We cannot control whether the times we face are rough or smooth. However, we can always choose how we will respond. We can give in to the challenges and problems we face, or we can choose to focus our efforts on our goals and priorities and not allow what is happening around us to drag us down. Of course, the latter choice is easier to imagine than practice.
Nevertheless, there are powerful strategies we can employ to help us rise above the circumstances we face and press through the challenges that confront us. Here are six secrets we can employ to maintain our health and sanity and continue to serve our students well.
Don’t expect to be perfect; being human is enough. Many of us aspire to be perfect. We don’t like to make mistakes. We don’t want to be embarrassed. However, setting an expectation that we be perfect also has significant downsides. Taking risks may lead to experiences that are less than flawless. Learning and trying new skills can mean missteps. At the same time, people who expect to be perfect are often reluctant to seek and accept the help of others. In the extreme, perfectionists can become isolated and without a strong support system. Accepting that we are human, we will make mistakes, and sometimes will need the help of others can make us more approachable. People are more willing to step up and lend a hand if we do not present ourselves as perfect. We can still be committed to excellence, strive to provide a high level of service, and model the best practices of our profession. Perfection can be a trap. We can be human and still pursue excellence.
Care for yourself; build the energy to care for others. In times of crisis and pressure we may find ourselves prioritizing care for others over caring for ourselves. This is a natural inclination for people who dedicate themselves to serving others. However, there is a fundamental truth worth heeding: If we want to have the energy, strength, and stamina to care for others, we need to care for ourselves. The airline take-off announcement we hear every time we fly applies: Put on your facemask before assisting others. Unless we take care of ourselves, we risk not being able to provide the care and support our students and colleagues need from us. Taking care of ourselves is not selfish. In fact, it can be the crucial success factor in our caring for others.
Don’t presume to know every answer; invite students to join the search. As students we may have assumed that our teachers had all the answers. They may have even implied that they did. As a result, we may try to hold ourselves to the same impossible standard. The fact is that there is no way to know everything in any discipline, and certainly not in the wider information universe. Even if we have command of everything our students need and want to know, there are good reasons not to behave as though we do. Some of the richest learning we can offer to our students will be found in the search for answers, especially if we are a partner in the search. When we enlist students in the search for answers, we can share in the pursuit, we can offer students a model for searching and learning, and we can share in the delight of finding answers to important questions. On the other hand, if we readily provide answers to every student question, we deprive them of the experience and risk their missing the learning value and skills gained through the hunt.
Give your attention freely; don’t force students to demand it. Even though it is free, attention is a precious resource. Where we choose to direct our attention conveys a message. It indicates who and what we deem to be important and worthy. When attention is withdrawn, the impact can be profound. Of course, when we choose to withhold attention from students, many will demand it. The demand may be in the form of misbehavior, acting out, or withdrawing to the point where we are forced to intervene. The more attention we can give, the more value and respect students feel. Of course, there are times when we may choose to limit the attention we give to certain students, but even those occasions need to be temporary. Our attention is precious, but it does not have to be rationed.
Celebrate small victories; build momentum for greater triumphs. During difficult times, victories may seem exceptionally small and rare. Yet, our commitment to celebrate progress, smart strategies, and even thoughtful attempts can build momentum for future success. But, our focus needs to remain on what can be accomplished, how what is happening now prepares for what can come later, and how the skills and habits developed will lead to greater accomplishments. Meaningless recognition and unfocused applause can undermine effort and commitment but seeing and celebrating small victories on the road to success can build the momentum that will lead to future triumph.
Expect genius; it will emerge. It is a fact of life that we tend to see and find what we expect and look for. If we expect disappointment, we are often disappointed. If we expect respect, we tend to see more of it. If we believe and look for genius in the thinking and learning of our students, we are more likely to see it. Equally important, when we notice, call out, and reinforce creative ideas, insightful thinking, and curious questions, we are likely to see more of that behavior. Every child has a gift. If we are committed to uncovering and nurturing their gifts and talents, we will see more genius – guaranteed!
There may be times when we do not feel powerful or confident. Yet, we always have options. How we choose to respond and the actions we take as a result can spell the difference between feeling “dragged under,” or swimming onward.