We’re at the end of the school year, and many of us teachers are very tired.
What are strategies to sustain ourselves next year as we deal with the pandemic and its past and future impacts?
This series will explore some ideas that we can all consider over what will, I hope, be a restful summer.
I also spoke with contributors who are sharing their reflections in today’s post.
‘Reducing Grade Time’
Jenny Grant Rankin most recently taught at Columbia University and has lectured at institutions like the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford. She has a Ph.D. in education and writes books for educators like First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success 2nd Edition and Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World:
I recently researched what “post-pandemic” teachers have found to successfully fend off burnout, and those who proactively reduced sources of stress within their control (instead of only practicing coping strategies for the stress) experienced greater enjoyment and sustainability in the profession. The biggest-bang-for-teacher efforts in this area involved reducing grading time in favor of planning highly engaging lessons (which meant fewer behavior problems, less academic intervention, etc.) and in favor of getting the personal time teachers consistently sacrifice.
Multiple sources revealed that even amid a total overhaul in how teachers delivered instruction throughout the pandemic, allocation of teacher time to grading remained relatively unchanged throughout COVID’s course and is reported to take up 20 percent to 50 percent of teachers’ time, leaving them overworked and more likely to burn out. This is largely because few teachers enjoy grading. An international study uncovered “too much grading” as one of teachers’ three biggest sources of stress, and multiple studies revealed teachers hate grading. Yet 92 percent of teachers agree or strongly agree that they have control over determining how much homework they assign, so this is something teachers have the power to change.
Some of the many reasons to reduce grade-requiring assignments include:
- Assignment grades tend to be less beneficial to students than a teacher who is refreshed, energized, and able to deliver a life-changing lesson that engages all students.
- Experts like Joe Feldman and Doug Reeves recommend focusing only on most recent work instead of grading everything and averaging the scores over time.
When feedback is a day or more old, as is the case with most grading, that feedback is more like performing an autopsy on a student’s learning instead of an impactful operation.
- As experts like Denise Pope of the Stanford Graduate School of Education have cautioned, there is limited correlation between homework and student achievement (though reading a book of choice at home is beneficial). In fact, students overloaded with homework experience exhaustion, sleep deprivation, stress, and loss of time for family and enriching activities.
- Experts like Feldman and Reeves also make the case for eliminating homework in the name of equity, since students have drastically different home environments in terms of technology, adults’ presence or ability to help, time away from family-supporting jobs (e.g., some students are entirely responsible for their younger siblings when at home), ability to afford tutors, supplies, and environment conducive to concentration. Consider that:
Even in May of 2020, when many parents were working alongside students from home, only 6 percent of teachers reported all (and only 23 percent most) of their students had adults who could help them with schoolwork.
Even nine months into distance learning, after districts had some time to remedy access issues, 73 percent of teachers reported that their students’ lack of access to technology or reliable internet was a somewhat (43 percent) or very serious (40 percent) obstacle during online instruction, and 87 percent of teachers reported that limited access to a quiet learning environment was a somewhat (47 percent) or very (40 percent) serious obstacle for students.
When teachers deem grading to be unavoidable, they can recoup some time if they leverage grading technology, favor rigorous projects over “traditional” worksheets, have students self-select their best work if using portfolios or journals and only grade that, only grade key parts of assignments, or rely on rubrics to indicate feedback instead of writing out comments. However, teachers who critically rethink their grading practices (in light of findings that grading is of limited benefit to students, hogs much of their precious time, and is one of the greatest contributors to teacher stress) will find it much easier to stay positive and energetic for years to come.
‘Turn Off Phone Notifications’
Amber Teamann is the director of technology and innovation in Crandall ISD, a fast-growing district outside of Dallas:
Automate your digital boundaries.
This self-care tip is courtesy of devices that make it all too easy to be attached 24/7 to our work emails, calendars, and textable expectations. Boundaries are SELF CARE. More than 3 in 5 remote workers say they’re more likely to reply immediately to an email from their boss or team (63 percent) than to a text or DM from friends or family (37 percent), according to an article published by Slack.
Your choices define what is OK and what isn’t OK. When you respond to an email at 9 p.m., you’re letting that person know that you’re available … and while that may be true occasionally, … it can quickly become a pattern or expectation. Show yourself self-care by setting an auto-reply on your emails daily from when you leave until you return to work. Ninety-five percent of texts will be read within three minutes of being sent. What is so important, professionally, that it can’t be answered while you are on the clock? Turn off your phone notifications or at least set them within hours that you are OK with.
