This series is examining how we teachers can sustain ourselves over the long term ...
Meghann Seril, NBCT, serves as a 3rd grade teacher, new teacher mentor, and Teach Plus National Senior Research Fellow. She was selected as a 2022 Los Angeles Unified teacher of the year:
To say that teaching and learning during these past three years of the pandemic have been challenging is an understatement. The demands of building classroom community, providing rigorous instruction, and managing shifts in safety protocols have felt emotionally draining and exhausting. We know that the work of teaching is demanding and never ending, but there are steps we can take to shore ourselves up to stay in the work. These strategies have helped me to maintain my energy levels and stay positive throughout these past three years.
One important step I took early in the pandemic was to create as much separation between my home life and work life as possible. I am privileged to have designated space in my home just for work. I would set alarms and timers so I could fit in time for exercise and downtime. I took my work email off of my phone, so that I could control my temptation to check my work email. It is as important to nurture ourselves outside of work as it is to continually improve our craft.
I endeavor to center my students in our classroom. I want them to see themselves and their interests in our learning, to connect what we are doing in the classroom to their experiences outside of the classroom. Creating spaces for students to bring themselves to our learning helps to make our classroom community positive and supportive.
Early in the pandemic, I knew I wanted to take advantage of students being at home to extend and support their learning. One project that we did was an expert presentation. Students were asked to use at least three different resources to research about a topic of interest and then prepare a presentation for the class. It helped to keep students engaged while we figured out what was next for distance learning. I had students perform on the ukulele, learn more about Fortnite, and explain how to bake chocolate chip cookies. I often find that my most successful lessons, the ones that I talk about with others, are those in which students are driving their learning. Centering students’ joy in our classroom is uplifting for all of us.
I learned to lead with grace during distance learning. Over and over, I heard from educators across the country about giving grace to students and families. We all found ourselves in an impossibly difficult situation and we were all trying to make the best of it. Rather than pick my battles, I focused on trying to create allies because ultimately we need to be on the same team to help students succeed. I let go of the struggle to try and control everything when so much of distance learning was out of my control.
I’ve continued to keep this at the forefront of my teaching and all of my interactions with students and their families. I also gave this grace to myself. I struggled in the pandemic because I constantly felt like I needed to be doing more to support students through distance learning. I needed to do more to connect with my students who were tuned out or turned off. I also felt like I was working the hardest I had ever worked in my career, trying to learn new platforms and to redesign lessons to be more interactive and engaging.
At one point, I considered leaving the teaching profession. So I had to remind myself of what teaching and learning is really about: connection, curiosity, and joy. I continue to give myself grace because I know I am doing the best I can and I want to model a healthy life balance for my students. I hope that we will remember the struggles of the pandemic and how we must support and take care of teachers so they can in turn support and take care of their students.
Kristin Hoins is a school designer and coach for EL Education and an executive doctoral student in the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania:
Resilience is often interpreted as bouncing back after challenging experiences. I’ve been expanding my understanding of resilience through a commitment to radical self-care. My inquiry is about a pause in which I notice my physical experience, feeling the moment in my body and noticing what meaning I attribute given my identity and social location in the context. I’m developing ways to stay grounded, graceful and curious amidunexpected and stressful exchanges.
My invitation to educators is to join me in inquiry to notice when you find yourself tolerating, distracting, or dissociating in the face of difficulty and how your capacity varies depending on what self-care rituals you maintain. I realize in this inquiry that my resilience is measurable by the qualitative aspects of things I notice, mindsets I maintain, the energy I bring, and how adaptive I am in the face of ambiguity or challenge. I offer three practices I embrace:
#1: Self-Care Bookends: Creating Morning and Evening Rituals and Routines
As educators, we attune to beginnings and endings. What’s available when we practice morning and evening rituals? Most educators have conversations with students about how important time away from screens is for well-being. It’s time to listen to our own advice. With everything we can access on computers and phones, the workday never ends unless we set boundaries around the workday.
One daily ritual is holding 10 minutes of presence. Dedicating time to hop on an app like Headspace or Calm, listen to my breathing, do a body scan, or listen to music is nourishing. Setting aside time to be technology-free, prioritizing quiet reflection and mindfulness practices, is one way I begin and end each day. I encourage you to develop your own presencing routines for 30 days to see what becomes available.
