It’s the beginning of another school year. Many of us are beginning to gather things for our classrooms or enjoying our last moments of vacation. During this last week of rest and relaxation, I read a book! I can hardly believe it myself! I’ve begun several, but this book seemed fitting as I begin to get back into the focused mindset of daily instruction. The book incited a great deal of reflection, but not only that, it is special because it is the memoir written by my father.
The book details my father’s life, beginning with a simple life growing up in rural south to his success as the first African American to lead a major national organization. He speaks in great detail of the values and mindset instilled in him at an early age by his parents. The encouragement he received and the motivation to believe he could achieve whatever he set his mind to were imprinted in him from as far back as he could recollect. Time and time again, he attributes every advancement in his career to the foundation of values his parents had imprinted in him. I stopped there in my reading to reflect.
Think for a moment. As an educator, what imprint have you left on your scholars? An imprint, by definition, is an impression or a mark made by pressure. This is a commanding responsibility when you consider all we are tasked to do within one year. Nonetheless, I believe it is necessary for each of us to evaluate the imprint we intend to impress upon our scholars as they enter our classrooms. To do this, let’s begin by thinking about your purpose in education. Why are you here?
Education is not for everyone as many of you well know. For those that are educators, think about why you chose this particular field. We all have our personal and/or professional reasons, but, it is my opinion that to be effective in this field, you must understand your purpose. I hope those of you reading this are here for the purpose of educating children (or adults) and developing productive thinkers and problem solvers as opposed to monetary gains and/or extended breaks. While financial stability (some of you probably chuckled right there) and weeks of vacation are attractive benefits to being an educator, nothing is more fulfilling than watching a child learn and grow before your eyes. Understanding your purpose for teaching is the first step toward leaving your imprint on a child.
In addition to understanding your purpose, the book also speaks about values. Think about the values you endorse in your life. Are they like the values of your classroom? Chances are the values you hold in the highest regard are ingrained and ever present in your life, no matter where you are, therefore, they will be modeled for the young people around you. As a teacher leader, it is imperative that we are clear and consistent about our values in order for them to leave an imprint.
The most important values I work to instill within my scholars (in addition to the school wide values that unite our school community) are growth mindset, kindness, and acceptance. These values set the climate within my classroom each day and throughout the year. They set the precedence for each individual and holds us all accountable for our choice behaviors.
For my scholars, a positive mindset, above all, has transformative power. I have heard the phrases, “ I can’t…”, “I’m not good at…”, and “I don’t know how…” on more occasions than I’d like to admit. The second I hear just one of those statements, I pull that scholar aside to see if I can determine the root cause. I tell them specifically to, “Get your mind right”! They often look at me with confusion. I go on to explain negativity has no place in their words. Further, I go on to explain the power of the mind. You see, once a scholar begins to think they can, more often than not, they will. I keep my expectation bar raised high and I do not ever doubt they cannot reach it. Of course, I may have several bars at different heights to meet the needs of each individual scholar, but know that each of them is reaching high to meet their own set of expectations. Seeing what once was a self defeating attitude and mindset shift into an intrinsically motivated zest for learning is more gratifying than any amount of money could buy. This is probably the most important value I hold in my class.
Words can build you up or they can tear you down. I’ve witnessed some shattered spirits enter my room. The power of kindness can break down barriers and allows people to open themselves up to build better relationships. It is important to understand that using kind words and feeling that one is a valued contributor within the class also helps build confidence and risk taking.
It saddens me when I come across a scholar who feels they do not belong. In my presence, we are all uniquely different, with amazing gifts and individuality to offer the classroom community. I work diligently to create an environment where each scholar is encouraged to share a piece of themselves with the class. This allows people to acknowledge and respect each others differences since there is something uniquely defining in each of us. Being accepted for the unique person you are helps build self-esteem.
These are only a few of the values I reinforce in my classroom and I think it is important to share the reason they are important is simply because they were instilled in me at a young age. I learned that the power of words tear you down as a new student, bullied and teased for the way I talked when I moved to a new school at 11 years old. At that same time, I learned to conform to social standards to be accepted by my peers. This is something I decided would not be the case for my scholars. For my scholars, I would vow that they would not succumb to the peer norms of acceptance that I faced. Being different and unique is okay and all of us would respect each person’s unparalleled skills and abilities.
I learned about mindset a bit later in life. During my younger years, I’d always believed the smallest effort was my best effort. That is exactly what I would tell myself. This limited effort resulted in average grades. I was average and average was my best. That’s what I thought to myself for the longest time. I didn’t understand what true effort looked like or sounded like, even though it was right in front of me day in and day out. As long as I read over something or copied something correctly, I was putting forth my best effort. It was not until I went away to college that I learned that true effort meant more time, more reading, more research, more practice; simply put effort means put in MORE!
It may seem trivial on some level, these three simple foundational values; but when you consider the impact they have collectively on a child’s future, it seems worth the investment. When my scholars leave and enter middle school, they enter with new imprints. They enter with a better understanding of who they are, what they are capable of, and a sense of self worth; all because I chose to leave my imprint on their lives. Now, what will your imprint look like?