Sometimes in education, we have to take a step back, breathe, and look at things in a different light. We have to turn the kaleidoscope to see things uniquely. This can be what we need to do with a specific student we are struggling with, a class we are navigating, a team we work on, or our school at large. Shifting the kaleidoscope helps us take fragmented pieces and see them “lit up”. This light shining through the fragments often gives us our biggest breakthroughs.
Feeling like you are having trouble finding the next step forward with a problem at school? Here is my list of easy suggestions designed to help you move forward with a problem that you are unable to fix right now. Shift that kaleidoscope on the issue and see if you can find a new point of view.
- Identify your actual issue – Sometimes the work gets so overwhelming that you can simply feel like everything is awful. The first step is to identify the actual issue that is causing you the highest level of frustration and stress. For example, is it a specific student that you simply are unable to make a difference with? Or, is it a scheduling issue making you frustrated? Or, are you not getting enough time and energy to focus on the things that matter because you have too much paperwork? Dialing down to the actual issue helps to make it more manageable. Of course, often there are multiple issues – but take them one at a time starting with the biggest drain to your energy.
- Figure out what you are feeling – Now that you know what the specific issue is…take some time to identify what you feel about it. Sometimes our anger with a specific kid, team mate, or issue is masking a different feeling. Inadequacy, fear of failure, exhaustion, jealousy, or helplessness often come out as anger. Taking time to figure out what you are feeling in more detail helps to identify how you can begin problem solving. Often, I am frustrated because I feel helpless to fix a situation. Simply saying to myself “It is okay that you are not in control” will often shift me out of anger and into problem solving.
- Visualize what you want it to look like – Things happen so fast to us as teachers, it is hard to even know what you want. That kid who is out of control….I just want him to stop it. Lunch time with no time to sit and eat…I just want to sit quietly. But, visualizing the exact goal can help us achieve it. For example, that out of control student, what exactly would it look like FOR THEM to be in your class positively? Some students will never be a fully compliant, perfect little student. So, what would it look like for them to be in your class and for you to feel good about it? Visualizing more precisely can help you see the ways to make it happen.
- Think outside the box – Teachers by nature tend to be people pleasers and rule followers (not all of us….). We like our schedules precise, our bulletin boards neat, and everything to run smoothly. (not all of us…) But, we struggle to look for non traditional solutions to problems. My team has a reputation for finding a way to “make things work”. This is because we are willing to find solutions that nobody else thought of. Rather than struggling away with something that isn’t working, try something new and innovative to help you find a new solution.
- Determine the steps you need to take to make it happen – Now that you have a plan and vision for your problem, what has to happen to make it work? The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is true for any big challenge. Setting specific, clear steps towards the goal keeps you focused on getting there rather than frustrated if you don’t solve the problem instantly.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again – The most frequent complaint about changing a student’s behavior from teachers that I hear is “I tried a behavior plan and it didn’t work…they didn’t care…the behavior was still happening.” Well – OF COURSE IT WAS! Changing a behavior, a class, a struggling team, a school-wide issue, takes time and effort to get better. Even more than this is requires PERSISTENCE!!! Ever tried to get a toddler to stop doing a dangerous behavior? Think about how many times you had to repeat the instructions, consequences, and praise to get them to stop that behavior. I bet it wasn’t a couple of times…and yet, we expected things at school to change with a snap of our fingers. Be persistent and keep trying to find solutions.
- Accept what you are unable to control – All this being said, sometimes you have to admit what you simply are unable to control. There are things with a challenging student that you will NEVER be able to fix or change. Love and help them anyways. There are challenges with a class of students that will remain all year. Love and help them anyways. There are difficulties with people you work with that you will not be able to alter. Love and help them anyways. There are issues and concerns at the school level that are out of your hands. Do your best anyways. Accepting what you are NOT in control of can help you stay focused on what you are in control of.
- Remember why you are there – My husband, who is also a teacher, often reminds me that I have a job to do. The job is inside my classroom shaping the lives of the people in front of me. Sometimes, I get so caught up in everything OUTSIDE my classroom that I forget why I am there. Taking the time to step out of the chaos and intentionally and purposefully refocusing yourself on your life altering JOB; can often simply remove the problems. Most of us got into teaching, because we love to TEACH! Take some time and consider how much of your time and energy is addressing problems with your TEACHING. If the balance is lopsided towards addressing problems that don’t impact your TEACHING, even it out.
I love the concept of a kaleidoscope and the way that there is beauty IN the brokenness and distortion. That kaleidoscopes require you to point this brokenness and distortion towards the light to see the beauty. Problems at school are no different. Take the problem with a student, class, teammate, or issue and point it at the light to see them differently. If you are feeling overwhelmed and angry you will never make good decisions that make things better. So, turn the kaleidoscope…
Here is one of my favorite videos to share with yourself, students, teammates that helps you to breathe and calm down! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg