Summer Teacher Prep: Using Visualization to Prepare for a New Year
Before my first day of teaching, I imagined what it would be like countless times. I pictured what I would say to my classroom full of new students, how I would interact with my learners, and how planned activities could play out. That visualization wasn’t an exercise in rigid planning, but rather a mental run-through of the feel I wanted in my practice and my classroom. Did some things go differently than imagined? Of course. But I was mentally prepared to be the best teacher I could be. To this day, I still mentally prepare for every class using visualization. I anticipate student reactions, misconceptions, and questions. I consider how I’ll deliver content, how I’ll counsel students, and even how I’ll react if things happen. I consider what I’ll say and how I’ll say it. Even if it’s just a minute or two before class, these mental prep sessions have a profound effect on student learning because I am prepared, focused, and my brain is ready for the task. Here’s a look at how to engage in some simple visualization exercises to help imagine and realize your ideal classroom practice.
The power of visualization
Visualization is a staple in the sports world. Players use visualization techniques to get mentally prepared for competition and performance, imagining moves and plays and rehearsing them in their mind. “Brain studies now reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory,” says Angie LeVan, MAPP, a resilience coach, speaker, trainer, and writer. “So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow.” Studies have shown that gymnasts who used visualization were able to do previously impossible moves after mentally picturing the act over time. Studies also show that when stroke patients visualize moving an impaired limb, they can increase blood flow to the area and improve their ability to increase motor function. That’s the power of the brain! Transfer this understanding to the teaching practice. Teachers make tons of decisions in the moment, improvise as facilitators, and often feel as if they could have done better with another try. Visualization can help teachers prepare their brains for the myriad tasks of their day.
Visualization in teaching
Mentally visualizing a lesson, an activity, or even a day of teaching can help calm nerves, clarify your plans, and train your brain to be successful when it’s the real thing. “Visualization is a skill I used when I first became a teacher,” says Cindy Martin, author of the Teacher’s Brain blog. “I feared talking in front of students. Even reading a book in front of them caused me a little anxiety. I would practice in my mind. The emotion of joy would fill my body as I could see the students gaining understanding from my lessons and giggling at my tone. It helped me get through my first year. Repetition turned my fear into something that is as natural as breathing for me now.” When teachers use visualization before a lesson or a day of teaching, it can help center the mind, run scenarios, and prepare for different outcomes — relieving some of the in-the-moment stress and decisions that occur throughout the day.
Summer visualization exercise #1: first day
Imagine it’s the first day of the new school year. Look around — what does your classroom look like? How is it arranged? What’s on the walls? Now look at your students. Imagine how they are feeling on the first day of school in a new class with a new teacher. Imagine welcoming them with warmth, setting the tone for the period or day. Visualize your first activity of the day. Play it out fully in your mind. Imagine student reactions and how you will handle these reactions in your mind. Picture the feelings, learning, and outcomes you want for your students through this activity and consider if the way you imagined it will lead to those outcomes. Don’t be afraid to run the scenario repeatedly in your mind until you feel comfortable with it.
Summer visualization exercise #2: overall practice
It’s a new school year and you can start entirely fresh with your teaching practice and goals. Imagine your classroom. What does it look like? How is it organized? What does your classroom feel like? What are your students like? What is the desired tone of your classroom? How do you greet your students? What classroom routines do you have? Visualize a day in your classroom or play out scenes where you deal with stressors, manage behaviors, bond with your students, or deliver lessons. Even just a few minutes visualizing versions of these ideas in your mind can help you wrap your mind around your ideal practice.