Are Your Big Rocks Ready?

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August 21, 2018

This is an incredibly busy time of year for teachers. We are racing around to set up our classrooms, looking for the best deals for school supplies, making lesson plans, participating in professional development and responding to the barrage of emails that flood our inboxes. This time of year, though, I always like to take some time to reflect on my “big rocks” for the year. This is a metaphor for staying focused on the most important reasons for teaching, based on the work of Stephen Covey from his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Teachers, we have incredible pressures put on our shoulders from the federal and state government, which trickles down to our district expectations and on to our building initiatives. The demands of the testing calendars, assessment schedules, meetings, conferences, and the responsibility of maintaining strong positive communication with parents only scratches the surface of what consumes the time meant for lesson planning and reflection.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to just take a breath and realize it’s OK if I don’t get through all of the content. It’s OK! I’m going to look at my students’ data and start where they are and move forward from that point.

We, as educators, have to find a way to balance all of this with what’s most important in our classrooms. It is so easy to fall victim to the pressure of the race and the rush. I tape my “big rocks” to my phone because my phone is always nearby, and that way I’m constantly reminded to focus on what is most important.
My first “big rock” is to foster a community of kind, contributing students in my classroom. Everyone has a leadership role in the room, but they also work together to accomplish goals. Early in the year, the students will set academic and behavior goals. We examine our goals to monitor progress throughout the year. If we fall short, we examine it as a group. This chant can often be heard in my classroom: “Mistakes are expected, inspected and respected.” Students must feel safe, valued and loved. I need my students to be able to leave my classroom as contributing members of a classroom community who care for each other and are kind to one another. That’s a lesson that will last their entire lives.
My second “big rock” is for students to be passionate for learning throughout their lives. I want them to know the “why” and the big picture of what we’re learning so that they can apply that to the world around them. My students must realize that we never stop learning, we’re always growing and there’s never an end to our education. I want students to be passionate for continued learning, always seeking to grow.
My third rock is for students who are empowered to stand up for one another. We have school safety concerns now that never crossed my mind when I began teaching 18 years ago. It is essential to teach kids at a young age that they must stand up for one another and stand up for what they believe in. In the classroom, we practice empowering each other to do this, as well. When the students come in from lunch or recess, we often debrief what went well and what we could improve on. We role-play the scenarios so that students who learn by doing can have an authentic opportunity to practice these social skills. This learning that will last a lifetime.
When I have a class of students who care for each other and they have a teacher they trust, then the students work harder than they ever thought possible and the test scores fall into place after that. I teach to the students’ hearts and honor the whole child. Then, I teach the content. In the end, it all weaves together in a classroom, fostering the growth of successful, well-rounded learners. Let’s keep what is most important on the forefront. 
What are your big rocks this school year?
Laura Chang is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2018-19, and Meemic is proud to partner with the Michigan Department of Education for the program. Laura is entering her nineteenth year of teaching at Sunset Lake Elementary in Vicksburg Community Schools, where she is currently a K-5 interventionist.
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