Instructional Innovations

Week of February 8

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The Seven Habits of Happy Teachers

By David Harrison, Rock Star Government Teacher

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.

Martha Washington

The PAGE monthly magazine recently had an article in which they discussed why many college students are not choosing teaching as a profession and how many current teachers are leaving the classroom. That same magazine featured another article that highlighted teacher dissatisfaction in various areas. Both of these articles further highlighted the negativity that seems to surround schools and our careers. In my nearly 11 years in the classroom, there is no doubt that teaching has gotten more difficult, demanding, stressful, and whatever other negative words you can think of to describe our profession today! Teaching likely isn’t going to get any easier as new mandates are given each year but there are some things that you can do to help you remain happy in your job. If you feel like you could use a boost in your happiness level at work, try some of the following things:

1. Have friends and be friendly at work

In my government class, we discuss the president’s Cabinet, their role, and how a person becomes part of the Cabinet. As we all know from our own government class, the President selects the Cabinet members and they are approved by the Senate. Invariably, students will mention that they want to be president because then they would try to pick all their friends to be on their Cabinet. How great would it be to work with your friends every day? Wouldn’t we all probably be a little happier to get up and go to work? Wouldn’t even the worst tasks seem more bearable knowing that your friends were going to be there working with you? Well, I have great news!!! This can be the case for you here at MCHS!!! Our staff is made up of some of the most incredible people and one or two of them could turn out to be a great friend. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with some of my best friends and it truly is a blessing to know that on any given day I have the opportunity to see and work with them. Even if your social calendar is booked, being friendly to your coworkers and students can help brighten your day. We all love to be recognized by people. For me it is uplifting for me to know that every time I see Coach Haynes in the hallway he is going to give me a “Hello, David Harrison.” Taking the time to give someone a “Good morning” or a “You look stressed, is everything okay?” can go a long way towards making MCHS a happier place.

2. Be generous with your time and resources

Teaching has a ton of perks that often attract people to the job. Just a few off the top of my head are: overpayment for the amount of work we put in, tremendous respect and awe from people when you tell them you are a teacher, and the opportunity to interact with the greatest and most advanced technology, like the TKES platform. Okay, okay, maybe those things didn’t attract most of us to this career. For many, we longed to become teachers to help people. Few things can make you truly happier than when you do something selfless to help someone else. Happy teachers make an effort to generously give of their time, talents, and resources to not only their students but also their peers. We are very fortunate to have a lot of generous teachers at MCHS. When I found out I would be teaching U.S. History a few years ago, I went to our department and asked if anyone could share resources. Latana Coile, Jeff Davis, Jonie Axon, and Mike Haynes not only shared a few resources, they gave me everything they had! While the act may not have made them overflow with joy, it made me happy to know that I had the resources I needed to help my students be successful and that I had so many co-workers willing to help me. You have the chance every day to do something to help someone in some way. Make a conscious effort today to do something for someone else here at MCHS, I guarantee it will make your day better.

3. Celebrate “victories”

“Why on Earth do I do this job?” We’ve probably all had days where we asked ourselves this. It was probably on a day when the students were out of control, our lessons were a total failure, we learned about some new initiative that was going to totally revolutionize education (and only add 7 more hours of work to our daily schedule), and then you chopped part of your thumb off with the paper-cutter (sorry, Tankersley). On days like that, you need to find a way to celebrate the positives that you did have. Think about the students who were excited about your class that day or the student who made a 100 on a difficult test. Even the smallest victories can make you happier. One of the best things I did years ago was start a “Wins Drawer.” The bottom, left drawer on my desk is completely full of “wins” that I’ve had. You’ll find student “Thank You” notes, autographed pictures, newspaper articles, emails, a piece of a David Ortiz baseball jersey, and even a Chevy Camaro that a student gave me. When nothing is going right, that drawer reminds me of all that did. While it can be difficult, find a way to focus on the victories you have each day, not the losses.

4. Take an active interest in their students

“You can call me 8505, that’s how the government knows me.” I’ll never forget the day years ago when a new student in my class told me that. On top of her papers, she would never write her actual name, rather she wrote the last 4-digits of her Social Security number. While the government may have known her as 8505, I knew her as Nancy, a quiet student and a talented artist. How boring and unrewarding would our job be if we only knew our students as a number? Thankfully we get the chance to know them as learners, musicians, video gamers, athletes, actors/actresses, and ultimately as people. Our job becomes much more rewarding and our happiness level with our job will rise when we take the time to get to know about the people who populate our classrooms this year, our school for the next several years, and hopefully our community for a lifetime. Take the time to attend a school play, go to a basketball game, coach a sport, or sponsor a club. You’ll be amazed at how talented our students are and how much it means to them that you took the time to become involved with their lives outside of the classroom.

5. Have goals for yourself and your students

We probably all have professional and personal goals. Setting goals for yourself in the classroom and your students are essential also. Of course accomplishing these goals can make you happier but there is an added bonus to having goals that you may not realize. None of us like to spend hours on end working on lesson plans or creating activities. However, when we clearly know what we are working towards, we will likely be more willing to complete the tasks cheerfully because we can see the purpose behind our work. Dallas Cowne, Trent Wilkes, and Matt Berryman helped to illustrate this point to me. Every year these guys set goals for their classes, in particular for their AP students with the AP Exam. After seeing how excited they were in meeting their goals, I implemented goals for my U.S. History course EOCT and later the AP Government Exam. Making these goals known to my class and stressing their role in accomplishing these goals helped my students to “buy-in.” If you can get students to support the achievement of this goal, they will work harder in your class and we are all happier when our students are producing! With both the US History EOC and the AP Government Exam, one of the first things that happened after the test was students coming in talking about how they knew we had met the goal. Both times the students were correct and we (myself and the students) were ecstatic about meeting our goal.