‘Reignite Your Passion’
Morgane Michael has been an elementary school educator with the Greater Victoria school district in British Columbia, Canada, since 2008. Find Morgane at smallactbigimpact.com, listen to her KindSight 101 podcast, and follow @smallactbigimpact on Instagram and @SABI21days on Twitter:
Many of us are feeling overwhelmed in our important work as educators. Just staying afloat during a pandemic feels like running a never-ending marathon. Many administrators, educators, paraprofessionals, and students are at a breaking point.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people across North America are displaying higher than ever anxiety, depression, and, even worse, suicide rates. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made those challenges worse.
Drawing from the latest research and my own teaching experiences, I’ve identified five easy approaches to reignite your passion and well-being—reflect, reframe, refocus, reconnect, and reveal. In each section, I offer one simple practice you can incorporate into your daily life to help you thrive and overcome the effects of burnout!
Understanding ourselves and reflecting on our state of mind is an essential component of replenishing ourselves.
- Daily Emotional Check in:
Take some time to name your feelings every day, even multiple times per day.
1. What emotions am I feeling right how?
2. Where do I feel it in my body?
3. What do I need right now?
Even in some of the most adverse situations, educators are expected to be flexible, positive, adaptable, competent, and knowledgeable, dedicating themselves to meeting the needs of their students, no matter the circumstance. Within our capacity for self-awareness, we must make room to audit our internal narratives so we can recover quickly from adversity.
- Write Yourself a Letter:
Take a moment to write yourself a letter, reflecting on some of the following questions.
What are some of the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome? Who helped me stay strong? What were some of my favorite self-care approaches that kept me afloat? What am I most proud of as a teacher?
Take the letter and hide it in a conspicuous place until you need the reminder of your own resilience.
We all have deep-seated dreams that reside within us, and there comes a time when we must take a good look at our lives to determine what we want our story to be. Refocusing is your ability to take stock of those dreams and to recalibrate your compass in such a way that you can step into the life you’ve always hoped to have.
- Goal Reset:
Write down a goal that is important to you. Make a game plan to achieve the goal. Enlist the help of friends and family, find ways to carve out time, and don’t forget to articulate how achieving the goal will improve your life.
Humans are neurobiologically designed to connect to one another. The good news is that, with intention, we can develop excellent communication skills, with strong boundaries, and connect meaningfully to those around us.
- Seven-Day Gratitude Text Challenge:
Text a friend about one good thing that happened each day for a week.
Reflect on your level of connectedness and gratitude by the end of the week.
“Oh, I’m not creative.” How many times have you heard someone refute their own creativity with a sense of scientific conviction? Here’s the thing—we are all born creative. It is only in adulthood that some of us lose the childlike capacity for divergent (creative) thinking. Inviting a sense of play and creativity into our daily practice is an integral method for reconnecting to ourselves.
- Try New Things:
Decide that you’re going to commit to a new activity or experience.
For example, take a cooking class, take a pottery class with a friend, or take out those old watercolor paints you’ve been meaning to play around with. It’s not about the product you create but more about the process.
If you’ve ever had days where you questioned your efficacy as an educator, parent, spouse, or friend, you are not alone. If you simply feel overwhelmed and headed toward burnout, think back to the five R’s to inspire you to reignite your passion and purpose, tuning back into the fullest expression of who you are and create essential self-care practices that can empower you to show up for your students, family, colleagues, and friends in a meaningful way without compromising your wellness.
‘One or Two Solid Friends’
Wendi Pillars, NBCT, has taught “K-gray” for nearly three decades, both overseas and stateside, in military and civilian contexts. She is the author of Visual Impact and Visual Notetaking for Educators. Find her on Twitter @wendi322:
Other than making sure you have at least one or two solid friends to lean on, here are tried and true personal practices that help me stay above the fray and maintain motivation:
- Find a project.
We are teleological beings, which means we work better when working toward a goal, when we have a target. As we take consistent steps of progress toward that target, that forward motion—no matter how small—keeps us motivated. Even though it may sound like you’re adding something else to your plate, think of one target goal either with your students or personally that you can incorporate. Then, track your progress and make a game out of that consistency.
- Focus on energy management rather than time management.
