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How One Word Can Make You a Better Teacher

We all want to improve as elementary music teachers to be better for ourselves, making our jobs easier because we’ve improved, and for our students, providing them with a better music education. Unfortunately sometimes it can be easy to get stuck in a pattern that stifles our growth. Other times may we feel burned out or lose our focus on improvement. Despite how difficult it can be to keep momentum going especially as the school year comes to a close, there was one word that I encountered about a year ago that has become a mantra of endurance to keep myself, and the arts team at my school, going when the going gets tough.

So What’s The Word?

About a year ago I was having a conversation with the art teacher at the school I work at and sharing with him an interesting concept I learned the night before at a West Coast Swing dance lesson. The concept was that you should "commit" to each step that you take in the dance, meaning that there should be intention behind each move that you make and nothing should happen by accident.

That word “commit” stood out to me and impacted me deeply. I contemplated what it really meant to commit, not only to moves in a dance but in my teaching as well. What does it truly mean to commit in the classroom? To the profession? To the students?

Webster’s says that to commit means to carry into action deliberately. So to commit to teaching is to consciously and deliberately bring my best into the classroom.

The first thought that may cross your mind may be, “but I’ve already fully committed, I give my students my all, who are you to tell me to ‘commit’ more?”

Although more commitment may be in order from some the type of commitment is what I really want you to consider.

Just What Am I Committing To?

The first commitment to contemplate is that of bringing your best self to the classroom. This starts before you ever walk into the building.

Bringing your best self means:

  • Practicing self-care like proper eating, exercise, and sleeping to be present for yourself and for your students.

  • Taking time for yourself so you are “full” emotionally for when times get rough at your school

  • Finding ways to get into an excited state of mind just before the students come in and allowing authentic joy and enthusiasm into your teaching

Another commitment to contemplate is that of ensuring student success

Ensuring student success can mean:

  • Finding creative ways to ensure students are understanding the concepts you are teaching

  • Allowing students more ability to express themselves through the framework of the musical educational experience

  • Helping them to connect to what you are teaching in a way they can understand (Consider different learning styles)

  • Giving them opportunities outside of the classroom to engage in meaningful music making

One more commitment to contemplate is that of educational improvement

This may mean:

  • Taking that training or getting the certification you’ve been putting off (Me too)

  • Working with others to find out what is actually working in the classroom

  • Trying new resources and keeping an open mind to new techniques

  • Being open to evaluation and constructive criticism of your teaching (This is harder than it seems)

What Commitment is Not

There are many false axioms circling the educational communities that lead others to believe that committing to teaching may be one of the following:

  • Never taking a day off

  • Stay in a bad or abusive work situation

  • Working yourself into the ground

  • Smiling and bearing it when you should be more firm

  • Not having professional work place boundaries

  • Not objecting when inappropriate or unreasonable requests or demands have been made.

None of these things are commitment and all of them can be very, very harmful. One litmus test to know if you are over committing is to ask yourself:

Is taking this action in line with bringing my best self? Do I feel stronger and more courageous or weaker and taken advantage of as a result of this action or commitment?

The answer will help guide you to what action you should take.

All in all the word “commit” has served me very well. It helped me to maintain classroom structure all the way until the last day of school and not cop out and do something easier that would actually make things harder. Also committing to my students helps me to do the things that are more difficult, daily that make me a better teacher.

What is one area of your teaching that you want to better commit to? Leave a comment below and weigh in on how you plan to improve.

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