Guest Post: Three Promises by Ann Marie Stephens and Kwame Alexander

It’s Back to School time (cue celebratory music from the school supply commercials.) This declaration evokes a mixed bag of feelings for teachers. Upon realizing that we are just days away from our return many of us go through stages.

Denial: Noooooooooo!

Bargaining: I promise to be good. Just give me a few more days.

Acceptance: School starts tomorrow. I can’t wait to meet my new class!

As an elementary teacher, I’ve thought about this phenomenon for years and why it consistently occurs. I think it’s probably because of the Less and More Theory (something I totally made up.) “Back to school” means less time for our families, less time to eat lunch, less time to use the bathroom, less space for personal thoughts, and less sleep. It means more paperwork, more stress, more emails, more meetings, and more problems to solve. Sound familiar?

Kwame and I talk A LOT about the teacher perspective, about the difficulty we have balancing the indisputable negatives with the undeniable positives. But we believe that changing your mindset can bring on a total transformation. Look how we applied this thought to the Less and More Theory.

“Back to school” means less couch potato time (not healthy!), less time spent on house chores (see how we tweaked that?), less worries about our hungry students being hungry all summer, less kids being bored or ignored at home, and less time wasted on cell phones and video games. It means more opportunities to help kids, more smiles and hugs, more chances to make an impact on the world, more books to share, and more stories to be written. Adopting a new perspective is simply beautiful. So how do you maintain this shift in attitude if those around you haven’t shifted too? Here’s how: You start a revolution, the biggest educational transformation ever! Or as Kwame and I were thinking, you can use this fun hashtag, #3Promises. What does it mean?

It means amidst the chaos that is school, you take a few minutes for yourself to make Three Promises. The First Promise is One Goal. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish this year?” Make it nonnegotiable no matter what obstacles you face. Maybe you want to keep your classroom better organized. Or perhaps you want to expose your students to poetry or more diverse books. Make your one goal perfect for you. Write it down. Share it. Live it. It’s yours.

The Second Promise is One Belief. A phrase, quote, or mantra that inspires you, motivates you, and reminds you of what is important. Mine is, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” Kwame’s belief is “Never let anyone lower your goals. Always shoot for the sun, and you will shine.” Borrow ours or discover your own. Hang it up. Turn it into art. Encourage your students to find their own. Make a wall of inspirational beliefs.

The Third Promise is One Book. I’m reading WHAT GREAT TEACHERS DO DIFFERENTLY: 17 THINGS THAT MATTER MOST by Todd Whitaker. Or it could be a book for your class, a YA novel (Kwame recommends Solo. I knew that was coming!), or even a picture book with an unforgettable message. Choose a book that challenges or changes you and your students. You will read dozens of books this year, maybe even hundreds. This one is different. It’s deliberate. It’s a promise.

Please share your #3Promises with us on social media. One Goal, One Belief, One Book. That’s pretty powerful. Remember that revolution we mentioned? It’s time people. It’s Back to School time!

Ann Marie Stephens is the author of the picture books Scuba Dog and Cy Makes a Friend, and the forthcoming titles Arithmechicks Add Up and Arithmechicks Take Away. She has been an elementary teacher for over 26 years. She was a contributor for Kwame Alexander’s Page-to-Stage Writing Workshop, a co-writer for Trait Crate Plus for grades 3 and 5, and has had dozens of original ideas published in Instructor and The Mailbox magazines. She also keeps a blog for teachers at

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and the New York Times Bestselling author of 24 books, including THE CROSSOVER, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Paterson Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. Some of his other works include THE PLAYBOOK: 52 RULES TO HELP YOU AIM, SHOOT, AND SCORE IN THIS GAME OF LIFE; the picture books, ANIMAL ARK, OUT OF WONDER and SURF'S UP; and novels BOOKEDHE SAID SHE SAID, and SOLO.


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