Jack Canfield began his career as a teacher, where he transitioned from teaching social studies to helping students increase their self-esteem. Today, Canfield teaches success principles and coaches others worldwide to focus on their happiness. The following is his advice for special education teachers:
Advice for special educators to help them deal with the many stresses that come with the job:
Teachers are responsible for their own experience, whether that be stress, joy, or frustration. That said, special education teachers face numerous stresses, such as lack of opportunity, too many students, and students who have emotional issues that accompany their disability. As result, teachers can feel that the world expects them to do everything and think, “They should appreciate me more.”
With these types of thoughts, you are not accepting world as it is, and that brings on more stress. To expect appreciation when everyone in the school system is so overworked is like expecting the wall to turn into a car. It won’t happen. If you want appreciation, you must appreciate yourself.
How to appreciate yourself:
Two ways to appreciate yourself are the victory log and mirror exercise. For the mirror exercise, stand in front of a mirror, make eye contact, and say “Linda, I want to appreciate you for the following things today: you taught 32 kids and didn’t lose your mind, you spent quality time with Bob after school, you made your lesson plans for tomorrow, you exercised, and now you’re ready to go to bed.” End with phrase, “I love you.” Also, give to others what you are looking for yourself. If you are underappreciated, be more appreciating….to your kids, other teachers, your family.
How the mirror exercise works:
The reason it works is that talking to yourself positively replaces the negative thoughts. You can’t get rid of negative self-talk unless you replace it with something else. You must do the mirror exercise for 30 days, because that’s how long it takes to form new neural pathways in the brain.
Here’s another way to control negative self-talk. When I get critical self-talk, I tell it, “Next time I will….” Then I ask, “Is there anything else you have? If not, then shut up!” The reason we repeatedly engage in critical self-talk is that it is not sure you got the message.
Use a victory log to emphasize good things:
For the victory log, every day write down all the little victories you had as teacher. Teachers have this kind of experience: they may have 28 kids in their class, 5 kids didn’t understand a lesson and 23 got it. What do teachers think about? The students who didn’t get it. Teachers expect perfection of themselves. There’s no way to reach every kid in class every day, and this is especially so with special education. Teachers must remember that they don’t have to get it perfect. They are never finished with their kids, and the miracle may happen in month nine.
Download the victory log in .pdf here.
5 things teachers can do to improve their lives:
1. Find a way to master stress reduction, whether than be through yoga, the gym, a massage… I recommend that teachers get a massage once a week. Teachers will ask, how can I afford that? I took a class with my wife and we traded massages. If you’re not married, find a friend or learn how through a book.
2. Learn to meditate. Teachers need some way to slow down at the end of the day and transition into their personal lives. Meditation is underused in education.
3. Incorporate transition rituals into their lives. In The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, the authors studied professional tennis players and found that the really good players always took a micro break before their next shot. They closed their eyes, exhaled, relaxed, and refocused.
Teachers need to find a transition ritual for the switch from work to home. Instead, when they come home from school, they instantly jump into another task. The transition ritual may be a walk around the block, 10 minutes of yoga or meditation, or playing their favorite music for 15 minutes. Also, if teachers can take a break during the day—any chance at all—(and often there’s not) just take two-three minutes to close their eyes, breathe, and relax their shoulders. That’s so valuable for people.
4. Look for at least one person they can have as sounding board, an accountability partner. Teachers can share frustrations with their accountability partner, but they can’t stop there. They have to take the next step: what’s the solution or what is a different response I can do tomorrow or next week that will take me in the direction I want to go. That might be taking a seminar, listening to a tape…. Teachers should meet weekly with their accountability partner and talk about their success from last week, their frustrations, and action steps to overcome obstacles.
Also, teachers shouldn’t join the “Ain’t It Awful Club,” (often the Teachers’ Lounge) where teachers moan about things and then go back to the classroom. Instead, work with your accountability partner about how to deal with challenges, commit to action steps to take before meeting again, and then evaluate those steps. This process leads to constant and never ending improvement instead of resenting the way things are and feeling frustrated.
5. Commit to some kind of personal development path and take two seminars a year. Everything improves when teachers focus on their own growth. As you become more clear about psychological processes, you become masterful in helping kids deal with theirs.
Asking for feedback improves their teaching abilities:
To improve as educators, teachers need feedback. Once a week, they should ask their kids, “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate me as a teacher and why?”
It is scary. Teachers think they will hear bad stuff. But bad stuff exists whether we hear it or not, and we can’t fix things if we don’t know about them. Teachers should also ask a follow up question: If my score is less than 10, what would it take to make it a 10? You might get responses like, “You never make eye contact, you always tell me what’s wrong with me, you need to reward us, you need to be more fun, don’t yell so much.” Students will tell you want they want, and then teachers can bring corrections into the classroom. Teachers can do the same thing with parents.
