery…the LAD, was clogged 100%! The fast food and the sodas (about 6 sodas per day) caught up to me and almost did me in. To make a very long story short, I almost lost my life on that stage. I ate fast food two hours before the presentation! I thought I was invincible. I’m talking to someone out there!

An ambulance was called and I was rushed to the hospital, with my audience watching in disbelief. The surgeon got a stent in my artery in the nick of time. You should have heard me yelling and screaming…thought I was going to die. After the surgery, the doctor informed me that Type II diabetes accompanied the heart attack….OMG!!! He said I had to change my lifestyle now. No more fast food, fried food, sodas, etc. Trust me, he didn’t have to tell me twice! I went cold turkey and hit the treadmill and exercise bike in every hotel I stayed in which I continue to do to this day. I lost 40 pounds in 4 months without even trying. I just did what I was told to do…eat right and exercise.

Hey teacher out there…hey administrator out there…hey support staff member out there…put that burger, fries and soda DOWN! It’s not healthy. Take it from me. I thought I was a machine. I thought heart attacks happen to other people….not me! Well I learned the hard way and I’m now sharing it with you. My focus was on the work…I repeat…MY FOCUS WAS ON THE WORK…THE CHILDREN. I didn’t give my health a second thought. I know there is someone reading this blog post who is in the same predicament I was in. I know you are out there. I am encouraging you to heed my advice…my warning and STOP!

I take good care of myself now. No insulin or any diabetes meds required. I manage it through diet and exercise. I still work hard and I’m still on the road often. I’m typing this blog post on a plane in fact. But I eat right. I exercise for about 40 minutes daily. I am encouraging you to do the same. Don’t tell me you don’t have time. Like the doctor said to me, MAKE THE TIME! It boils down to prioritizing, commitment and time management. You are of no use to your students if you are either laying up in a hospital recovering from a crisis that you had control over…or worse!…yeah, I said it. I want to make you feel uncomfortable with your bad health habits if applicable. Your students need you healthy so if I’m talking to you, let’s get it together. Enough said. #bam.

Monday, January 1, 2018

FAITH: Your Faith in Yourself as the Classroom Teacher MATTERS!

Note - Today is the final day of Kwanzaa & I'm examining how each principle correlates with CLASSROOM TEACHER SUCCESS. Today's principle is Faith (IMANI in the East African language, Kiswahili). Take a read & feel free to comment.

Of the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa, this is by far the most important one for me personally. I consider “faith” to be the bedrock principle…the foundation upon which all of the others stand. I find it to be equally foundational for classroom teacher success. At the end of the day, you as the classroom teacher must have faith in yourself and in your ability to bring out the very best in your students.

In my book, The Teacher 50: Critical Questions for Inspiring Classroom Excellence, (a book comprised of fifty self-reflective questions for teachers), it opens with the question, “Are my students at an advantage BECAUSE I am their teacher?” In all actuality, I could conduct the entire accompanying workshop on this one question. A tremendous amount of self-reflection, self-assessment, discussion and emotions come out of this question from the teachers in my audiences. I am essentially asking teachers, “Are your students better off because you are their teacher? Is there something advantageous for the students as a result of you being their teacher? Are you the best possible teacher for your students? Would your students be better off if they were with another teacher or even in a different school?”

This is not an easy question to answer. It forces one to be brutally honest with and about oneself. It speaks volumes about how you see yourself as a classroom teacher, but also how you see yourself as a person. My contention here is that as a classroom teacher, your response to this question must be an emphatic YES! Think about it…imagine you’re the teacher of a classroom of twenty-five students and their academic, social and emotional lives are very much dependent upon you and their academic, social and emotional well being will determine their success. That translates into you carrying quite a heavy burden and responsibility into your classroom daily relative to the life chances and opportunities your students will have. Looked at this way, it then becomes imperative that your students are in the midst of a teacher who is unwavering about his / her beliefs about whether or not the students are in fact at an advantage because you are their teacher.

As a classroom teacher of children, you have no choice but to have faith in yourself. You can have all the credentials that are humanly possible to accumulate relative to degrees, certifications and professional development hours but if you lack faith in yourself and your ability to be great in your classroom, then all of the credentials you accumulated are for naught. Of course, your credentials are invaluable and I would encourage any educator to accumulate as many as you can because this benefits children, but equally important is your faith in your ability to execute all that you have learned. You have got to walk into your classroom everyday with confidence. You have got to walk into your classroom everyday knowing that your students are in the best possible hands. You have got to walk into your classroom everyday with the anticipation that your students are going to achieve at the highest possible levels because of the faith you have in yourself, the faith you have in your skillset and the faith you have in your students…despite whatever challenges and obstacles that may come your way.

Reflecting on 4 Years of the AP & New Principals Academy

  It’s practically surreal that a project I started on May 2, 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic is still going strong 4 years later and...