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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

Comments (78)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Brian S. Friedlander's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Maurice:

It is interesting that you should talk about collaboration- which I feel is just one of the most important skills we can teach our students. The world is changing drastically and in order for us to innovate and solve problems we must learn how to be better collaborators. I have been doing a lot of writing on my blog about collaboration tools that really change the dynamics of communication and empower people to get things done by using the web. It is a changing world and collaboration is key to accomplishing ones goals.

Brian S Friedlander

Amy Cannova's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that I could try to work with this more. Personally I like to get things done my way and only my way, so that I feel that it's done right. But also as a teacher I know that you must work in unit teams, and with parents for a successful well rounded classroom.

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Brian makes an excellent point. There are many new tools available for social connectivity and these tools make collaboration easier for people in different school buildings, whether in one district or across districts or across the country. It's possible to find collaborators now for almost anything. Please stay tuned to the www.teachSECD.com web site around January 1, 2010, as we launch new efforts to facilitate collaboration around SECD for educators and parents in the U.S. and literally around the world!

Michele's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Before now, I hadn't heard of Lou Holtz, but he sure does make a lot of sense. The beginning of each school year can be overwhelming. I'm in my 6th year of teaching and each year it does get a little easier. I am a big believer in setting goals. Some call this a "to do" list, but they're really my goals for the day. By prioritizing those goals, it helps me to stay focused on my prep, when it's really easy to get lazy.

This year, I have increased my collaboration with colleagues by attending voluntary weekly meetings with others in my department. It has been so helpful! At these meetings we discuss issues going on in the department, and we all collaborate to help solve the issues, or develop a way to work around them more smoothly.

Collaboration and goal setting have been key to the start of my school year!

Ginny Deerin, Charleston, S.C.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the reminder that something as simple as the way we greet students every day can have a profound impact. What we found at our after school program is that the greeting as kids file arrive really sets the tone for what follows. A smile, an enthusiastic hello, a pat on the back - these signal to kids that they are valued. And when they feel cared for and connected, that emotional connection really unlocks learning. Plus these are low-tech tools that don't blow the budget!!!

Michele's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Very true! With budgets the way they are, we certainly need cost effective ways of connecting with our students. It makes a difference when you take a moment to greet your students and ask how their day is going. Sometimes, you are the only one who will ask them that all day.

Deb Gallant's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Thank you for sharing some simple, but good advice from Lou Holtz. Coming from a business background, the saying was, "Work smarter, not harder" also. When everyone shares and works as a team, the smaller tasks get accomplished faster, leaving time and energy for larger, time-consuming tasks.

You also mentioned "the social-emotional and character development of students". Each morning I also greet my students and address each individual with something positive. It takes only a minute, but that minute has improved the self-esteem of the students and sets the tone for the day.

As teaching professionals, it is up to us to collaborate and work toward goals to make us the best that we can be for successful student learning.

Michelle Williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Michele,

I had never heard of Lou Holtz either! However, as he began to speak, I listened and could easily agree with him. I think as teachers we have the natural ability to try to stay organized. It makes our day run smooth and there is a less likely chance of negative peer interaction. Everyday we set objectives to obtain during the day; they could also called be goals. His most important comment I thought was when he said even though you may have not been successful the first few times does not mean you will not be successful today! That is what I try to instill in my students. If you first don't succeed try,try,try again.

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