By Shannon Anderson, author of Penelope Perfect: A Tale of Perfectionism Gone Wild
Back to school in our house isn’t just an event for our kids. As a teacher, I get just as excited and nervous as they do in August. The beginning of the year is definitely my favorite time. Decorating my classroom, planning new endeavors, and the feelings of anticipation are exhilarating.
Preparing for a new crew of students takes a lot of careful groundwork. For me, it all starts with the room—a homey environment that is organized and full of inspiration. I also want to leave enough undone that the students have a chance to contribute to making the room feel like it is theirs. For example, I bought a wooden chair at a yard sale for our author throne. I will encourage the kids to paint it, decorate it, and write their names on it. This makes for a very special place of honor for them to share their writing.
My next step is planning ways to intentionally deliver content through meaningful experiences and real-life applications. I also try to brainstorm different ideas for projects, twists I can take with my lessons, and ways to add to my bag of tricks to make learning fun. I think about choices and resources I can offer to equip kids to take their learning in new directions.
Then, there is the planning for that crucial first week of school. I want to be sure that when my students walk in the door, they know that I care about them and that they are in a place that is safe to take creative risks. It is so important to take the time up front to teach those vital elements like perseverance, curiosity, and integrity that will help them be productive and thoughtful. I also plan icebreakers and design surveys and activities to find out how they best learn.
I have a lot to accomplish in a year. One of my goals is to inspire students to be big thinkers who seek opportunities to learn. This starts with encouraging kids to notice things around them. How does that work? Why did that happen? What can I do about it? Where do I find out more?
I hope to help kids view setbacks as stepping stones. I call them “growth spurts.” We actually draw attention to some of the mistakes we make and reflect on what we learned from each of these growth opportunities. Then we can celebrate the triumphs over our trials together.
Another goal is that my students will be kind and desire to do nice things for others. I hope to help students realize that they matter and what they think, say, and do matter, too. If students are guided by purpose and compassion, they will be intrinsically motivated to do good things and be great people. If we have positive thoughts about a person we should share them. You never know when a kind word will help someone be encouraged, experience joy, or feel a little bit braver.
When students feel good about themselves and care about those around them, they are able to get along with and work well with others. This is important in their future relationships and careers. When kids understand the value of putting our unique talents and skills together for the greater good, it is powerful. Nothing beats seeing kids collaborating together and an occasional squeal of excitement while brainstorming.
Lastly, I want students to find out what it is they are passionate about and figure out ways to cultivate their interests. Students need to learn to use their strengths to become better communicators, leaders, and problem solvers. These are important life skills that will serve them well. My desire is for these kids not to worry as much about what they will be when they grow up, but rather, to discover what a difference they can make through their passions and strengths.
You see, as a teacher, I want to leave an impression that lasts more than the 180 days students are in my class. I want to teach more than the academic spaces inside their brains. I want my students to grow socially and emotionally and feel empowered. I’m looking forward to the upcoming first week of school, the journeys we will take, and the differences we will make.
Shannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is a literacy coach, high ability coordinator, adjunct professor, and former first-grade teacher. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband Matt and their daughters Emily and Madison.
Shannon Anderson is the author of Penelope Perfect.
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