Also, invite your colleagues to observe you. Visit each other’s classroom and give feedback.
Use a Mastermind Group of teachers to help people achieve their goals:
In a Mastermind Group, six-eight folks meet once a week. Each person receives eight minutes to talk about any thing they want and ask advice. It’s very powerful. Everyone gets attention about some issue in his or her life. For educators, it could be, “Here’s my grant proposal. Please read it and give me feedback. Does anyone have resources for information about this topic?”
Improving the lives of their students beyond the teaching and counseling they already do:
1. If they do only one thing, teachers should do Heart or Circle Talks. Many kids go to school and are never the center of one person’s attention. Feeling lovable and capable leads to competence. To learn that you are lovable, you need to be listened to, encouraged to go for your dreams, and know that your desires are normal. Circle Talks teach students listening skills, gives them the opportunity to be the focus of attention without interruption, and builds self-esteem. Just take 10 minutes a day and let students talk about meaningful topics, such as what would you do if you could do anything in world or what do you think about and feel about? If kids had an opportunity to express their feelings in a safe space, a lot of their acting out would be released and we would not have these kinds of issues. In the beginning, have students share with their partner or group. When they share in small groups and nothing bad happens, they learn they can share with large groups.
How to implement Heart or Circle Talks:
The small groups should meet three times week, so the kids can bond together. The teacher picks the groups, which are very heterogeneous. We want cross-fertilization between groups. Break the class into six-eight kids and keep same group of students every time. This becomes a safe support group. Give the students a topic to discuss. They have an object to pass around during the discussion–we use heart-shaped beanbags–they feel good, they look like a heart and that reminds us that hearts are gentle and fragile. The Ground Rules are: Everything said in the group is confidential. The students must talk about their feelings, not what someone has else told them. No one talks except the heart holder. We always pass the heart to the left–that way everyone knows they will get a turn. A student can pass if they don’t want to answer a question.
Topics are self esteem and emotional intelligence builders, such as a success I had last week, something I did in relation to money, something I feel proud of, a challenge I handled, something I’m afraid of, what makes me feel sad, I’m confused about….
Sometimes you can break the group into couples. Each student has one minute to talk about a strength he or she has with the partner.
How to ensure students maintain confidentiality:
There must be confidentiality for the kids to feel safe, to know they won’t be teased. Otherwise their trust will be broken. If that happens, and it will in the beginning, at the next circle you talk about how you feel when confidence is violated—use the “When you, I feel” structure. Discuss the fact that now the students have less trust: “My trust level for you is X.” Then talk about what would it take for my trust level to be a 10. This is a learning process that takes place over time. The group must work through this issue.
2. Have your students do guided visualizations. Have them take a fantasy journey where something good happens. When I was teaching this, one student went to a land of no hassles. He got away from home where his mom was on his case and his brother teased him and away from school where the teacher made demands. This idea is like that of teachers taking micro breaks. Do the same thing with your kids. Have them close their eyes, do a guided visualization to a meadow where they meet a friend and play, and then come back. These are very powerful in terms of destressing kids. They can learn to go inside themselves and destress themselves.
3. At the end of every day, have your students write two-three things they learned that day and their successes or achievements. This does two things. One, it helps dispel the idea that teachers aren’t good, and parents appreciate teachers more because they know their child is learning. When the parent asks their child, “What did you learn today?” the child now has something to say. Two, the child feels he or she has learned something that day.
Why this work applies to students with special needs:
Affective education applies to everyone, but it’s so much more valuable for special education teachers. Their students have a lot of things going on: learning challenges and styles plus the overlay of affective issues that come with that. Students with dyslexia may not be able to focus; they feel upset or rejected. Students with disabilities have a layer of two-three feelings more than general education kids. Teachers get a triple pay off when doing affective education with students with disabilities.
What to do when you feel the need to leave the classroom but not the field:
Whenever you are not happy, you’re being told that something is missing. Sometimes that missing element can be created in the context of where you are. A friend of mine, a superintendent, trained all the teachers in his district in self-esteem. From then on, he had zero turnover. No one would even retire—the teachers had too much fun. They figured out that they weren’t teaching what was most important: how students could negotiate their lives. When they changed and taught that along with content, there was less acting out and teachers found joy in teaching again.
Sometimes the problem can’t be handled in the classroom. Then ask yourself, “What would my ideal life look like? What brings me joy?” If you aren’t experiencing joy, you are off purpose. The problem may be that you’re not in the right professional environment, or teaching the right kind of kids, or it may be that that day what you are doing is wrong. Look at your life and ask yourself when you experienced the greatest joy. Chart your course from there, even if it’s different from everything you see.
Of interest: Canfield’s business partner, Mark Victor Hansen, shares advice for young entrepreneurs in his Letter to Readers, outlining the roots of his success and how to get results.