The “Busyness” of Teaching: My Top 10 of How Business Principles Can Improve the Classroom

At first glance, corporate America and public education seem to be vastly different. As a teacher, I assumed the values of the business world are only about money, while the values of educators are selfless. I realize now I had a skewed idea of how the highly successful business people operate. Of course you can find examples of those professions who fit negative stereotypes. But I now realize there are many more kind-hearted, well-intentioned workers in BOTH professions than not. I am surprised at how learning copywriting skills has allowed me to improve as a leader in my classroom.

How Teaching Translates to Business:

Teachers are project managers. We have budgets, we create teams and we work towards an end goal. Like project managers, we can control how we show up for our clients. We decide how often and with what methods we use to communicate, and how we structure our team. We have no control over who our team is, however.

Students and their families are clients. Our main job is to meet the needs and interests of our clients, so that they are in a better place knowledge and skill wise than when they came to our classroom. What are the priorities? What tools best meet our needs? How does wellness and morale help us achieve our common goal? How do we show up for each other? We have some control over the tone, the pace and the methods.

We are also customer service specialists. We are under pressure to build connections with all of our students. We strive to maintain positive relationships with families. All this must occur while managing events which are often beyond our control. We can’t determine the environment our clients are living in. We can’t control their food and sleep habits, or the information, values they learn at home. We have no say over their exposure to appropriate media at home. We can’t always keep them safe. We can only encourage, model our own values and show up for them with love.

We are private investigators. We must know our clients’ habits and personalities. When something happens that is out of the ordinary, or a warning signal, we must investigate. We must report unusual or disturbing behavior. We must pay attention to comments or odd things which happen. We must respond and make a quick decision of the best course of action to take. We must adjust to any unpredictable event that occurs. We must always act with patience, high expectations and with the best interest of the vulnerable individuals and the group as a whole in mind. We must constantly evaluate objections or questions and determine which ones must be dealt with and how exactly to respond. We are at the beck and call of many people.

All of this is a tall order. I don’t always choose the best answer, but I do always try my best. And I could certainly add more “hats” to the list of jobs a teacher might be embodying in a day.

I’d rather focus on the beliefs, principals and skills I’ve learned from studying freelance conversion copywriting. This is how they have improved my teaching this year.

