This is a guest post by Steve Giddings from StevesMusicRoom.com. Thanks, Steve! Be sure to check out his blog and Facebook page links at the bottom. -Elisa
It can be difficult, especially during this time of year, to keep positive in this profession. Negativity can be soul crushing and is incredibly contagious. It’s easy to be negative because, it seems, complaining is in our nature. It makes us feel good and something that makes us feel good can’t be bad, right? Complaining is, essentially, a bad habit and it is one, like many bad habits, that is hard to quit. Everyone can re-wire their brain for positivity, even the most negative of teachers among us. Anyone can quit bad habits, but it takes a bit of work. There are a number of ways to keep positive or to quit negativity throughout the year, not just now, and here are some strategies that have worked for me:
Everyone talks about how exercising helps give them energy throughout the day, especially since it seems everyone and their dog has joined a gym or an exercise group in the last few years. I can tell you first hand, without advertising a gym or exercise program that it does work. I notice a huge difference in my energy level and level of positivity during weeks that I do exercise. I also find that on days that are overwhelmingly mentally and physically draining, there is nothing better than a workout to clear my mind and rejuvenate me. Yes, there are days that I don’t want to go out for a run even a little bit, but the benefits to my work and home life are what motivate me. The health benefits are just a bonus. My wife even likes me better after a good run.
Celebrating Small Victories
There are small victories that your learners present to you every day. They are just more difficult to notice because Little Johnny is punching Little Lucy in the face again. You know how it is. The positivity gets overshadowed by all the negativity and the little fires that we have to put out every 10 seconds. This is especially true in the primary grades where literally anything can happen. Nothing surprises me anymore. It takes a tremendous amount of work but there are small victories every day, you just have to look for them. It could be something as simple as one of your learners says “thank you” or says “I like your tie.” Or it could be something more substantial like Little Timmy finally being able to play that chord progression or that recorder melody that they have been working so hard on. Focus on those moments, not the billion other terrible things that happened that day. There were days where I would have to sit myself down at the end of a crazy day and just think about what the good things were that happened that day.
This brings me to a “behaviour plan” that I implemented with a couple of my tougher primary classes to help me focus on the positive and not end up in an insane asylum. There are benefits and drawbacks to this but I will discuss these.
The SURF Chart
Our school has an acronym to help remember the school motto. This is SURF and it stands for Safety, Unity, Respect, and Fairplay. At the beginning of every year, every teacher in the school goes over what this means in their room and what it looks like in their rooms. Our extremely supportive administration has a SURF Box in the office for students who were being caught doing good things! I decided to implement a version of this in my music room where learners would have to earn stickers to put on the chart. Every 5 stickers they earned, they would get to go to the office to pick out a prize. It made me focus on the positive and the learners’ behaviour shifted drastically for the better.
It began with rewarding those students who always listen but are overshadowed by those who rarely listen. Everyone, at some point, earned at least one sticker. When that kid who finally gets their one sticker after weeks of practicing their SURF tenets, it became time for celebration. To keep them engaged, every day, before they come in to the classroom, I would remind them to think about how they were going to earn stickers for the SURF chart that day. It helped them to think about it and engage with it the second they walked in instead of being reminded about it right before they left and scrambling to hand out stickers. Some days I forgot, because well, you know how it is, and they did not hesitate to remind me. Some days I would give them a specific skill to focus on for that class, other days I just asked them to earn stickers. They began to notice that we got more done on the days we really focused on the SURF chart which meant they learned more and they liked that. It worked really well for incentive to rehearse well for a concert too.
There were a couple of drawbacks to this. It seemed that they needed the chart to follow the SURF rules sometimes making it difficult to wean them off of it. Not relying on it was eventually the goal of this chart. I wanted them to focus on positive behaviour without extrinsic motivation. Also, the same students were always earning prizes, and even though it’s good that those students were being rewarded for their respectful behaviour, the gap between them and those students who “weren’t always remembering” to follow SURF was getting much, much wider, turning it into a negative thing again.
In the end, however, it completely changed my perspective on these groups of students for the better and in my opinion the benefits for both the teacher’s sanity and the students’ ownership for their actions far outweigh the drawbacks.
Have That One Group of Learners You Look Forward to Teaching
There is a young group of grade 2 and 3 students that I look forward to teaching every time I see them. They are respectful and they crave a good challenge. I have showcased them a couple of times on my site (www.stevesmusicroom.com) for different projects we have done together. It is easy to see the positive things they do and they help me to be positive on the days that I teach them. They are also one of those groups who have a great sense of humour that you can joke around with and when it’s business time, they are ready to go instead of acting like raving lunatics.
