How to Be Successful in Education Without Really Trying

A new school year is an opportunity.

A new school year is a new opportunity. As the summer dwindles away, learning environments begin to come to life. There is a sense of high standards; of promise for a year full of accomplishment, educational breakthroughs, and intrinsic reward.

This isn’t to say that these rewards aren’t coupled with challenge, but those who are veterans of the classroom know you can’t have one without the other.

From a national viewpoint, the educational landscape looks very bleak. Discussions revolving around low funding for education, teacher shortages, changes to laws and policies that govern how a school is run can make educators feel as though they are fighting an unwinnable war.

While there is no full-proof plan to navigating through these obstacles in an effort to fulfill the great expectations teachers may set for themselves at the beginning of a new year, oftentimes it helps to remember the cornerstones that can make a good teacher great.

Collaborate to success

In a profession where learning is the primary product, it’s surprising how many teachers are afraid to seek help or advice from their colleagues. Collaboration is one of the most powerful tools at a teacher’s disposal, and with the advances in technology it’s easier than ever to interact with fellow teachers from around the world. In high-performing countries such as Finland and South Korea, teacher collaboration is an expected part of the learning culture.

There was a time when teacher collaboration meant sharing the same school parking lot. This generation of educators should strive to knock down the walls of their classrooms and take on the challenges that come with being a teacher hand-in-hand.

Parents as partners

You’ve heard the rumors in the hallways. Your colleagues have filled you with stories of dread. You knew eventually the moment would arrive. The high-maintenance parents of one child are coming to your classroom. This scenario echoes in schools everywhere, causing teachers to build a defensive wall around themselves before the first bell ever rings.

While an effective teacher may be the most important component to a child’s educational setting, a parent is the most important component to a child’s life. If a teacher’s goal is to develop the best learning environment for every student, a parent needs to be an ally.

How do you win over a difficult parent?

  • While communication is important, proactive communication can often be the key to success. Begin to build the bridge before you even need it. Rather than giving a generic introduction of how happy you are to have their child in your classroom, ask what you can do to make this the best year ever for their child.
  • A defensive parent is probably someone who has had a bad experience, whether during their child’s education or during their own. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle, so make this parent feel like they have a partner who cares about their child. Emphasize the positive early and often so if a negative situation occurs you will be viewed as fair rather than deleterious.

Control your own destiny

Rarely does a school year start off on a positive note in regards to funding or policy. Legislative updates, news stories, and social media posts often speak of topics that seem well beyond the reach of the classroom teacher. Educators often don’t realize the amount of power they actually possess when it comes to shaping their own destiny, but it requires effort.

Look for opportunities to become involved whether it is on school-wide committees, curriculum teams, or even just regular communication with your elected officials. Don’t like how a particular activity is run at your school? Develop a better plan and share with your administrator.

While this might not guarantee a change to policy, you may be seen as a problem solver rather than a complainer. While conducting a survey in 2007, researcher Ken Futernick found that teachers had greater job satisfaction when they believed in their own ability to create change and have a voice. The greater the involvement, the more you will feel vested in making things better.

Never stop learning

A teacher who has learned all they need to know is someone who needs to seek a new career. One of the greatest things about being an educator is that it is always changing. This requires continuous learning in order to stay effective.

Every year, millions of dollars in grants for professional learning experiences go unspent. Teachers who do a little research often find themselves on fully funded trips to Hawaii learning about volcanoes or delving into story development with famous authors.

There is no shortage of workshops available to educators of any subject. While not every professional development can be exciting as touring through a dormant volcano, there is always something that can be carried forward to your students and your colleagues.

A new school year is a new opportunity. A teacher can make the choice to strategically plan for success or sit back and allow events to unfold outside of their control. This could be the year where you move from surviving to thriving. It all starts with a vision.

Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.

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