Originally published August 29, 2023

As educators, we are familiar with the hustle and bustle of a new academic year. It's a time filled with excitement, anxiety, hope, and, often, an overwhelming to-do list. But amidst the chaos, it's essential to take a moment to breathe, refocus, and reconnect with our passion for teaching.

In the latest episode of Teaching with CLASS®, our host, Kate Cline, navigates us through the three Ws of teaching - the Why, the Who, and the What — offering actionable strategies to help educators reignite their passion and maintain their motivation throughout the academic year.

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Kate Cline: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Teaching with CLASS podcast, the podcast that gives you quick, actionable tips to easily implement in your classroom. 

You may have noticed I'm not Monica, but you may also recognize my voice. I'm Kate Cline, your host from last season of Teaching with CLASS. I'm excited to join you today to touch base and reconnect as we begin a new school year. 

Happy New Year. I know it's still 2023, but I believe educators have a special kind of life where we get to have two chances to start anew each year in January and at the start of the school year. Let's take advantage of it. 

I believe educators have a special kind of life where we get to have two chances to start anew each year in January and at the start of the school year.

In today's episode, we'll think together about connecting and reconnecting to the opportunities that a new school year brings. The start of each school year always brings such busyness. Usually, we're sitting in meetings and professional development sessions, learning about all of the new rules, requirements, policies, and paperwork, and then we have our own hopes and fears about the coming year. 

We have things going on in our lives outside of school, too. We can just sit there in these meetings. We're seeing our long to-do lists getting even longer, and all we really want to do is get to our classroom and get ready for the kids. 

Here's something to consider. In those moments when you're feeling most distracted and anxious, can you find a way to reconnect with the present moment? Maybe take a deep breath or two to help you refocus. You have important work to do, so take time to connect and reconnect so you can be present for it. 

Now that you've taken that deep breath, let's reconnect to these three Ws—the why, who, and what. The importance of our why is getting a lot of attention these days, and that's for good reason. Staying connected to what inspires us each day helps us to maintain our motivation when the details of life start to take over. 

Let's take a moment now before the details take over to get specific about your educator why, those education-specific values and ideals that you hold most dear. Why did you choose to become an educator? Why do you want to make a difference in your community?

Picture this school year, the first day, the last day, and some random days in between. Think about the things that need to be happening each day—the sights, sounds, interactions, and emotions. What needs to happen each day to make your why a reality? When you're taking that deep breath, bring some of those to mind.

Many people might come to mind when you think about your who, but let's narrow things down to three who’s—your students, your colleagues, and yourself. 

One of the things that surprise me at the start of each school year is how young the children are and how you finally see them all gathered together on that first day. You think, "Oh, yeah, that's right. They don't know how to do all the things."

One of the things that surprise me at the start of each school year is how young the children are...You think, 'Oh yea. That's right. They don't know how to do all the things.

You know that feeling. It's not a conspiracy. They didn't leave all of their knowledge and understanding at home just to frustrate you. They bring everything they know, and that's all we can expect. 

Before they arrive, activate your curiosity, remember back to last year's first day, and prepare to meet and build relationships with this year's students, who they are right now.

I suppose the same could be said for the adults around us. We might have colleagues that we've worked with for years, and there'll probably be some new folks on staff too. Let's activate our curiosity about all of them too. If you've been around and worked with the same people for a while, find out something new about a colleague that you feel you've known forever. You might think you know everything, but I can guarantee that you don't.

Start a new conversation with someone you've known for a while. When you have new folks around you, welcome new teachers and be an encourager. You remember what it was like to start teaching, so bring your wisdom, positivity, and encouragement to your interactions with new educators. We need them. 

If you're new to the classroom, find a mentor, but take time to find someone who is positive and effective in their classroom. As a new teacher, you do not have time to soak in someone else's negativity and frustrations, so cultivate relationships with positive people around you at school. 

The third who is you. No matter how long you've been an educator, remember that it is important to take care of yourself, especially at the beginning of the school year and all year long. It's so busy that we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Are you eating well? Are you exercising and getting good rest? Guard your time and energy. Also, stay curious and learn something new. To inspire others to learn, you'll need to stay inspired too.

What's something new that you want to learn about? Let's keep these who's in mind because time spent on cultivating relationships with your students, colleagues, and especially yourself will pay extra dividends as the year progresses. 

Our last W is what you do each day in your classroom. The good news is I'm not here to add to that already very long to-do list, so this is just a quick reminder. Last year, in an episode, I mentioned the woulda, coulda, shoulda notebook. You remember. If only I "woulda" done that science activity differently or I "shoulda" thought ahead about that child's needs, or I "coulda" asked for parents' help during that event.

The woulda, coulda, shoulda notebook notebook is a place to record your reflections on how the what went during the school year. If you started a woulda, coulda, shoulda notebook last year, before you get any further into this school year, take a look at it to remind yourself about the wisdom you recorded back then that you've already forgotten about. You'll continue to add to it this year. If you haven't started a woulda, coulda, shoulda notebook, just grab a cheap notebook and get one going for this school year.

While you're making this year's lesson plans, add in a few minutes to reflect on the what of the past week. What went well and what could help turn this year's dud activity into next year's light bulb moment? Each nugget of what wisdom you record is a note to your future self. This time next year, you'll be glad you did.

I'm so grateful that I've had this opportunity to connect or maybe reconnect with you in this time of preparation for the coming school year. I believe that amazing things are on their way toward you right now. You'll be ready for them by taking the time to stay connected each day to your why, your who—especially yourself—and your what.

You're ready, and you've got this.

You can find today's episode and transcript on our website, teachstone.com/podcasts. Remember, take care of yourself because what you do matters.