I hope you're taking time, during what is a holiday break for many schools, to recharge and rest. I hope you're sleeping late, spending time with friends, hugging lots of necks and taking time for quiet. Hope springs eternal.
After the winter break, we'll return to classrooms that are generally ready to work. We've put in time at the beginning of the year to establish our norms. The children have had their holiday and often return to school hungry for the predicable routine of their classroom. The time between January and March is often the most productive of the academic year, when children have "hit their pace," are ready for new challenges and have the attention span for more involved work. It's a good time to remind ourselves of the ways in which we contribute to the classroom as part of the prepared environment, the ways in which our work as peaceful teachers can support the classroom culture we say we value. So, because I'm hoping you're doing lots of pleasure reading these days and not spending quite so much time reading long essays on teaching, I'm offering my top three ways to preserve your peacefulness in the classroom:
1. Live your life as though someone is watching, because someone is always watching. The children pay attention to our choices even when we don't think they've noticed. Speak softly. Move slowly. Respond thoughtfully. Take time to think before you answer questions, and let the children know that's what you're doing. When you model calm, children notice your cues. If you are anxious in the classroom, the classroom will be anxious with you. If you behave as though all is well, all will be well. Even when things go awry, speak softly, move slowly and respond thoughtfully.
2. Build the relationship before you need it, because you're going to need it. Children need to know they're loved before you ask them to change their behavior. They need to trust you before they will be willing to take the chances that learning requires. They need to feel safe in the classroom before they will show you who they truly are, and without knowing who they truly are, you can't possibly prepare the environment to respond to them. If you have a child who challenges you, find time to spend with that child when nothing is going wrong, to enjoy his or her company and create a connection between you.
3. Weave your blanket. Make time for the small connections between adults in your environment, coteachers, assistants, aides, administrators, parents and others. These relationships are the ones that help lift us up on the hard days, that celebrate with us on the great ones and that provide comfort and warmth when we just need to sit still in our practice for a little bit. While many great teachers are self-reliant, industrious and resourceful, remind yourself that you're also beautifully human... find time for the kind in humankind. It's the small moments, the cups of coffee, the few extra minutes after the children have all been picked up in carline, the checking in on the way to the office to see if anyone else needs anything while you're there. It's the eye contact in the morning and the "I'm grateful for our time together," at the end of the day. These are the little threads that bind us together. Weave your blanket.
OK, and a bonus #4: Remember, you matter. Remember, you deserve just as much patience, compassion, support and care as the children you serve. You deserve to be known, to be loved and understood, just as much as the children you serve. Your contribution is equally unique. Your gifts are equally valuable. Give yourself the same forgiveness on the hard days and the same chance to start over again the next morning that you so fiercely protect for the children you serve.
Scientist, servant and saint. Model the peacefulness you seek to evoke. Your children, and your spirit, will be better for it.