As teachers, we are unparalleled task masters and time managers. What we need help with is energy management; it doesn’t matter a flip if you’ve got every minute managed but have no energy to greet your day with joy and gusto. Energy management comes from getting enough sleep, finding times to move throughout the day, reducing mindless screen time, and increasing more mindful nutritional intake. It’s worthwhile to invest in your own energy; for me, when I’m struggling is when I get back to these basics, make sure they’re solid, and reset.
- There’s no such thing as perfection.
Acknowledge that you’re not going to be the first perfect educator and there’s no certificate or cheesy trophy to acquire. We all know we can always do more, so learn to say, “That’s good enough”. Don’t equate “I’m not enough” with “I did the best I could with what I had” (and that can be personal stamina, resources, student motivation, etc.)
- Reflect, don’t ruminate.
Take your negative thoughts off loop and as ridiculous as it sounds, find a way to celebrate what does go well. (I like a mini fist pump and a quiet yessss!) LOOK for what goes well, write it down if you can, and know that those smaller wins definitely add up enough to sustain you when you hit a dry spell. If there’s not a “win,” reflect on what happened and what you would have or could have done differently, then let it go. Your mind needs the respite.
- It’s all BETA.
Showing up even when you’re struggling takes courage, and just getting to your classroom in the morning might be your win. There is no single way to teach, no “best lesson” that works for every single student or objective, so we have to show up with an experimenter’s mindset. It’s the only way, and it means failure is part of the process. Talk to students about what you’re trying to do to add an extra layer of metacognition and life lessons.
- BONUS*: Try a 30-day thank you journey. I’ve done this a couple of times, and it forces me to really seek out who is helping me and how, especially the not so obvious folks (nighttime custodian, a former student whose needs pushed me to think differently about serving current students, etc.) I simply left handwritten cards in their mailboxes or occasionally relied upon snail mail. After each 30 days, my cloud of despair had lifted.
Thanks to Jenny, Amber, Morgane, and Wendi for contributing their thoughts.
This is the first post in multipart series.
The question of the week is:
Many educators, like many other people, feel emotionally drained and exhausted from three years of the pandemic. What practices have you applied to stay positive and maintain your energy level?
Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at email@example.com. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.
You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.
Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.
Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 11 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.
- It Was Another Busy School Year. What Resonated for You?
- How to Best Address Race and Racism in the Classroom
- Schools Just Let Out, But What Are the Best Ways to Begin the Coming Year?
- Classroom Management Starts With Student Engagement
- Teacher Takeaways From the Pandemic: What’s Worked? What Hasn’t?
- The School Year Has Ended. What Are Some Lessons to Close Out Next Year?
- Student Motivation and Social-Emotional Learning Present Challenges. Here’s How to Help
- How to Challenge Normative Gender Culture to Support All Students
- What Students Like (and Don’t Like) About School
- Technology Is the Tool, Not the Teacher
- How to Make Parent Engagement Meaningful
- Teaching Social Studies Isn’t for the Faint of Heart
- Differentiated Instruction Doesn’t Need to Be a Heavy Lift
- How to Help Students Embrace Reading. Educators Weigh In
- 10 Strategies for Reaching English-Learners
- 10 Ways to Include Teachers in Important Policy Decisions
- 10 Teacher-Proofed Strategies for Improving Math Instruction
- Give Students a Role in Their Education
- Are There Better Ways Than Standardized Tests to Assess Students? Educators Think So
- How to Meet the Challenges of Teaching Science
- If I’d Only Known. Veteran Teachers Offer Advice for Beginners
- Writing Well Means Rewriting, Rewriting, Rewriting
- Christopher Emdin, Gholdy Muhammad, and More Education Authors Offer Insights to the Field
- How to Build Inclusive Classrooms
- What Science Can Teach Us About Learning
- The Best Ways for Administrators to Demonstrate Leadership
- Listen Up: Give Teachers a Voice in What Happens in Their Schools
- 10 Ways to Build a Healthier Classroom
- Educators Weigh In on Implementing the Common Core, Even Now
- What’s the Best Professional-Development Advice? Teachers and Students Have Their Say
- Plenty of Instructional Strategies Are Out There. Here’s What Works Best for Your Students
- How to Avoid Making Mistakes in the Classroom
- Looking for Ways to Organize Your Classroom? Try Out These Tips
- Want Insight Into Schooling? Here’s Advice From Some Top Experts
I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.
The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.