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Posted By Chalkbrd

"What do you want the principal to do, follow you around all day patting you on the back and telling you what a great job you're doing?"

I don't think any teacher would consider this a realistic expectation for an administrator, but I think my colleague who said this to me once missed the entire point I was making.  I was trying to tell her that one three-sentence note of praise to the entire English department in six years of working with this particular principal was not exactly my idea of creating an encouraging environment.

What if his focus had been different?  How many teachers in our small school would have been empowered to be better teachers if instead of standing by silently, waiting for us to make a mistake so he could reprimand us, this administrator would have focused more on the things we did right?

As frustrated as I got with this particular principal, I learned something very valuable from him.  I'd trained myself over the years to be particularly good at seeing what my students failed at, but I'd forgotten to balance that out with encouragement.

I've never been one for handing out empty platitudes, and that's not what I'm suggesting here, but there is something that happens to people when they receive genuine praise for their accomplishments.  They blossom and become so much more than they were before.  It gives them confidence to try something a little bit more dificult, something that stretches them and requires them to grow.

Unfortunately, there was no way I could ever coerce that administrator into handing out compliments to his staff, and even if I could, they would have lost their power because they were not sincere.  All I could do was make sure that I didn't follow his example.

That flaw-finding training is pretty ingrained in me so it's been a challenge to look at people otherwise, but the more encouragement I give others, the more encouragement I get back from them.  It ends up being a win-win situation, and it fuels us all to achieve more.


 
Posted By Chalkbrd

Field of Corn My dad has always been a farmer at heart.  Even when he worked at another job for over 50 years, he and his two brothers slowly acquired farmland so they could do what they loved the most.  Only a few years ago, the three of them (all in their 70s at the time) were farming more than 1,000 acres.

I remember riding with my dad as we'd travel through the countryside during the summer, and he'd comment about the fields we passed.  Most of them were nice, straight rows of green plants, stretching off into the distance.  There was one field, though, that I remember in particular.  The rows weren't straight, and it made both of us laugh.

"The secret to straight rows," my dad told me, "is to keep your eyes on the end of the row.  If you're too focused on what you're doing right now, that's how your rows will end up, all crooked."

This was a lesson I took with me into my teaching.  When I was in the middle of the year, it was easy for me to get caught up in all the immediate things that needed to be done, and I sometimes forgot about where I was going.  In times like that, when I started to wonder if we were really getting somewhere, or if we were merely spinning our wheels, I tried to remember those fields we'd seen.  I wanted my rows to look straight to those who were outside observers.  I wanted my students to look like they'd learned so much.  But I also had to remind myself that if I wanted that to happen, I had to keep my eyes focused on what my end goals were and not get so caught up in the day to day setbacks.

When times got tough and my rows weren't quite as straight as I wanted them to be, my dad reminded me of something else.  It didn't really matter in the long run if the row was straight or not.  The real goal of any farmer was for his crop to grow.  And you know what?  When the crop grows enough, you can't tell if the rows are straight or not anymore.

If I messed up a bit here and there throughout the year, it really didn't matter in the long run.  If my students met their goal at the end of the year and produced the crop of language acquisition, then I could be satisfied with my fields.


 
Posted By Chalkbrd

January is a tough time of the year for both teachers and students.  This is the beginning of that long stretch of time before spring break, fondly known as the third nine-weeks for many schools.  Normally there is little sunshine, cold temperatures, and a gloomy closed-in feeling seems to permeate everything.

But we teachers have a responsibility.  We have to close our eyes to things around us and put a smile on our faces.  Our eyes are focused on what lies ahead, as we plan our road to get our students to the end of the year.

Let me encourage you to keep going.  It will be worth it when you look back over the year, and you see how far your students have come this year.  The doldrums only last for a few weeks.  You can make it through!