The Road First Traveled: 10 Tips for New Teachers to Set Off on their School Year Journey with Success

*The following post is a collaborative guest post from a veteran educator of 25 years, Mary Morrison. Mary is a Reading Specialist/Math Interventionist at Anthony J. Schmidt Elementary School and also is the Mentor Facilitator at Lake Shore CSD in Angola, NY. 

1. Build Relationships
Travel this year with connections clearly in your sights. You can’t overestimate the power of relationships… in schools…or anywhere. Maya Angelou made the case so well:

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

New teachers, we challenge you to commit to be remembered. All of us are inspired by kindness and encouragement. Find opportunities to show your students, their families and other teachers how you feel about them and how valued they are. Rally around your school and student success by initiating short, authentic conversations. You can make a significant impact on student confidence and achievement!  

Thinking you won’t have enough time to build relationships? Here’s a strategy that takes an investment of only 20 minutes a week yet can reap immeasurable rewards.  Each week, pledge to make 3-2-1 Connections:

  • Engage in a 3-minute individual conversation with 3 different students – find out what’s important to them, let them know they are important to you
  • Take 2 minutes to positively chat with 2 colleagues – build the team
  • Phone 1 parent of a struggling student –  brainstorm supports, show you care
  • Celebrate that these brief connections may payoff with long term benefits!

At a recent Flipgrid Live Student Voice Conference, educator Ann Kozma of California summed it up greatly. “Be the teacher you needed when you were a kid!”

2. Utilize Resources
Be on the lookout for the riches the road offers. Anyone who made it through the first year of teaching will tell you that other teachers, administrators, students, families and friends made it possible. We truly are better together. The most successful new teachers inquire about/recognize/explore the resources at their fingertips. Resources are there for the taking.  Don’t reinvent the wheel at every turn when you have access to lesson plans, ideas and experiences from a colleague just down the hall or a few keystrokes away.

For starters, here is a nice little resource from Western New York educator, Pamela Warner. It is a Buncee Board filled with advice for new teachers.
https://app.edu.buncee.com/bunceeboard/30ea67cd1a6d44b18c027cce6b9c3a6c

Open Educational Resources (OER) are also a great place to discover high quality, FREE, educational material across all of K-12. Take some time to explore a few of the more popular OER sites.

Looking for what educational websites, apps and games are out there? Explore the EdSurge Index. Common Sense Education also offers reviews of these resources in addition to much more.

3. Fend Off Fear
Unsure how you’ll handle what’s up around the bend on this first-year journey? Although most of what is listed here may cause an element of fear at first, ultimately they help put fear in the rearview mirror. Fend off fear by:  

  • Ask for what you need
  • Admit what you don’t know
  • Take risks
  • Learn from missteps
  • Forgive and move on

4. Find Your Marigold
Scan for the beauty in the landscape. Jennifer Gonzalez in her article “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers” champions the importance of surrounding yourself with positive colleagues that will help you flourish. In gardens, the marigold provides neighboring plants with protection from weeds and pests. Just as vegetables thrive in the midst of marigolds, you will thrive by surrounding yourself with voices of encouragement and hope. Conversely, Gonzalez warns new teachers to beware the “walnut trees” – colleagues whose negativity can impair your growth and zap your confidence. Be grateful for the marigolds in your midst – be sure to recognize them, learn from them and blossom!   

5. Find Your Tribe
Leverage Social Media to Build a PLN (Personal Learning Network). Sometimes your marigold might be in another town, state, country or continent. Technology makes the world so much smaller. If you know where to look, you might just discover an entire garden of marigolds. Twitter is the most popular place for educators to share in a chat and build community because of the character limit. Educators can drop in at their convenience. Some people make the analogy that Twitter is like drinking from a fire hose. Overwhelming and constant fast flow of information. However, educator Matt Miller looks at it differently. He likens it to a river. Yes it is always flowing, but “you can dip your toes in or jump right in and go for a swim for an hour and leave refreshed.” A PLN can be a source of inspiration and marigolds that can help you flourish, especially if you are ever feeling isolated in your own building. I have found my tribe on Twitter by connecting with groups that both support me and challenge my thinking. You will find so many like minded, passionate educators in these spaces. Here are 20 hashtags where I have found some of my tribe:

  • #waledchat
  • #122edchat
  • #CBLchat
  • #edumatch
  • #2pencilchat
  • #passthescopeedu
  • #ARVRinEdu
  • #TeachSDGs
  • #globaledchat
  • #collaborativePD
  • #bethatKINDofkid
  • #CelebrateMonday
  • #TrendThePositive
  • #gratefuledu
  • #SparkEmpathy
  • #FlipgridFever
  • #BunceeChat
  • #socialLEADia
  • #Culturize
  • #bfc530

A PLN made so much impact on educator Sarah Thomas that she coined the phrase PLF (Personal Learning Family) at her ISTE in a 2017 Ignite Talk.

