This guest post is written by Justin Holbrook @JustinHolbrook, a 4th Grade Teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. Check out more of his information at the end of the post. When thinking about designing a dream instructional block, questions start whipping through my brain like the frantic tornado scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”  How much time do I have?  What are the curriculum requirements selected by my leadership and/or district?  What does my group of students individually need to be successful?  The list goes on and on.  How then do we as educators sort through these reflective questions and design our instructional blocks to be effective yet efficient?

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My #OneWord for 2016 is believe. Although I am cheating a little bit, since believe is a word that we have been discussing as a school team all year! I’m definitely still focused on it for 2016! Believe in Yourself: If you want to make a difference in others, you must first have confidence in your own abilities. Know you can do it. Leadership is influence and anyone can be a leader at any time, but you must first believe you can make a positive difference in others. Believe in yourself by being you, but really be you. Be the best you that you can be. It’s so important that it’s written on our staff shirts and painted on the school walls this year. It’s even in our new cheer which starts, “B.E. Y.O.U. Believe in yourself and be the best you!”

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I’ve almost been trying NOT to use the term ‘grit’ because of how trendy it has become, but I’ve found it may be one of the best character traits we could possibly teach our students! Grit is courage and resolve; strength of character. It’s clenching the teeth, especially in order to keep one’s resolve when faced with a tough or difficult responsibility.

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“No! Try not! Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Yes, I’m excited! Can’t wait to see the next Star Wars movie soon, so I’m catching up with the original series with my oldest daughter and then bam! A lesson by Yoda! In Star Wars V Empire Strikes Back, Yoda challenged Luke Skywalker to believe he could use the force to mentally pick up his spaceship from the swamp. Luke ‘tried’ but didn’t really think he could do it. So guess what? You got it. He didn’t do it.

This week is Inclusive Schools Week and we celebrate what it means to be inclusive through activities, readings, and discussions with our students. But why do we only talk about inclusive practices during this week? Inclusive Schools Week should be EVERY week! “Inclusive” is a powerful word. Remember that inclusive refers to mixed abilities but also diversity in cultures and backgrounds. How are we ensuring that every single student feels that they are included and wanted in our classrooms? It’s not just about what actions we take. It’s about the feelings and thoughts of our students.

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WE LOVE KIDS. We love making a positive difference in the future of students. We love feeling like our job matters and that the work is worth it in the long run. We radiate absolute joy when our students show growth and success. WE FEEL STRESSED. Like…all…the…time. Stressed about the tasks that have to be done. About the thousands of decisions and interactions that we make every single day. Because we are taking on the stress from our students in order to help their lives. From decisions others make that affects our daily routines.

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Why spend a Saturday or Sunday morning to literally walk or run around in circles? When I was younger, before kids, before other life experiences, I really struggled to understand what the purpose was for walks and runs for the many causes that came up throughout the year. But as life kicked in, I realized how important it is to support others and to pull in the support for yourself and your family when you need it. “Community” comes to mind and what that word should really mean.

Value each and every child in your classroom and school. Really. All of them. Not just the cute ones… Not just the funny ones… Not just the well-behaved ones… Not just the ones with supportive parents… All of them.

Even though there are so many reasons why a team may win or lose, the Steelers made an epic leadership mistake that cost them the game this week. They gave up on one of their players during the game.

I went into this position as a school leader thinking so much about what tasks have to get done and the programmatic changes that would need to be made. But as I reflect and gain experience (of course the best teacher) I realize that in most ways I had it all wrong. People’s feelings matter. 

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