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shutterstock_21198205Teaching is a blending of science and art.  Colleges across the nation prepare teachers to write lesson plans, understand discipline and teach content.  Interwoven in a great classroom, however, is experience and heart.  If you are a new teacher, find veteran teachers in your building who have strengths and ask questions.  If you are a veteran teacher, find teachers in your building who have strengths and ask questions.  We can all learn. And we can all mentor.

I am honored to be part of a mentoring program in my district this school year.  We spent a couple of days in August as veteran teachers as well as working with our new teachers.  There were three things that were repeatedly discussed in these sessions forming a common theme:  respect, questions, and failure.

The art of teaching has to do with differences.  We are working in an environment with children who bring with them experiences and opportunities and differences.  Teachers are the same.  Each one of us brings our experiences, strengths, weaknesses, insecurities and differences into a classroom.  When working with a new teacher understand their whole person.  Respect they have a life outside of the classroom.  Respect they may do things differently.  Just as we know differentiation is often the best way to reach our students, it applies to teachers as well.  Provide new teachers with opportunities to ask questions and have open dialog with you, but respect their learning process in this field of education.  Everyday I ask, “What do you need from me?”  Sometimes this comes with a list of questions or a lesson I can look over.  Sometimes the response is, “Nothing.”  On those days I let go.  New teachers need space and we need to respect their classroom and process in this difficult work.

We have all been there.  It may have been your first year, or last year, but there are things you cannot provide for your students.  Sometimes it is new technology.  Sometimes it is a specific learner behavior.  Whatever you need, ask questions.  New teachers need to seek out the teachers in their building that have experience.  Veteran teachers are a wealth of information to new teachers and colleagues.  Everyone, however, needs help from time to time so if you are a veteran teacher don’t be afraid to ask for help too.  Find the expert in the are you are struggling.  Observe them in their classroom.  Ask them to come teach in your classroom.  Ask them to come watch you teach in your classroom.  Ask them for resources or tips.  Focus on one specific area you want to improve that will have the largest impact on your classroom.  Make a list of questions and sit with a veteran teacher.  Ask away!

If we do not have failure in the classroom, we are not learning.  Teachers see their students overcome failure daily.  Yet, we often expect expertise from ourselves.  Every teacher has experience failure.  These are the moments to reflect and learn.  Was it pacing, classroom management, scaffolding of content, or unclear expectations that caused a break down.  I often learn the most about myself in my lessons that fail.  Take the moment as a learning opportunity.  Reflect, journal or talk to a colleague about the lesson.  And when someone comes to you with a failed lesson simply listen and reflect back their thinking.  “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar

This year I challenge you to extend a helping hand.  This may be taking a moment from your hectic day to answer a question.  This may look like sending an amazing link you found to everyone in your building.  It may be going into another classroom and asking for help.  Opening yourself up will model to others to open up and start a chain of helping hands.  Teaching is a science and an art we can all share.

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading...

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