Another group that I look forward to teaching every week is the rock band at my school. The band is auditioned and depending on the year, includes learners who only find success in band or only find a challenge in band. It works for both types of programs – a program for at risk students and an enrichment program which is what I love most about it. I have an article on my site about a young learner who only found his success in the band. You can check it out HERE. His attitude about everything school related changed for the better, and I love seeing this happen. It makes everything worthwhile and helps to keep positive.
Something else I love about coaching the rock bands at my school is that they always impress me. I have pretty high expectations for all my learners but for some reason, come concert time, they seem to always leave me in awe of their musicianship and skill. Since the rock bands are not conducted and students become musically independent from me, I can sit back and enjoy the concert and take in everything it has to offer. And every time, something impresses me. It never fails. I hope you have groups like the ones mentioned above that get you through the week and help you keep positive. If you don’t have one of these groups, perhaps it is lying right under your nose!
We Get to Participate in Music Every Day
This one is pretty self-explanatory. What other “9-5er” (and sometimes 9-9er) can say that they get to play music all day, every day? I mean really – Think about it. You are one of the lucky few people in the teaching profession and in the working world that get to do this. Enjoy it!
Think About a Change
I have heard that change is good – even small changes. You may want to think about switching grade levels, schools or maybe you are qualified to teach at your local University or College campus. Even taking on teaching an evening class can be enough of a change to reinvigorate you. I have pondered a change recently and I have heard that every 10 years or so it is good to change even if you may not want to. Since I am coming up on my 9th year of teaching at my current school it seems about high time to start pondering. The last person I want to be is the old, jaded, 5-years-from-retirement teacher in the dark corner of the staff room who, for some reason, hates every kid and cannot see the positive in any child. You know the one, they are the teacher with the butt grooves in the couch who is always mumbling and grumbling about some kid or something that happened that day. They can easily suck you into their depths with every word they speak. This brings me to my next point.
Avoid the Staff Room or Go Solo in Your Carpool for a Day
There was a point in time a couple of years back when I thought I was becoming the teacher in the dark corner of the staff room, so I avoided the staff room for 2 full weeks to re-evaluate my work life. There were also a lot of other things going on at the school that year and morality was low. We were cut teachers and class sizes were getting unmanageable. You would be surprised how much avoiding the staff room helped me to keep positive when I wasn’t immersed in the negativity that is the staff room on some days.
Carpools can be the same, I have been fortunate enough to have some great people in my carpools over the years but there are sometimes those colleagues in those carpools that complain constantly. Taking a couple of days to just drive yourself to work can do so much for mental health.
Do “That Thing”
No time simply means not a priority. Anyone can make time for anything if it is a priority to them. If they aren’t making time for whatever it is, then it wasn’t really that important to them in the first place. It irks me when people say, “I’m too busy, I don’t have time…” because everyone’s busy aren’t they? I mean, I don’t know of very many people that aren’t busy with something. I have a wife, a new baby boy, a full time job, I perform in many different ensembles and bands around the community but I still manage to make time for the things I like to do that keep me positive like performing. I like writing, so I make time for blog posts and my book (to be released this year…hopefully). I like to run, so I make time for it because I know how good it makes me feel. So, if you always wanted to pick up a new instrument, read or write that book, do the couch to 5K program or join that new ensemble, then DO THAT THING. You will thank yourself later and so will your students and your co-workers. [Elisa’s Note: Not convinced? Watch THIS TED TALK.]
Don’t Do More Than You Can Handle
There was a time when I did recess rehearsals every chance I got, then decided to move away from that and do them only on days 1 and 3, but not 5 out of a 6 day cycle. Recently though, with some of the changes in the school calendar for the 2016-17 year that happened there were very few 5 day weeks due to massive snow storms or the huge amount of Professional Development Days we were given. This forced me to rehearse on days 1, 3, and 5 at recess if I was to get any sort of momentum going. It was nice only doing 2 out of 3 because I gave myself an “off day” to help me focus my head. If there is any give in your schedule, take it. Don’t burn out.
Have a Coffee Machine in Your Room
Of course, if all else fails, there is always coffee.
Seriously though, coffee has gotten me through a couple rough days recently, and I do actually have a Tassimo in my classroom.
I am thrilled that Elisa asked me to guest post on her site. I run a similar website that includes a blog, lesson plans, and my own publications specifically designed to help music educators like you. The site is called Steve’s Music Room and it would make my school year to have to check it out. Just click on over to: http://www.stevesmusicroom.com, and be sure to sign up for my email list so you can access all the free resources I’m sending out. Also, don’t forget to follow my Facebook Page, and stay in touch! I’m here for you.