The first years of teaching are toughest because there is so much to learn. Supportive people are crucial to getting through those first years intact. And then gradually, year after year, your experiences build on each other and everything about the job becomes easier. You feel qualified to make decisions and write IEPs, you know how to handle the kid that’s struggling, and you can integrate new ways of doing things that are good for kids.
But there is one thing that doesn’t really change, even after you are no longer a new teacher. To keep your sanity and to grow, you need to surround yourself with good, positive people. In a 2013 article she posted, Jennifer Gonzalez called these people marigolds, which is a brilliant analogy. Your positive people, your marigolds, can support you in a multitude of ways; they remind you why you are teaching. They model strategies and show support. They are there for you no matter what.
Happy = attitude + environment
The more I’ve read, the more I’ve come to understand that being happy is an attitude we must keep. While your attitude is internal and is all about you, it is also heavily influenced by your environment. If you surround yourself with people who are negative or never seem satisfied, you will be impacted by that negativity. Either you will begin to take on the same attitude, or it will bring you down emotionally. Neither of these things is good.
On the other hand, if you surround yourself with energized, positive people, you will also be energized and motivated. Even better, you will be in a position to handle anything that comes up. For me, positive interactions, moments of connection, sparks of brilliance, infuse me with strength, compassion, and purpose. I know that positivity breeds resilience. And an understanding that no matter what happened today, tomorrow will be better.
Because teaching takes so much energy, we tend to stick to the same group of people. But this is how we get stuck in patterns of thinking and behavior. We need to shake it up a little. Even if your group of people is wonderful, it’s important to meet other teachers or people who inspire you. I appreciate my teaching team every day for their wisdom and advice, yet some of my favorite mentors/coaches are outside my school walls entirely!
Positive People Beyond School
Books, blogs, and podcasts
Over the past couple of years, I’ve received incredible amounts of positivity through reading books, blogs, and listening to podcasts. So many authors, podcasters and bloggers helped me see the direction I needed to go. I recognized too that while I was getting pretty serious hits of positivity I was also getting really good professional development. Designed for and by me. I was really able to dive into the subject matter I needed and wanted. I’ve talked in a couple of different posts about these individuals who gave me so much.
Cohorts and professional organizations
As a young teacher, I felt too inexperienced to be part of professional organizations or to request to go to places like Teachers College, but I realize now that I really missed out on opportunities to connect and meet people who could have been mentors. A couple of years ago, I participated in a yearlong Greater Madison Writing Project cohort. That was one of the most positive things I’ve ever done for myself because I was able to see myself for the first time as a game-changer in education. The people in the group all felt similarly. That was a powerful message for me.
Family and friends who are teachers
I personally do not have teacher friends outside of my school district, but I know many teachers who do or who have family members who are also educators. Take advantage of those connections to do some sharing and collaborating and get some positive vibes. See what others are doing in their districts. If they have good ideas that you can participate in, go for it. If their ideas are good, bring them back to your own district.
Positive School and District People
Classes and opportunities
From a district standpoint, one way you will meet more people is to join in professional development opportunities. Things like book clubs, classes, and committees do take extra time, but they also will introduce you to people that you may otherwise not have a chance to meet. Some of these folks could be just the type of person you are looking for.
Teachers in your building
My team is amazingly wonderful. We work like a well-oiled machine to teach and reach kids. But I also know that other teams are also doing amazing things with their kids and that individual teachers have things I’d like to see. So I observe and I visit with others. Its a breath of fresh air to see another way of doing things that I didn’t think of. Mentors are great, but I think unofficial mentors, those people you find on your own, are even better. Happy searching!
What other places can we find mentors and coaches?