A Question You Must Answer Before The First Day Of School

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Question: How do you know what you want your students to do from one moment to the next?

Yes, you have a curriculum. You have a schedule. You have learning strategies.

But how do you know what it’s all supposed to look like? How do you know exactly what your students should be doing during any given second?

You do need to know, right? Otherwise, how will you be able to communicate your expectations?

You can guess what you want them to do. You can assume. You can rely on the ideas in your head. You can wing it and adjust over time.

But none of these promise success. In fact, they guarantee the opposite.

Even if you’re an experienced teacher, memory is notoriously unreliable—especially the nitty-gritty details, which for teaching purposes are the most important.

So how do you know? How do you know what you want or should expect in a way that is specific enough and clear enough for you to effectively teach your students?

I’ll wait while you think about it . . .

This is a huge question. Because, if you’re teaching your expectations based on a foggy idea of what you want, then it’s going to show in their performance.

Foggy equals shoddy, sloppy, and lazy every time.

You’re going to be far less effective than you could be if only you knew, like a movie playing in your head, precisely what your students should be doing.

Tom Brady knows what every player’s role is right down to their foot and hand placement. He knows where they should be and what they should be focused on from the beginning of each play until its completion.

And you need to know what your students are supposed to be doing during every lesson, transition, and activity.

So, do you have an answer? It’s something we talk a lot about here at SCM, but I’m not sure it gets its due—certainly not in educational settings.

I’ll give you a hint: It’s a critical success component of a wide range of professions including doctors, nurses, professional golfers, firefighters, and chefs at the top restaurants in the world.

It’s something easy, relatively, and takes just minutes a day. Anyone can do it, but it does take a level of discipline.

So what is it? It’s visualization.

Okay, before you roll your eyes and assume we’re talking about the law of attraction or some other new-agey trend, know that visualization has been shown to be nearly as effective as actual practice.

All it entails is closing your eyes and rehearsing what you want to happen. The exercise, however, doesn’t involve hope. You’re not visualizing miracles or improbabilities. You’re visualizing only what is under your control.

The way it works in a classroom setting is simple. Sit (or stand) comfortably, close your eyes, and create a “movie in your mind” of what you want your students to do.

What does a successful first half hour of school look like? What are they doing? How are they sitting and listening? How are they working in groups, entering the room, working independently, asking a question, writing an essay, reading independently, and so on?

Practically, what you’re doing is taking your visualization for every lesson, transition, and block of learning . . . and teaching, modeling, and/or explaining it so it materializes in front of you.

Visualization is the origin of all great classrooms. When you observe a class that is focused and moving with intention, and without hesitation, you know it has been visualized by the teacher ahead of time.

Some teachers do this naturally. Seeing everything beforehand, even on their way to shop at Target, for example, is just part of their mental makeup.

But most teachers don’t do this. They don’t see detailed images of the future they want unless they do so purposefully.

If you don’t visualize naturally, if it isn’t part of your mental makeup, and you add it before the beginning of the school year—as well as each school day—it will change everything.

Visualization is so powerful, in fact, especially when it becomes a habit, that anything you visualize will appear almost as it did in your mind’s eye. Any slight variation to reality, then, will give you the gift of knowing the second things are amiss and therefore in need fixing.

So, before that first day of school, visualize what you want it to look like. See your students doing what you optimally want. Then teach it as you created it and saw it play out in your mind.

And that’s what you’ll get.

PS – There is a lot to this topic. For more information on the importance and effectiveness of visualization, as well as how best to do it, check out chapter 7 of The Happy Teacher Habits.

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