By: Molly Gazin
Earlier this summer, as Roadtrip Nation spoke to teachers across the country, we could feel the excitement building. The return to the classroom was coming, and with it, the familiar joys of connecting with students, teaching favorite lessons, and feeling that unique in-person energy.
But over the past month, things have changed, as a sharp uptick in COVID cases raises serious concerns about classroom learning.
When we recently reached back out to teachers to see how they were feeling about the start of the school year, most described their feelings as “cautiously optimistic.”
Mike Morrell, a high school social studies and financial literacy teacher, put it best: “While I’m excited to see my students, it’s hard to tap into that excitement when everything I know about classroom management has been thrown up in the air.”
With so many unknowns floating around, how can teachers build their resilience, and find the energy to make this year as amazing as any other?
In talking to these “cautiously optimistic” teachers, I saw two common steps they’re taking to recharge and reconnect to their power and purpose as educators. Hopefully, these simple tips can help you tap into your own resilience, and inspire you to keep growing throughout the year.
Prioritize your own growth
For Mike Morrell, this summer was all about tackling professional challenges, like earning new credentials, and learning how to teach new subjects. It’s been hard work—but he found that throwing himself into his own education helped spark some momentum.
“I’ve been focusing on learning more about the areas of the content that I teach that interest me, and not focusing on how I’m going to teach it. This has really helped me restore my passion for learning.”
We all know it’s nearly impossible to pour into students when our own cups don’t feel full! That’s why prioritizing and investing in your own growth and education as a teacher remains crucial.
But while structured professional development definitely helps, it’s not always accessible for teachers with busy schedules and little school support. A recent Educators for Excellence study found that only 21% of teachers who received professional development training through their school felt it was “very effective” in improving their teaching. That leaves most teachers to look elsewhere for professional development opportunities—often paying for them out of pocket.
The good news is, professional development doesn’t have to be as involved or structured as you may think. For example, Mimi Pepin, an eighth-grade teacher, told us she’s been doing some reading just for fun, to “recharge” before school starts. Another teacher told us they’ve taken up baking to blow off stress.
We may not see these activities as “professional development”…but they are! Because just as Morrell discovered, your growth as a learner directly translates into new strengths as an educator.
So if you want to invest time into things like cooking or reading, but feel guilty about spending time on yourself during the school year, try turning it into a professional development opportunity.
As you cook your favorite meal, create a short lesson plan for how you’d teach someone else to make each dish. If you read a book just for fun, come up with a few discussion questions you’d want to ask your students. You can even share these mini-lesson plans with friends or younger family members, as a way to bond and get feedback on your ideas.
It may feel silly at first, but we promise that this small exercise will help you battle burnout, and create more time for yourself and the things you love to do. Plus, it’ll help you flex your teaching muscles in new ways!
Get inspired by your peers
When asked where she’s finding motivation for this school year, high school English teacher Jasmine Hobson Rodriguez told us: “The best resource is other teachers! We are all feeling the same ambivalence and anxiety, so being able to discuss those emotions with like-minded individuals has been very refreshing.”
We know that the silos between teachers and administrators definitely contributed to low teacher morale last year. It was a big part of why we created Roadtrip Nation’s Teachers Community Hub, a site for virtual storytelling and networking between teachers across the country—because today, the internet has made it easier than ever to get inspired by your peers!
Teacher Mimi Pepin agrees: “I follow a few teachers on Instagram, and seeing their ideas always gets me excited to try new things in the classroom.”
For new teachers looking to translate their big ideas into tangible classroom lessons, social media can point you in the right direction. (One of our favorite follows is Vera Ahiyya, who uses her platform to recommend books that promote representation in the classroom.) Or for more established educators, you can keep up on new trends and technology from teachers like Michelle Emerson, who runs the YouTube channel Pocketful of Primary.
Not sure where to start? Here’s an easy two-minute challenge: Go to any social media platform and search for a hashtag or keyword phrase that’s relevant to your teaching experience. You’ll see that #biologyteachersofinstagram turns up classroom experiments tied to AP standards while searching “2021 classroom tour” on YouTube leads to a treasure trove of inspiration for livening up your space.
By following other teachers, you’ll start to build a network of inspiration to help you tackle shared challenges, and feel supported through any ups and downs the year may bring.
Why Resilience Remains Key
We’re definitely in a new era of teaching—and with it comes plenty of uncertainty. But as challenging as this year feels for educators, we have to remember that students everywhere are feeling that same uncertainty—and looking to the classroom for answers.
By finding ways to stay inspired and continue to innovate through our hurdles, we’ll set a positive example for students, showing them that resilience and growth are possible—even in the face of the unknown.
For more, see:
- Returning to School: Why Video Is Here to Stay
- Professional Development: What Do Educators Really Need?
Molly Gazin is the Senior Education Manager at Roadtrip Nation.
Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.