It took me nearly five years of immersed teaching to understand who I am as an educator. At first, I was rocked by the diverse opinions of my co-workers on how to handle student situations. I tried (and often failed at) new methods of instruction, classroom management, policies and time management.
Throughout those years, I would spend my hour commute absorbing the wisdom of motivational speakers such as Rachel Hollis (my spirit animal), Tony Robbins, Brenden Burchard, and Mel Robbins. I grew so much in those first years as a person and found myself able to weather any sort of situation thrown my way in the classroom. Though those years were often PAINFUL – it is evident now how crucial those growing pains were to my overall success as a shaper of young minds.
The one ideal that I have zero apologies for adopting? I am your coach, your mentor, your teacher FIRST. I will be your cheerleader SECOND.
Rachel Hollis famously speaks on this and adopts this attitude (which is most definitely why I love listening to her podcasts). She iterates that a cheerleader is there shouting for you no matter what – even when you’re not doing what will make you successful. A coach is there to tell it to you straight and keep you on the right path.
This year especially, I have trained my brain to stop autopiloting to cheerleader mode when a student makes a mistake. It was my general nature to pat them on the back, even when they weren’t performing their best writing, and to gently encourage them to “try better next time”!
Ya’ll, it wasn’t working.
Kids will be kids, and if they think they can get away with turning in sub-par work for decent credit – that’s what they’re going to do. This doesn’t make them “bad kids” – it makes them adolescents who, if given the chance, will prioritize their social life or hobbies over perfecting a school assignment.
Look, I GET IT. Teaching gets tiring. Nagging them to do better, spell better, write better, read more, care more, show more of an effort gets OLD. Sometimes, it’s just easier to accept the crappy work and put a grade into the book. But that, “At least they turned in something” attitude is TOXIC. It permeates off of you like a vile stench that will, if you allow it, affect the remaining students in your class.
If the teacher isn’t requiring effort, then why would any of the students work hard? If Susie can turn in a paragraph that only has three sentences, then why should Billy write six sentences and include a quote for evidence? The fact of the matter is, Billy won’t continue to push harder since the expectation isn’t there. As Tony Robbins says, RAISE YOUR STANDARDS, CHANGE YOUR LIFE (or classroom, in this case). If you raise the expectation, the students will rise with you.
Taking on a coaching mindset as a teacher does not mean that you are rude, intolerant, or sarcastic with your students. Let’s be real – you do that, you will lose the respect of your students REAL quick. Taking on a coaching mindset doesn’t mean you don’t offer encouragement as they work through tough assignments.
Instilling a coaching mindset means:
You place achievable, but challenging, standards for all of your students.
If your students are really on a role, have them HELP YOU create these standards for your classroom. Whatever you decide, the expectation for nearly everything you do in your room needs to be expressed – CLEARLY.
It is my solemn vow to spend the first two weeks of classes creating simple exercises that teach and reteach procedures for everything we do. I have FAR surpassed the mistake of “assuming” students know the correct way to do ANYTHING. We have no prior knowledge of their upbringing – thus, to avoid common behavior pitfalls, just make your expectations clear for everything. Place them in a syllabus or display them on your wall. Make them a part of the structure of your class.
You don’t accept sub-par performance or work. Period.
A piece of work gets turned in and it is clearly not that student’s best work? Create time during class to meet one-on-one with that student and calmly point out where they did well and where they fell short. Then send them back to their seat to revise. This is not optional. Even if the student is having a bad day, normally doesn’t turn in ANY work, etc. Be diligent in the pursuit of quality.
A student acts inappropriately after you have set clear expectations? Ask them to step into the hallway (or an equally appropriate place). Coach them that WE don’t accept that behavior here. If you choose to act that way, you will have to leave so the rest of us can learn. We will try again tomorrow. The student will still be required to complete the work they missed, which in my classroom translates to staying after school (even if I have to mandate it). This will get old for the student, who will learn that this teacher means BUSINESS.
What you accept, will continue.
