“Countdown: Only # More School Days…”
Rethinking the Messages We Send to Others
It’s that time of year again. Spring Break is behind us and warming weather has educators and students thinking of summer vacation. Like the crocus pushing up through the spring earth and the delicate buds opening on flowering trees, another sign that can be depended upon each spring all over America is the emergence of countdown mechanisms in classrooms and teacher work rooms.*
Sometimes it’s a number on the whiteboard that can be erased with each passing school day. Sometimes it’s a chain of construction paper where a loop can be ripped off as the school days dwindle. We hear the message aloud in the hallways, classrooms, and offices, too. “Welcome back from Spring Break! Only 50 more days until school’s out!” Sometimes, we hear it on the school-wide announcements: “Just 32 more days until summer….” These days, we also see it all the time in our colleagues’ social media shares.
I used to join in with the ‘how many days left until summer?’ countdown fun, I admit. For years, I had a countdown in my classroom and I laughed along with others at the numbered toilet paper roll hanging in the faculty area (simple to rip off and toss each day as it ended). It seemed harmless and good-natured, and nearly everyone was doing it.
But…as I’ve moved into the role of teacher leader, I’ve given more and more thought to the importance and impact of the messages we send to students, parents, and each other. It’s gotten to the point where I cringe instead of smile when I hear or see, “Just # more days…”
The idea is intended all in fun, and we think we are just sending the message “I’m looking forward to summer!” But when we really stop to think about it, what messages are we inadvertently also sending to students, to each other, and to ourselves?
“I have just 50 more days that I have to put up with you.”
“You have just 32 more days of enduring my class!”
“My job is a burden that I can’t wait to escape for a good while.”
“Being here is so unpleasant that we need to count down the days as if we’re going on parole.”
So here’s my re-think: I’m not going to do it anymore.
Pollyanna as this sounds (believe me, none of the people who actually know me would ever accuse me of being Pollyanna), I do believe in the power and impact of the messages we send to our students, our colleagues, and ourselves. I believe the words we choose and the messages we put out there carry a lot of weight in terms of creating the environment we’re in.
Sometimes little words, like ‘have to’ and ‘get to’ make all the difference. Think about it. Compare, “I have to work with students and teachers for 41 more school days” vs. “I get to work with students and teachers for 41 more school days.”
Reframing our message can reframe our mind…and it has a significant impact on those around us, too.
I like my school. I enjoy my students. I like my colleagues, and I like my work. That’s the message I want to send because that’s the environment I want to promote. If I didn’t like my school, colleagues, and students…I’d still want to promote a positive message…because I believe what we promote can be what we become.
*There’s really no such thing as an actual “teacher lounge” anymore, folks. I don’t know any teachers who lounge at work, so I stopped using the phrase in favor of “teacher planning area,” “teacher dining area,” or “teacher work room.”
Update: A colleague pointed out to me, after reading this post, that there can be value in letting students know how many days they have left as the year is winding down, so that they can plan and prepare accordingly. I agree. It’s all in how we frame it and how we present our message. Making sure students know what needs to get done in the limited time left with the message “You can do it!” and “I’m here to support you!” can be great. [Less helpful are countdowns that may inadvertently cause fear and undue stress by projecting a “You’re running out of time!” tone rather than a “You can do it!’” tone.]