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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Ways to Work Smarter as a Teacher

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

Have you heard Lou Holtz? He was a football coach, most notably at Notre Dame, and now is an analyst for college football on ESPN. But his most important role is as a motivational speaker. Actually, I would say he's more of an accomplishment speaker.

Lou Holtz knows how to help people accomplish important things. His message is simple: Work hard, set goals, and decide on the most important things you must get done today and do them. This is emotionally intelligent advice and a great way to help you have a productive school year.

I'd like to amplify Lou Holtz's message a bit more:

Working hard also means working smart. Empower your students and colleagues to work with you and join in common tasks. Collaboration is actually the key to getting more done. Setting goals, for any educator, must include the social-emotional and character development of students. Your students' SECD is the key to accomplishing almost any other goals you might set.

And among those handful of things you must do in a given day, I hope that one of them -- every day -- is to greet your students, and to also extend a warm, helping hand to your colleagues and to parents. If you do this daily, your other tasks for the day will seem lighter and more manageable.

Through sincere greetings and taking a helpful stance toward others, it's much more likely you will get your other important tasks accomplished.

Don't take my word for it; watch and listen to Lou for yourself.

Please share your strategies for getting this school year off to a productive start so far.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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Kristie Baldwin Ocampo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Lou is right about setting high expectations. We often sell ourself and our students short by aiming too low. I belive his commits about needing to work hard and be prepared are part of that problem. I overheard two men talking at the gym about their two different careers, but same problem. One owned a resturant and was struggling to train and hire good staff. He was talking about all the people he had trained and only a few turned out to be any good. The second man in insurance sells said it takes training 10 people in sells for every 2 good ones. They both then went on how people are afraid to work and have gotten lazy. I thought about how that could apply to teaching and my students. Have we started to settle and lower our standards? Have we become lazy? Are we really afraid of hard work? Is that how our country is going or can we turn the tide?

Melanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Melanie and I have just started a graduate program at Walden University. I am new to blogging. I try to keep my expectations for my students straight forward and to the point. Keeping my expectations straight forward helps make it easier for my students understand and follow those expectations. I do however have high expectations for all of my students no matter their ability level. I believe that the higher I set the bar for my students, the higher my students will reach to try and achieve those expectations.

I also have a high level of repsect for my students. We talk a lot in my classroom about respect. I try to instill in my students how important it is to both give and receive respect. I believe that the more organization and higher expectations for my students allows them to have a structured and respectful environment. They do seem to both thrive in and enjoy the classroom activities in this structured environment.

I do also try to build relationships with my students. The more connections I can make with them outside of classwork the more they seem to trust me in the classroom. I greet my students whenever I see them on or off campus. I also attend activities that my students participate in like music or sports. I also try to help them tie all of these things together. I show them respect and expectations not only work in the classroom, but also work on the court or in the concert hall. This my students to be successful in school and hopefully in life.

Rhonda Bailey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Anna, I would not have survived in this business of education had it not been for collaboration with my colleagues. I've had some excellent mentors and after 16 years I try mentor to all the new teachers in my area. In so doing, I inadvertently learn something fascinating from them! I always try to be positive, energetic, and honest. If Lou Holtz can keep his perspectives fresh after all these years, there is hope for all of us!

Ryan Monson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Collaboration is extremely important. It is nearly impossible to do this whole teaching thing on your own. I was on my own for my first two years and just about died from the work load. Since then I have started working with some other teachers in my same subject area and through helping each other we have decreased each of our work loads and made all three of us better teachers.

Debbie Rosa, Seneca Elem. 3rd grade's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first time blogging. I agree with you about getting to know student's names. When I am on yard duty and I have to discipline a student I always find out their name. That way I can call them by name the next time I see them. I encourage them to make good choices and have a good day. Now I have good relationships with these students and they repond positively back. A couple of years ago my school had a program where we looked out for a student in another class. I would go up to my "Pal" and talk to him and be positive. Just having another adult who was interested in him helped this student have a more positive attitude towards school. I'm wondering now, why we don't do this anymore.

Alicia Sgambati's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! That was inspirational. It definitely helped motivate me after a very stressful day yesterday.

Collaboration is a necessity in this field. We, as teachers, need to work with other educators, parents, students, etc. to be successful.

Also, teachers need to respect their students by not setting goals that are below their needs just to meet the state/federal mandates. Our job is to teach the students FIRST! To me, those state and federal mandates come second. I did not get into education to teach to a test! My goal is to give everything I have to these students to prepare them for life "in the big world." Granted, I know I have other goals to reach as far as these tests go, but if I do my job properly then all the goals are met and fulfilled in the end.

Thank you for a beautiful and encouraging post.

Nicole L. Thomas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is amazing to see the feedback from other bloggers who feel like as though a great smile and a warm greeting can be the highlight of a student's day. This is true for many of us as professionals. When other staff members greet us or acknowledge us in an informal way, it tends to brighten our day.

This can lead to the expectations many of us carry for ourselves and our students. But, we must remember that we have to set standards, goals and expectations that are feasible for our students and ourselves. Because, if we want our class to write more effectively, then we have to read and grade all of the assignments we create. So we need to be smart about our lessons, so we are creating effective lessons, without a big load of work to take home to grade.

On many occasions in my graduate class, I have stated that in order for any professional to be happy, they need to have a balance between their social life and their professional life. I believe this is why so many educators are burned out, because they forget to LIVE!

This has been a great opportunity, but I do not know if I will receive a reply based on my two cents or it will be just another post on this wonderful blog. I had a great first time! Have a great day!

Nicole Thomas
5th grade Teacher
Howard County, MD
Walden University Graduate Student

Melanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kathleen,
I totally agree with you on not being able to pass up a subject line with Lou Holtz. I absoluteely agree that Lou Holtz was the best of his time. I try to be like Mr. Holtz in how I run my classroom. I feel building relationships with your students and keeping high expectations for them as well is key when it comes trying to motivate students and/or players.
Melanie Kallemeyn
8th Grade Math
Orchard Mesa Middle
Grand Juntion, CO

Joe Armor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, I am Joe Armor and I am a graduate student at Walden University and teach and live in Lapeer, Michigan.

As an avid college football fan I have become very familiar with Lou Holtz and his messages and have often been inspired by them. Lou seems to have a very basic, yet very effective approach to some of life's biggest problems. The message is always very clear and effective. Decide what is most important in your life, set goals on how to accomplish what will make you most successful, and lastly, work very hard to accomplish those goals by not allowing excuses to get in the way.

When it comes to how we interact with others Lou's message can still be applied. I believe a small greeting towards a student who is all too often overlooked by other students really goes a long way. We have to realize that there are some students who come to school in the morning, go home in the evening, and never really had anything to say. A small greeting often offers them the luxury of sharing in a conversation they would have never had.

Lisa Archer  's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to reiterate on the idea of working hard or working smarter. I have worked hard every year that I have taught. That didn't necessarily mean that I was working smart. I put much effort in planning and then grading papers takes quite some time. This year I have begun letting the students compare answers on their homework assignments. Homework that I give is an effort grade, but always took forever to go over in class. The students enjoy the collaboration, and they help each other learn. It also saves me time.

I agree that greeting students is very important. I can see a change in the attitudes of my students when I greet them. We all have people that we know who always have a genuine smile on their face. These types of people are pleasant to be around. If we are warm and friendly with our students, they will glad to be in our class.

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