The Best Back-to-School Tool Is a Positive Self-Narrative

By Stefani Roth

When I was younger, older folks told me, “Time goes faster as you age.” And, like most young people, I mostly ignored their warnings and probably thought my life would be different. Of course, it wasn’t.

Educators know back-to-school time often means struggling to get many things done, worrying about what we’re missing, and feeling slightly defeated when we can’t get to everything and someone is disappointed.

So how do we stay focused on what needs to get done when realistically the tasks never end and new ones frequently and unexpectedly pop up?

Most articles coach us to work smarter, be more efficient, and create schedules. Some articles, like the one I read this morning, suggest I just realize it won’t all get done and make peace with dropping balls. But as educators, that feels kinda wrong – at least at first.

Our students can’t afford for us to drop certain critical teaching activities – building relationships, giving feedback, creating engagement, being culturally competent, and differentiating our instruction – and more, so much more.

So if we can’t drop those balls, what can we stop doing so that we approach life with the zest and energy we need to get things done?

One answer I took away from reading the book Hacking Teacher Burnout was in an Overcoming Pushback section. After the statement, "There's so much to do; I don't have time to do any of this,“ author Amber Harper reminded me that what we choose to believe becomes our reality. Now, that might seem obvious, yet I really need the constant reminder.

When students behave in a way we find challenging, we get to create the “story,” the “reality” of the situation. When we are behind on something, we can choose negative framing to say we’re being lazy or we’re not good enough--something I would argue our students struggle with too--or we can choose positive framing that speaks to the level of effort we are putting forth, the accomplishments we’ve already achieved, and how much we are learning through the experience.

As the country begins a rolling return back to school, let’s be conscious of how we frame our situations and the words we use to describe our personal experiences and those of our students and colleagues.

Let’s stop using words to diminish. Let’s think about the actual words we choose, and instead of talking about what we didn’t complete, let’s use positive words to acknowledge what we did get done and how it felt to do those things.

And while time does indeed feel like it is moving faster, I can choose to worry less about the pace and change my narrative to focus on the gift of the present and making thoughtful choices.

Remember, our words, thoughts, and actions can define our reality rather than the other way around.

Photo by Binti Malu from Pexels

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