So the school year, for most of us, has begun. And, if you’re waiting until after Labor Day, it’s fast approaching.
I don’t know about you, but I always start off the year thinking that this year will be more awesome than last because this year I’m committed to really being, well, awesome.
This school year will be different because I will be different.
So, a decade into homeschooling and having rounded the bend of my thirties, maybe that idealism and optimism is tempered a bit, but I still feel it even if I try to suppress it.
Maybe we won’t wake up whole new people on Monday morning, transformed into mothers who do the right thing every time, yet each year – depending on the year – we should try to take the next step in growing, maturing, and increasing.
Rather than start the school year with strong but unrealistic goals to be 100% consistent, to never yell, or to always follow the plan, we should go into the year with concrete strategies for exactly how we will improve our teaching and leading skills this year.
Here are three ways we can do that.
Be a better homeschool teacher by controlling our tone
Having taught classes to homeschool kids before teaching my own, it didn’t take me long into teaching my own to notice that for a class of other children, my tone immediately changes and I go into “teacher mode.” With my own children, I just stay in “me mode” which seems like it should be better, but isn’t. Maybe it’s “authentic” but it isn’t as helpful.
I admit that one reason I still teach classes with other students mixed in with my own is to make it easier for me to enter “teacher zone” and give my kids the benefit of more conscious, purposeful, self-controlled teaching style.
Mom’s tone matters. We don’t want our children to feel alone in their troubles and challenges even while they’re sitting next to us. To accomplish that, we can take a positive step and a negative step.
First, we can remember to watch our words. It’s easy to go into critical mode as we move through our days, always correcting, correcting, correcting. Fault-finding (and telling) is easier than guiding and loving. But we need more than resolve to do better; we need a plan for moving out of critical mode and into “building our house” mode.
Think of each correction, each pointing out of an error, as removing a brick from a house. It might be necessary. That brick might have been misplaced or crumbly. But removing bad bricks will never get you a built house. For every bad brick we try to remove, we should try to add two bricks to the structure.
I’ve also heard this called the Oreo method: sandwich a correction between two positive statements. When I first heard this advice, I dismissed it as a “self esteem” approach. However, after 15 years of mothering and teaching and researching education and habits, now I see that a teacher, mother, guide commenting on real wins (not made up or exaggerated wins) helps the student move forward with confidence because rather than tearing down, I am building up.
A wise woman builds her house, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.
Second, we control our tone by removing distractions. We are more easily frustrated when we’re dividing our attention. It’s just the truth. Yes, we may have multiple children to attend to, and a toddler is a constant source of distraction for everyone, but there are distractions we can control: 1) our phone, 2) our computer, 3) our swirling ideas.
These three are within our control, and we can take steps to remove the distractions by changing the settings on our devices and by brain dumping before the school day starts so we can let our minds relax and focus on what’s in front of us now.
When we control our tone, we improve our homeschool atmosphere 100%.
Be a better homeschool teacher by controlling our words
This could be counted as controlling our tone, but I’m thinking of a more specific situation. In a homeschool day, we have to communicate many things to several people. Have you ever felt frustratingly incapable of that? Have you ever blamed the child for your lack of ability to communicate with him? I know I have (and do).
Maybe I’m right and maybe I’m blame-shifting, but what I need is a strategy of communication that lets me cut through the blame and move our day forward.
Classical education to the rescue. There’s this thing called Socratic teaching, and it applies in helping with math as much as it applies in literary discussions.
Steven Covey made it a principle, a habit, of highly effective people, and highly effective people is exactly what we’re trying to be. He wrote:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Usually I’m seeking to be finished. That’s where the trouble arises.
If I’m trying to be finished, I rush. I give shortcuts or quick answers that might help us get it over with but do not help understanding.
Instead, I need to start by asking a question that will lead to further questions, with the answers – from the student – leading to clarity for both of us.
“How did you get to that answer? Show me.” We need to ask “What were you thinking?” not in an incredulous and frustrated manner but in a curious, interested manner. It takes more attention and energy to follow their thought train, but if we want to redirect their thought train, we’re going to have to hop on it first.
We need to become questioners and learners, not mere answer-givers and correctors.
Be a better homeschool teacher by controlling our thoughts
Our words and our tone are merely overflows of our heart, and we are commanded to take every thought captive. That means it’s possible.
We might need to understand and direct our kids’ thought-trains, but we also need to be aware of our own and redirect our own as needed as well.
Our thoughts are not inevitable, but our words and tone will flow inevitably from them.
So if we want to control our tone and control our words, we need to also control our thoughts.
How do we do that?
- By starting the day with reading Scripture and with prayer. What we put in will come out. At least, it won’t come out if we’ve never put it in.
- By brain dumping so we can see what’s in our head and then deliberately delete things.
- By prayer throughout the day.
- By giving ourselves deliberate mottos and verses to repeat in order to direct our thoughts (and our actions) consciously.
- By choosing to smile, because research proves that our facial expressions give our minds feedback and influence our attitude, not merely reflect it. Our faces and our attitude work on a two-way street.
There are other ways, but these are the ones I have found most effective. They don’t take a lot of time, but the reward from them is great.
The more we practice controlling our thoughts, the better we get at it. The better we get at it, the better we control our tone and our words. The better we control our tone and our words, the better homeschool teachers we will be.