6. Learn the Expectations
Right from the get-go, set the course for your year by operating between the lines. Read your faculty handbook as well as your teaching contract.  If your principal requests lesson plans by Monday at 8:00 A.M., submit them on time. If the faculty needs to report at 7:30, be there. Keep your focus on student success. You are significant in the overall school culture so bring your best daily. Work hard. Greet everyone you meet with eye contact and a kind word. Dress for success – don’t be mistaken for a student. Smile. Stay positive. Be grateful. Hope.

7. Don’t Dwell on Mistakes. We ALL Make Them.

“The only mistake in life is the lesson not learned.” Albert Einstein

No doubt you will have to maneuver a rough stretch or reroute from a wrong turn. The road may feel like a high-speed 12-lane freeway at times. Teachers have hundreds if not thousands of interactions in the course of a school day as well as countless decisions to make. How do you efficiently and effectively navigate those interactions that may be difficult?  Jimmy Casas, in his 2017 Culturize, explains that you need to “ARM” yourself when navigating tough conversations in schools. “A”  is for acknowledge. Communicate clearly that the student, parent, colleague has legitimate feelings worthy of being addressed. “R” stands for rectify.  You can rectify a situation by using problem-solving strategies rather than focusing on “fixing it” (a strength that many of us educators possess and therefore immediately “go to”). “M” is for move on. Once a situation has concluded, of course you will want to reflect on and learn from how you handled it.   But then consciously stick it in the rearview mirror and look ahead. If you perseverate on what more you could have done or place blame on the others involved, you are setting up roadblocks to your own progress. ARM yourself today with an emphasis on the “move on” so you’re ready when it’s time to ARM yourself again down the road.

8. Celebrate the Wins
Honk for the small wins! Sometimes the small successes make a big difference – they certainly add up over time. Unfortunately, they can be easy to miss and overlooked. Just like the mainstream news, it is easy to focus in on the negative. Our losses do not define us. Adopt a growth mindset and recognize your successes. Finding them, no matter how small, is critical, especially if you think you don’t have any yet.  And when you learn to spot your wins, chances are you’ll discover more than you think. Take the time to celebrate them in any way that lifts you up. Whether it is a smile from a student or colleague or a thank you from a parent, know that you are making a difference. If being a teacher was easy work, everyone would do it. Just by setting forth on this journey for kids, you’ve tallied a BIG win!

9. Attitude of Gratitude
Do you already set your cruise control for “appreciation’?  Do you put a thankful spin on daily events and interactions? If not, you can retrain your brain toward positivity. Start small with simple wellness activities like getting one more hour of sleep each night, eating fresh vegetables at lunchtime and keeping a water bottle close by throughout the day. Then practice daily metacognition exercises to take control of your outlook and reactions. Work up to trying more strategies that promote a positive mindset. Need a little more inspiration. Child author, Muskan Virk wrote 365 Days of Gratitude when she was just 6 years old and has even Skyped with Lake Shore students to help them learn to embrace an attitude of gratitude. Sometimes children are our best teachers!

10. Take Care of Yourself
Those regularly-spaced rest stops along the road are there for a reason. Often we have to remind ourselves to take a break and stop working. So how do you determine the right time to stop and rest?  Rather than finding “Wellness Balance” between work and home, Jimmy Casas proposes seeking a “Wellness Life-Fit.” He points out that each of us has a unique wellness balance based on our current circumstances. The optimal ratio of work time to home time changes for each of us as our work and home demands change. The “right” home/work life-fit is what makes you happy and fulfilled at this point in your career. Embrace where you’re at right now! Read more here.

Embark on your first-year journey fueled by a positive outlook.  You are in the driver’s seat. Happy travels and thank you for all you do and will do for kids!

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