Rome was not built in a day. Over the past 24 hours, I’ve repeated this little mantra in my head over and over. Why? Because school starts in five days and my to-do list is already long enough to claim my time for weeks. No joke. If I did everything I wanted to for my classroom and students, I would not have time to even sleep at night.
So, I’ve been reminding myself that Rome was not built in a day. Instead of trying to accomplish everything, (which is really impossible, because there is always something more I could do, no matter how many things I cross off my list), I am giving myself windows of time to work my absolute hardest and then giving myself a break. I discovered last year that trying to do everything just led to burnout and made me a worse teacher. The law of diminishing returns, I suppose.
Accordingly, as I feel my stress levels rise, I tell myself to relax, do what I can, then be happy about it. In this spirit, I decided to make myself a little sign for my classroom wall that says simply, “Relax.” Last year, as I navigated my first ten months on my own, I discovered an amazing little secret that too often escaped me. While students put on shows or some other momentary chaos unfolded, I just relaxed, took a deep breath, and waited patiently before reacting. This literally changed my teaching life, although some times it was easier done than others.
Thus, the importance of my new classroom reminder. As I made myself this sign, I reflected on how I always make myself little positive notes around the house, my old cube, my desk at work. Until recently, our refrigerator touted “Today is the best day of your life,” “Act like you want to feel,” and “I am grateful for _____,” all written on small notecards. My old work computer had a sticky that said “Posture.” You get the idea.
Thinking about these notes and what they mean to me, I realized they mean something to my students too. During STAR testing last May, when we had to cover all instructional materials on our walls, I made little signs with motivational words, like “Believe in yourself,” “You can do it,” “Mrs. M believes in you.” When the students walked in, I was surprised by how many little voices were reading the signs aloud, smiles on their faces. The signs remained on the walls for two weeks and I caught their eyes tracing the words over and over again.
So, in making the relax sign for myself, I realized it was not only for me. The students will see it too, and hopefully, they’ll internalize its message. That’s when it occurred to me that this sign should go above our focus desk, where students take time outs in front of a poster of Machu Picchu. This inspired me to make other signs, which quickly resulted in a renaming of this desk to the inspiration wall. Now, I plan to invite students to contribute what inspires them, be it a few words or pictures, to hang alongside my inspirations.