September 13, 2012

Awakened: Hope for the Year Ahead


The first few weeks of school often whip by in a blur of activity, but around the middle of September things slow down considerably. This time of year is also when educators face the reality of their current teaching situations. The glow of excitement about the new school year may be fading, and many feel overwhelmed by the challenges ahead. They may begin to experience feelings of stress and even helplessness in response to a challenging class, difficult students, uncooperative parents, or a less-than-supportive administration.

If you're experiencing those feelings, I highly recommend Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching. It was written by Angela Watson of The Cornerstone for Teachers, and it definitely makes good on the promise of its title.

As soon as I first saw this book on Angela’s website, I was intrigued by the title and the book’s description. I had recently been reading a number of personal growth books about the impact of positive thinking on one’s life, but I had never seen those concepts applied to the teaching practice.

When the book arrived, I devoured it in a matter of days. Actually, I had to force myself to slow down while reading it, because there was so much wisdom on every single page that I wanted time to savor each new chapter. Angela’s basic premise is that it’s not our circumstances that determine our happiness, but rather our mindset and our responses to those events. We often face circumstances beyond our control, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are powerless. In Angela’s words,
"The only factor that you have complete control over is your mindset: the way YOU think and perceive things, and the way YOU choose to respond. If you want to create meaningful and lasting change in your job satisfaction, the best place to start is with your own thought patterns and attitudes." 
You might read those words and think, “I’ll bet she’s never been in a situation like mine.” However, when you read the book, you’ll find that assumption to be absolutely unfounded. In fact, she titled her introduction, “How I Learned Everything the Hard Way,” which speaks volumes on its own. In Part One of Awakened, Angela shares many stories of her day-to-day experiences as a new teacher, and it’s clear that her situation was extremely stressful. She then traces her own path from being overwhelmed and discouraged to becoming happy and fulfilled as a classroom teacher. Angela is very candid about how her journey was founded on her Christian faith, but the methods and advice she offers are practical, down-to-earth, and applicable to people of all faiths. As she explains, her recommendations are based on “personal experience, scientific research, and a range of spiritual and psychological principles.” She explores the physical and emotional toll that stress takes on us as well as how to identify sources of stress in your life and deal with them effectively.

One of my favorite parts of Awakened is Part Two, “Breaking Free of Destructive Habits.” If you’re like me, you may recognize many of those 10 bad habits as practices you unconsciously adopted without realizing how they can destroy your chances for happiness. In each chapter, she examines one negative habit, shedding light on how it manifests itself in our lives as well as practical strategies for overcoming that habit. What I love about Angela’s approach is how she focuses on replacing negative self-talk with a more positive way of thinking. Many self-help books tell you to think more positively or look for the good in everything, but they seldom give you specific words to help you reframe your thoughts.

Part Three is titled, “Cultivating a Positive Frame of Reference,” and this part is where Angela shows you how to examine your assumptions about your thinking to alleviate stress in the future. This section includes taking a close look at our unrealistic expectations for ourselves, valuing peace above control, and separating practical problems from emotional ones. Everything in this section resonated with me, and her advice is rock-solid. I love how she ends the chapter by outlining a typical teacher’s day and showing exactly how someone would apply positive self-talk to difficult situations.

Awakened is not just for new teachers; it’s for any teacher who feels overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the crushing demands of the teaching profession.  When we find ourselves in circumstances we can’t change, we need to remind ourselves that the only path to happiness is to look for the good in everything and use life’s challenges as learning opportunities. However, it’s important to remember that becoming “awakened” is a process that takes time. Angela herself says it best,
"Being awakened is the initial realization of truth, the moment when the light illuminates a situation and you can see it clearly for the first time. Growth begins there, but a true awakening is a process."
By now you may be thinking, “Where do I sign up? I want that book!  I NEED that book!”  Yes, you can purchase it from Amazon.com, but I would recommend buying it directly from Angela herself on the Cornerstone for Teachers website. First of all, Angela sends her orders out by priority mail within 24 hours so you’ll get it right away. Also, every copy you order from her is autographed! If you want a digital copy of Awakened, you can purchase that from Angela as well. She has several different formats available.

I know this has been a long blog post, but Angela's amazing book deserves a thorough review.  If you’re experiencing any stress or feelings of discouragement right now, please consider reading Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching. Not only will Angela’s methods transform your teaching, her words of wisdom may very well change your life. You’ll also become awakened to the true potential within yourself, your own vast potential to make a significant difference in the lives of your students.


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