Classroom mantras for back to school
By: Tiffany Wincek, Account Manager.
I love Gretchen Rubin’s “happiness hack” of choosing a word or phrase to use as a focus for a new year. The older I’ve gotten, the more realistic I’ve become about setting resolutions before the ball drops. In the past, on any given year, my list likely included: floss more, eat better, drink more water, drink less coffee, work out more often, write every day, and be a better human. These laundry lists never helped me achieve my goals, though, and over the past few years I’ve been whittling down my resolutions.
A few years ago, I chose only one: try every day to be the best person I can be. A close friend scoffed when I told him. “That’s a little lofty, don’t you think?’ he asked. Perhaps there was merit to his skepticism, but throughout the year I called back to that resolution with frequency. When faced with a decision on which I was wavering, a clean-cut question came to mind: what would the best version of you do? Was it a foolproof method of checking myself? Certainly not, but it provided clarity in moments when I most needed it.
This year, taking Rubin’s suggestion, I chose just one word: perspective. This simple focus rises above my previous litany of resolutions and subtly weaves its way into all the parts of my life. It has encouraged me to explore views other than my own and reminded me that stressors in life will ebb and flow. It’s given me more empathy and a greater sense of agency.
Now that we’re in the thick of back-to-school madness, I’m relying more and more on this resolution. I’ve also started to think about how, if I were still in the classroom, I could use it to set the tone for a new school year. I imagine a big, bright poster above a whiteboard or classroom door serving as a visual reminder of a unifying concept. The following words are my top four classroom mantra suggestions for 2018.
No two students are alike, even when you have twins in your classes (I think my record was three sets in the same year). Where acceptance was a buzzword years ago, appreciation is its stronger twin. To me, acceptance seems to imply something other, something that needs to be tolerated rather than valued. A focus on appreciating different backgrounds, skills, and interests creates a classroom that celebrates uniqueness.
I like this word because of its many denotations. It’s a reminder to connect with students and families. It’s a call-to-action to use units of study to lay the foundation for what’s coming next. It’s a cue to consider and link to students’ background knowledge whenever possible. If we aren’t making connections daily, what are we doing exactly?
While standards and curricula focus mainly on mastery, students who can master concepts effortlessly are rare. Praising students’ effort encourages a growth mindset. If this mantra speaks to you, there are a plethora of great growth mindset language guides floating around the internet; wouldn’t it be great to tape one inside of a gradebook (or as your computer background if your gradebook is digital) as a visual reminder when providing feedback on student assessments? I love thinking about classrooms where all students are commended for resilience and determination.
Now that I’ve mentioned a growth mindset, I’d be remiss not to mention innovation. Ideally, this mantra would provoke you to lean into students’ questions, objections, and complaints. For example, the brand new, innovative, engaging unit you created last year might not work for this year’s students. That can be frustrating, but it takes vulnerability to be a responsive, adaptive educator—and what better skills for your learners to see in action. Check out The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros if innovation is piquing your interest. It may very well redefine your school year.
At least another half dozen words have come to mind since I started writing (reflection, creativity, empathy, character, culture, and guidance), but I’m most curious to hear what mantra might establish the atmosphere for your classes this year.
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