6. Have fun in class

Common sense says that we are happier when we are having fun. We are blessed to have a job where we can create and implement fun activities frequently. Thankfully we don’t just have to come here daily and complete the same routine task without any diversity. Every day you can try new things in your classroom. Simulations, debates, real-world activities, labs, etc. can all be done in our classes to make the environment more fun. I couldn’t imagine how boring teaching would be if we only sat and lectured to students who were not allowed to talk/interact with us. Incorporating fun activities not only makes us happy but it helps our students. Jenna Berryman is a great example of someone whose classroom has tons of learning going on, while simultaneously having fun. I frequently hear students talk about how fun her class is (I also hear the fun through the wall!) and how much they learn. Kids are just like most of us, they are more engaged with fun activities and engagement equals learning. How much more fun would teaching be in a classroom full of students who are all actively engaged in learning?

7. Sometimes you have to fake it

No matter how much you try to genuinely stay positive while you’re at work, there will be days when you are singing the blues. Our job is TOUGH! TKES evaluations, parent-teacher conferences, lesson plans, morning/afternoon duty, faculty meetings, data team meetings, department meetings, disciplining students…….The list of stress-inducing things that we must deal with on a daily basis seems to never stop. So much of this profession’s requirements can bring on lots of negativity but we do an injustice to our students when we let the negativity override our happiness. Your students and co-workers deserve better. Some days you are going to have to fake your positivity/happiness. One of my favorite student “Thank You” cards in my Wins Drawer says “Thank you Mr. Harrison for never having a bad day, it helps to make your class so much more enjoyable.” I, like all of us, most assuredly have bad days. I choose to control how my bad days impact me and my attitude so that it does not have a negative impact on my classroom. The next time you are having “one of those days,” take a deep breath and make a commitment to stay positive for your students.

As the faculty/staff of MCHS, we determine the climate of our school. Issues will arise and there will be days when it seems easy to find ourselves being negative. When those days arise, remember the words of Martha Washington and be determined to remain positive.

MCHS Teacher Blog

Click here to access MCHS's teacher blog to comment on happiness at school.

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Caught in the Act...

By Melissa Conway

This week's "Caught in the Act" teacher is Dallas Cowne. Yeah, yeah, yeah--he was last year's Teacher of the Year for our school and our district--big deal. You know (unless you've been hiding under a rock) that he is a great teacher. Walk into his room on any given day and you will see him engaging and entertaining students in an exploration of (what sometimes can be arduous) literature. The first day I saw "The Cowne" in action, he was teaching figurative language using Rhianna and Eminem. While I thought the lesson was good, it was his stage presence that was even greater (and that is something that not any teacher prep program can teach). Dallas Cowne embodies all that it means to be a good teacher/entertainer/cheerleader/weird guy. While all of this is great and should be celebrated, I want to highlight another facet of him that I think is even more powerful at MCHS--and maybe not as widely known: his work in building a team culture at MCHS.

It is my firm belief that Dallas Cowne's name should be synonymous with "team player." He is the Lebron James of teachers--not only is he a great player, he is also a great teammate. In my years of experience, I have never encountered someone with the educational heart of Mr. Cowne. He cares so much about students that he seeks to create a "salon (not hair--although that would be interesting)" of teachers who coop together to increase their instructional superpowers as they work to change the lives of the kids in their rooms. He not only wants to be great for his students, he also wants to help others become better teachers. While this may sound pious, the reality is that Cowne looks to his peers to challenge him in return. He wants to improve and he realizes how much his colleagues offer in pedagogical expertise.

I am of the firm belief that Dallas Cowne is an anomaly. He is the sort of teacher one rarely runs across, not because of his insane ability in the classroom (he has this) but because of the way he spreads his own love of teaching to all he comes into contact. He is the type of teacher who I hope never leaves the classroom because his work inside it is so incredibly powerful to his fellow teachers and his students. I see teachers like Cowne (and so many others here at MCHS) and I quit worrying about the future of education. If Cowne and crew stay around, education's future is so bright--we'll all have to wear shades.

PBIS Update

By Melissa Conway

PBIS and RTI in general can be difficult feats to conquer in the high school setting. At MCHS, we're lucky to have a great support system in the county office. Flannery & Sugai (2014) discuss the importance of teacher and student relationships. They cite the following as active ways to implement PBIS (and help with behavior management) in your own classroom:

1) Include student input in establishing classroom expectations;

2) Increase adult presence in the hallways before/after school and during class changes to increase the opportunities for teachers to engage with students; and,

3) Send postcards home to acknowledge mastery of social-behavioral expectations.

When's the last time you called or emailed a parent to share good news? This simple act goes a long way in developing relationships with students encouraging academic achievement and good behavior.

During this week of parent conferences, focus on the positive characteristics your students illustrate before you have any negative conversations with parents. Parents want to hear good things about their kids, and they will respond so much better to work alongside you in helping their child be successful in school.

Just For Fun...

I'm in a 70s rock kind of mood lately--that and I'm still mourning the loss of Glen Frey of The Eagles. Jackson Browne was a good, early friend of Frey.
Jackson Browne - Doctor My Eyes ( Jackson Browne Debut ( Saturate Before Using ) 1972)