10 Tips for a Successful Year
Ever heard the saying “work smarter, not harder?” This advice was given to me prior to teaching and along the way as well…but no one could give me a complete roadmap of what this looked like. So here is my interpretation on how to get started towards working smarter, not harder! These are my tips on ways to have a successful year, no matter what month it is…starting now!
Wake up early:
I am by no means an early riser but I do like the quiet time to myself and to be productive when I wake up early. I kind of fell into the routine when I had a long commute to work. In order to beat traffic, I had to leave the house by 6 at the latest….hence, my 4:30 am mornings began. There is nothing like a day where I jump out of bed at 4:30 am & get started with my day. I honestly can (and will) lay in bed for hours if I don’t have to go anywhere. And I know what you’re thinking: LAZY! For me, I have always been a thinker…a dreamer…so those hours I could “waste” in bed, I think. I contemplate. And that is NOT a bad thing at all! So now I reserve that for the weekends. Sometimes. I challenge you to wake up early and know some items off your to-do list. I wake up, drink some lemon water, spend time in my Bible or praying (try to at least), get ready, go to the gym, and go to work….and even end up at work by 7am! That gives me an hour before my students arrive to “get in the zone!”
Nourish your body
We all know the importance of good nutrition. I’ve struggled with many little health issues throughout my life and half of them disappear when I eat good foods. But it’s more than this. Drink lots of water!!! Eat fruits & veggies. Eat less bread (I know I’m still working on this one). Cut down on the sweets. You know this so why don’t you create a healthy habit and just DO IT?! Cut out the excuses and make sure you’re getting all the nutrition that your body needs.
Time Management. No one likes to hear these words. This is something that takes practice..and it’s one that changes with the seasons, school events, students, your health, sleep, and home life. I strive to keep to a routine in order to help me stay productive. I use my time wisely and have a plan before I get started. Otherwise, I am the world’s biggest procrastinator and excuse maker!! It really takes a lot of practice and discipline to be productive. It took me wanting to have time for myself after work & a relationship with someone in the military to realize that being productive can help give you the time freedom you so desperately want. Take 5 minutes each day to plan out what you want to accomplish and what appointments/meetings you have that day. Spend time each night getting things ready to go for the next day and reflecting on what went well. After dinner I usually pack my lunch for next day (if I haven’t meal prepped for the week already), lay out my clothes, pack my gym bag, and take my vitamins/supplements. I take a couple minutes reflecting on the day and set out 3 goals for the next one. I get all my teacher materials organized (if I brought home grading) and ready to go. I can sleep better knowing that everything is in place.
Nothing kills motivation more than a poor attitude. This last year was a very trying time for myself professionally. I was living in an area that was too expensive, was given a 1% raise for the first time in 4 years, expectations increased—working 12 hour days and having to come in on Sundays (not because I wanted to but because it was was expected), and when I raised my voice—I was shut down with words like “well at least you have a job.” It couldn’t have been further from the truth. The problem I had been living with though is that I could not control the situation. I worked my butt off to make my classroom (and my students’ experience) the best that money could buy. But I was empty and no one was able to fill me up enough to continue. I was getting sick, I was tired, and my relationships with others were suffering. But what had to change was something inside me…something deep within that had had enough. Have you ever felt this with your work? I finally made the choice to do what I could to change my life—and that first started with being positive. I looked in the mirror and told myself—there’s more to life than this. I am worth more than this. And suddenly I was taking more risks, looking for other opportunities that would get me where I wanted to be. And I would say that’s where it started. And that’s when my school year & my attitude improved. Ask yourself: What do I love about education? What do I love about teaching? Write those things down where you can look at them every day to remind yourself of why it is that you do what you do.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall
Okay, so this one hits close to home for me. On those days I like to lay in bed until the last possible second? Those are the days I skip the shower, throw my hair up in bun, wear whatever I can grab the fastest (and still smells clean), and put on some mascara and run out the door. I look presentable but I do not look professional. I’m comfy but I look no different than my students…except taller. Take that time to trim your nails, get the pedicure (skip the Starbucks and you’ve got it paid for—mine can last a month!), tweeze your eyebrows, and go through a skincare routine. If you don’t like to spend money on yourself or fussy makeup/beauty products, at least make sure your hair is clean & your face is fresh. If you take the time to show that you care about your appearance, others will take you more seriously and subsequently care more too. I see so many teachers that look the frazzled mess (myself included) because they aren’t just taking the time to invest in themselves. Look in the mirror. Be proud of who you are and wear your confidence on the outside! It’ll spill over into other areas as well.
Leave work at a set time
Now granted this can be affected by meetings, special events, etc. and in my case, acclimating to a completely different town, living-arrangement, school, size & type of school, grade-level…the list goes on and on. But guess what? As teachers we are hardly ever okay with just leaving things as-is, i.e. not having everything match-matchy or cutesy little activities…but sometimes you just need to STOP and be a human being every once in a while. Go home, watch TV, relax, and have a life outside of work. Don’t worry, there will always be work waiting for you when you return. Take the time to leave work at a set time. Give yourself an hour or two after school and then LEAVE. And do not take work home with you. (Okay so I will address some of this another time!)
As teachers, or in many other professions, we are on our feet all day long. We are hunched over our students and we are tired by the end of the day. But don’t let that stop you from focusing on your health and get moving! Take a walk around your neighborhood after work, or even first thing in the morning. While at work, do some yoga moves with your students. Plan to go to the gym or work out at home 3-4 times a week. Whatever you can, get moving and get those endorphins pumping!
Okay so I just told you to get moving….and now I’m saying to slow down! What gives? This has more to do with your mental health than anything. SLOW DOWN. There, I said it again. Were you listening? I know as a teacher/professional/adult I am constantly on the go. I have a zillion things to do and only a limited amount of time to get them done. Besides making lists and writing things down more, I have learned to just slow down. the world will continue to spin out of control but that doesn’t mean that you have to. On that walk you take around the neighborhood? Maybe go a little slower and stop to breathe in the fresh air, or stop to look at that trail a snail left on the sidewalk. Listen to your live-in mother-in-law talk about her day. Play a game with your little 3 year old who doesn’t like to share. Watch a football game with your husband without picking up a stack of papers to grade. Learn to appreciate the small things and guess what? You will still have time to get what you need to get done, except this time you will have less stress & anxiety since you fed your soul first.
Get your sleep!
There’s a reason that people take meds to help them sleep, why you see countless commercials about getting the right mattress, and why doctors recommend at least 8 hours of sleep. So no paper, no lesson plan, no bulletin board is more important than that. So no more excuses, get in bed and get to sleep. Those papers will still be there in the morning. Emails don’t need sleep but you do! Having trouble falling asleep? Try some of these research-backed methods: Blink your eyes quickly for one minute, drink warm water/tea (no coffee!), reading a book (no TV a half hour before), clear your mind, diffuse lavender & vetiver, or use a sound machine.
The last tip I have doesn’t need a long explanation but it is probably the most important. Be forgiving. And what I mean by this is that you may want to streamline your life and as teachers we are often rule followers. But try to remind yourself that life is HARD! People are going to constantly make mistakes and let you down. Forgive them! Show a little grace every now and then to your boss, coworkers, students, friends, the school secretary, your students’ parents, strangers. You’ll feel good showing forgiveness and eventually it will come back to you.