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3 Tips for a Successful School Year During Trying Times

There is no doubt that we are experiencing trying times. The additional layers of the unknown undoubtedly impact the already existing sense of excitement and anxiousness that accompanies the beginning of every school year.

It is in these trying times that we are all presented with a choice. We can choose the year is over before it even begins, or we can take advantage of the excellent opportunity for growth for ourselves, our students, and everyone involved.

Of course, we all want to see the uncertainty of this year as an opportunity for growth, but it isn't as simple as just "deciding" to make this school year great. I understand that, so I have developed three ideas that you can practice to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

It is important to note that these philosophies don't eliminate all of your problems, worries, or stresses; that is not the goal. Instead, they allow you to better live with the unknown and become the best version of yourself despite it.

Control what you can control

You might have heard this phrase before; it is an excellent piece of advice. But like any tool, if you do not know how it works, it does you no good.

The essence of controlling what you can control is understanding what things you have the ability to directly change and what things you do not. It is then about acting on what you can change, and finding peace with what you cannot.

The time when we may return to school to do what we love is far from in our control, but creating the very best online experience that we can for our students with the tools we have is totally within our control.

By acting on what we can control doesn't solve what we cannot, but we can come to terms with the uncontrollable factors, knowing that we are doing all we can with what we are given.

Making this distinction helps you focus on the things that matter most. I encourage you to make a list of all of the things in your control and those things that are not.

Here are a few more examples of both:

In my control

  • My attitude

  • My effort

  • How I prepare

  • What I watch, read, or listen to (specific to news, social media, etc.)

  • What I focus on---am I focusing on things going well or the things going poorly? (Things going well can be having good health, spending time with loved ones, enjoying the warm sunshine, having a delicious dinner, cuddling with a pet, sharing a laugh, and so on. The list can be endless.)

Out of my control

  • When we return to school

  • How we return to school

  • Technology issues

  • Teaching online

The list of what is good and within our control often outweighs the list of what is bad and out of our control. Practicing controlling what we can and living with what we cannot is a huge first step in creating a successful school year.

"Get to" vs. "have to"

When it's Trash Day, do you say, "It's Trash Day, I get to take the trash out!" Or, do you say, "It's Trash Day, I have to take the trash out." My guess is the latter. You're not alone. I would also guess you felt a wave of tension that so often accompanies the thought of doing unwanted chores.

On the other end of the spectrum, when it comes to something you enjoy, let's say going on vacation, have you ever said, "I have to go on a vacation"? Unlikely. It's almost always, "I get to...." When you get to do something, there is a natural excitement and openness to the experience.

Our minds are powerful machines: When we "have to" do something, we are more likely to feel dread. When "get to" do something, we are more likely to be enthusiastic.

While Trash Day may not be an area in your life that making this distinction matters, there are areas where making this substitution is game changing. Switching to "get to" from "have to" when it comes to this school year is essential.

This year you don't have to teach online; you get to.

This year you don't have to adjust to technology; you get to.

This year you don't have to work from home; you get to.

Practice replacing the "have to's" in your life with "get to's," and welcome the newfound energy that follows. Understand that you will not be perfect with making this transition, but try to catch yourself when you say you have to, and replace it with get to. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you will get, and the more natural it will become.

Eliminate bad days

This is my favorite concept to practice because it works, and its results are so freeing.

Below there are two charts; Chart A and Chart B. For the moment, let's pretend these charts represent the stock market. So that being the case, which one looks better to you?

Chart B, of course. Why is Chart B better? It's trending up. Why is Chart A so bad? Well, it's plummeting straight down, and generally, that is a look you want to avoid.

Pause for a second. Look a little closer. Can you see it? There is a resemblance between the two charts. In fact, Chart A and Chart B are the exact same chart. "How?" you ask. Chart A is just a magnified version of one of Chart B's dips.

What happens far too often is that we live our lives through Chart A's lens. We function day to day with a microfocus; we see only the small picture. Rarely do we zoom out and take in the entire frame.

When we get caught up living through Chart A's lens, bad moments such as getting cut off on the highway, spilling a drink on your shirt, or a colleague’s saying something upsetting to you have the power to ruin our day. When we live only through Chart A, all we can see is the dip in the chart, and it can appear to be devastating. When we zoom out, however, and begin living through Chart B's lens, we can see these bad moments for what they really are---moments.

These charts are the micro picture and the macro picture. Chart A is a moment, and Chart B is a day. Chart A is a day, and Chart B is a week. Chart A is a week, and Chart B is a month. And so on and so on.

So when your Internet goes out in the middle of your lesson and you lose connection, that is a bad moment, not a bad day.

Often when we feel like we've had bad days, we have really only experienced a string of bad moments. With every moment we have the choice of how we want to respond.

Remember the idea above about controlling what you can control? Well, when you experience a bad moment, you can control what happens next. You can allow it to ruin the rest of your day, or you can acknowledge it as a bad moment, make an adjustment, and move on.

Like everything else, this concept doesn't make all of your problems disappear, but it does help put those dips in your chart into perspective.

Practicing these three concepts will help you become the best version of yourself, and when that is your focus, you are unstoppable!

So to you and all of the other amazing teachers out there, I wish you a successful school year. It is going to be great because you have all of the tools to make it that way!

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