You hold students accountable for their actions and quality of work. Consistently.
This ties in nicely with the first two mentioned. If you set clear expectations, and never allow a student to “get away” with sub-par work or performance, this makes logical sense. The student must be made accountable for their actions. This is where the coaching part of teaching gets interesting. Often, students who turn in poor work (or none at all) will try to blame their actions on someone/something else. “My parents don’t come home until 1:00 AM, so I don’t have anyone to make me do my homework.” or “I didn’t sleep very much last night, so I don’t feel like doing the class activity.”
This are two reasons for sub-par work that I have heard in my classroom. The first one can be heartbreaking to me. Not having a parent at home to provide support really puts that students at a disadvantage. However, if we allow our students to use this excuse to “get away” with not doing their work, they start to believe that this excuse will get them out of doing the hard work forever. We must teach them to be responsible on their own, as one day they will be moving out of the house. Who will they blame their lack of work on then? Holding students accountable themselves will build a young adult who can rely on their own internal drive to get things done.
The second excuse mentioned is just a fact of life they will need to learn. It happens. At some point or another, sleep schedules get disrupted. That does not mean it is a free pass to float through life or their responsibilities for the day. Taking a coaching mindset in this moment will build stronger resolve in your students for later in life when things get tough outside of their high school halls.
You embody the qualities you expect in your students.
Lead through example.
You want students to show up and be attentive? Dress sharp and take pride in yourself as a professional. Message to the students: this teacher cares a LOT about this content and this job – I should take them seriously.
You want students to read fluently and with inflection? Take time during class to read out loud certain sections of their class novel. BE CREATIVE with your voices, and fearless in your delivery. Message to the students: this teacher is CRAZY, but reading aloud with voices makes this SO much more fun. Maybe I can be brave one day, too.
You want your students to write using better vocabulary? Start using better vocabulary in your everyday journal prompts, notes on their papers, and in your lectures. Take time during the reading of a text to pretend you don’t know a large word, and show students your “out loud thinking” as you Google search it! Message to the students: Words freaking matter, and even my teacher has to look them up sometimes!
You want your students to write passionately for their daily journal prompts? Set a timer and ask for quiet, then sit down with them and write your own! Share your own prompt with them, using varying vocabulary and sentence structure. Be vulnerable in your stories. Message to the students: Even the teacher has a hard time with some things! They admitted it to the whole class! I can do that, too!
You provide examples of quality work to shape their thinking.
I saved this for last because it is SO important for teaching writing. If your students are struggling to write thesis statements, paragraphs and essays beyond basic levels, the ONLY way they are going to improve is to show them multiple examples of writing done extraordinarily.
The human brain learns through seeing examples. Simply assign a writing task to your students. Take them home, sift through them and assign each one a tentative “level”. Level 6 writing is EXTRAORINDARY with hardly any mistakes. Level 1 writing was entirely off task or missing.
I remove student names and if handwritten, I type up the shorter responses. Compiling one sample of each level, I print off enough for my students. As a class, we read each sample out loud, starting with Level 6. The students take about five minutes per paper to jot down what that student did excellently and to make three comments about what they could improve.
By the time we made it to the Level 1 papers, the students are all professionals at pointing out what is missing! Then, I hand back their papers and ask them to dig through their own assignment. We spend that class with red pens, rewriting their original. The next day, they get a fresh piece of paper, and try again. I cannot STRESS ENOUGH how effective this is. It does require a firm coaching mindset – no cheerleading allowed here. Students must be told what they did well, and what needs some serious rework.
If you’ve had a cheerleading mindset (or your student’s previous teachers did), you will experience some push-back at first. Stay the course, be fair as well as consistent, and I promise you that students will rise to the bar that you set. The annoying dance of “Teacher, is this good enough?” will slowly die away.
Remember – we are here to guide our students towards success. Do not be afraid to create firm expectations. Watch your students’ confidence in themselves rise as they push to reach goals. Then, make sure you CELEBRATE!