  1. Step into your power as the expert. It is fine to guide the parent phone call or meeting in a professional, expert way. YOU know your content, students and classroom the best. Accept that the person you are speaking with is an expert in their profession and know that you are the expert in yours. You do not need to people please. Own your duty, state what you need to, and be positive and professional about it. You might want to start by saying something positive at first “I notice how well x does …” or “I appreciate the fact that X does…” Then lead into whatever challenge needs addressing, “This might be difficult to hear but I feel it is my duty to let you know…” or “One thing we can do to help X be more successful is work together to encourage….” Have a plan in place. Ask the parents to work with you as team because you want their child to achieve success. Show that you are on the same side and can work as a team.
  2. Failure leads to growth. You must be willing to experience the discomfort of failure many times in order to achieve a higher result. See failure or mistakes for what they are: a stop on the road to knowledge and skills. Apologize when you fail with other people. Reassure them that in the future you will do better. Then work to get better. You are never growing more than when you are moving past a challenge. See it for what it is: an opportunity to improve.
  3. When handling others, first connect, then listen and learn. In order to work towards bettering others’ lives, which is at the heart of teaching, you need to meet them on a human level. Take some time to talk, find out what your students interests or talents are and what you might have in common. Be real. Show curiosity about things you aren’t familiar with. Let them educate you. Listen and learn. If there is a student who is upset or who has an objection, see if you can speak with them one on one. Sit next to them so you are on the same level. Hear what they have to say. Try to rephrase it back to them to show you understand. “You feel that…” “What I’m hearing you say is…” Then say what you need to from your perspective as the expert. Explain if there is a misunderstanding. Give them credit for explaining their perspective. Be crystal clear if there is something the student is confused about. Don’t make it personal or emotional. Be a professional and leave it. Finish with a “thank you for explaining….” if it is suitable.
  4. Prioritize what your students need most. After you connect, listen and learn about your students, determine what they need most and work on that. Advocate for it with your school administration or colleagues, if need be. Is there a student who is not getting enough to eat? Figure out a time for them to get breakfast or a snack. Is there a student who lacks social skills? Help them get into a lunch club. Incorporate more social and emotional goals into the school day. Is there a student motivated by drawing and projects? Let them utilize that skill in a project and give them positive attention when they show success. Is there a student who struggles with writing? Pick a goal which will help them show growth- “Your goal in this assignment is to write 3 strong sentences.” Is the class time too chaotic and short for your student to gain the math skills needed? Figure out some extra time for them to get individualized attention. You cannot meet all of every student’s needs. You must focus on one or two achievable ones at a time. In addition, know your audience and have realistic expectations. Continue to work on skill building, but speak to them as clients or students who are capable of learning the skills they need.
  5. Speak your truth positively. Example: Instead of saying, “You’re talking too much and it’s making me feel frustrated” Say “This class is skilled at talking which is great for learning to speak Spanish. However, it means we need to work extra hard at listening when the teacher is giving directions – right now is the time to listen.” Instead of saying, “You’re being rude and disrespectful,” try stating “How could you say the same thing using a polite tone and words that people won’t take personally.” Then, have students give examples. I have been working hard at this skill this year and this past week I’ve struggled a bit but it’s something I can come back to and improve on in the future. Hold students accountable for things that need improvement, but frame it with steps to get better.
  6. Set the stage each class. Similar to running a meeting, let students know exactly what the plan is. Write the schedule on the board. Or use a Google slide to show the objective of the class that day. “By the end of class, the students will be able to read a short story and identify three literary elements.” I also let students know we may or may not have time for the last activity since I am an over planner. Students feel confident and safer knowing what their day will look like. They will be able to plan better. The will know how much longer they need to wait before eating snack or going to P.E. Everyone feels better when they are clear on what that day is going to look like.
  7. Gain can be many different things. In business, gains do NOT have to be monetary. In school, gains do NOT have to be higher grades. A huge gain, or win, might be a student smiling and giving you a fist bump. It might be a student sitting through class who often struggles. It might be a student who hates writing handling their frustration and breaking the larger task into smaller milestones. It might be bellylaughing with a group of students who acted something out. It might be an impromptu teacher sing-aloud in the hallway. Gains in education right now include joy, community, curiosity, learning, social skills, increased self-esteem, handling anxiety and being able to take academic risks. Test scores are what the world looks at. Motivation and happiness are what students actually need to gain. And to be honest, it’s what teachers need as well.
  8. Taking action results in possibilities. You cannot skate through the workday. There is no “just showing up” or “ignoring something because you don’t want to deal with it.” If there is a behavior challenge in your class, not having a plan is accepting the way things are. It is only by taking action that we encourage change. And don’t forget, sometimes that change will be unexpected or negative. Sometimes we will fail. Sometimes it will take sticking with the plan and working through the challenges before we start to succeed. Ask a mentor or a colleague who you trust for their opinion. Choose an approach from a perspective of thought and reflection rather than an emotional response.
  9. You are your first client. Block out time to work on you. To invest in your future. To build professional skills. To stay healthy. To spend time with your family. To focus on your needs. Look to experts for answers to questions you are unsure about. Spend time with friends. It’s so easy to go to the selfless educator role and put others’ needs before your own. There is no prize for ignoring your own family to grade papers. There is no award for being the latest to stay at work, or for not getting enough sleep. Make sure to keep balance in your life, for the sake of everyone around you.
  10. Celebrate the wins! You get more of what you look for. Celebrate your own wins. Celebrate the wins of your kids. When you notice students doing things well or helping out, acknowledge them and the specific action you want to see more of. Get excited! Talk about their music concerts. Recognize their hard work. Show pride in growth- even small growth. There are often things to see that are wonderful and deserve acknowledgement- even on the difficult days. Give snaps and claps when kids show bravery or academic risk. Ham it up for students who aren’t usually acknowledged. It’s worth the smile. I have a crafting class right now that is selling handmade items for .75 and donating the money. Each time a student finishes an item, they are invited to shake a pair of maracas to announce another item made. I always give a woop and say “Alright, Suzy!” when I hear those maracas. Let’s keep our focus on the positive. Find a way to thank others or remind yourself of all the wonderful things in your world.

What are your wins? What are your takeaways? I noticed that “busy” is in business. There’s another similarity between teaching and business. Have you changed careers and found that job skills transfer from one to the other? Tell me in the comments below:

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