#2: Inner Dialogue: Developing a Mantra or Personal Commitment Statement
We are meaning-making machines. Listen to how you talk to yourself. Are there things you wouldn’t say aloud? I don’t think I’m alone in acknowledging how busy our minds can be. I’m developing practices that increase my quiet and calm, and one method that is working for me is personalized affirmation. I frame my affirmation as a commitment: “I am committed to radical self-care and being at home in my body.” This prompts me to physically sense how I’m holding my body in the moment and in space. I center my feet to experience a grounded balance as I stretch my toes out. I make adjustments to balance and pull my shoulders back, lifting up my spine to sense my length. The “why” behind my commitment is to experience myself in the moment and if I’m with others this helps me listen carefully and connect. There are many ways inner dialogue takes form. I encourage you to design a mantra that suits your self-care and relationship needs.
#3 Interleaving Interests: Moving Mind and Body
The phrase “slowly, slowly, slowly … suddenly” is what the transition to new ways of work felt like these last three years. I adapted gradually to more remote work and, then suddenly, I realized that I had reduced the amount of time I mentally and physically moved away from work. To bring movement back to my daily life, I am setting boundaries to assure I’ve scheduled time to walk my dog and exercise. Transition breaks to stretch, do a few yoga poses, and eat lunch have been essential. More walking and talking is a key strategy, moving some calls from Zoom to the phone so I can move. How might you add movement and play into your personal routines?
I found that my mind also needs space away from education topics. Having a favorite podcast or hobby unrelated to work lets me step away. I trust that taking time away from problems I’m trying to solve creates more space and creativity for when I return. What books or podcasts offer you laughs and insight into the perspectives of others? Prioritizing time away from topics of education to learn about something that is just for you is a tremendous resilience builder. Think about something you love or are interested in learning and build this interest back into your day.
If you, too, are looking to be at greater ease in our complex world, increasing your freedom to respond wholeheartedly each day, I hope that these suggestions inspire you to build out your own personal practices. Invite a friend or colleague to share your commitment and the impact of these self-care moves on your day-to-day resilience and joy.
Beats and Breathing
Michael Gaskell is a veteran middle school principal in New Jersey, having served as a special education teacher and administrator over the past 25 years:
Some of the best practices that I have learned about include time-tested strategies and leveraging technology to affect my mind and body. I have gained a newfound appreciation for self-care over the past two years. I think about the oxygen mask analogy: You have to breathe first, before you can put the mask on the child. These are both professional, and personal priorities, as educators and individuals.
One of my favorite tools that help trigger better states of mind include binaural beats. Binaural beats are simply the practice of listening to two different sounds, optimized to auditory nerves that are at different frequencies in either ear with headphones.
By listening at two different frequencies, the brain adapts and perceives a third “binaural beat” sound. This has the effect of influencing the brain in surprisingly beneficial ways, flooding our synapses with high theta and low alpha waves. These channel a brain-frequency range related to alertness, attention, orientation, working memory, and the enhancement of cognitive and perceptual performances.
When I need to feel the fulfillment of deep work satisfaction, I pop on my earphones and play away. Sites like this one are easily accessible online, and you can buy an app, like I did for binaural beats, but this is not an ad. I simply want to point out the positive effects of a state that offers to induce the kind of mindfulness we seek and need, both for the satisfaction of production and wellness. I find benefits from binaural beats with both.
You will hear an eerie background drumbeat, that’s the stimulator. Be patient, it takes the average person about five minutes to settle into this, but the effort is well worth it. For more information on this, and if you want to geek out (I won’t tell anyone), head over to this link, which offers a good summary of various frequency patterns, all available through binaural beat sources.
I have also found that breathing techniques, like the 4-7-8 method are ideal for helping me to optimize my psychological wellness to manage my stress points. There are many different breathing techniques, and they all serve a purpose. I suggest 4-7-8 simply because it is so easy to remember. Breath in for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and let out slowly for eight seconds. The difference in timing has a therapeutic effect that essentially massages your diaphragm.
This and other breathing techniques are excellent self-stimulation tools for reducing anxiety and stress. I think we could all use a lot less of that! After a few minutes, you will likely find yourself in a far less anxious state. Be patient, this is another example of a resource that takes just a few minutes. If you are like me, you are busy and may not have the luxury of extended meditative practices, and this is another way to induce calm in a short, practical on-site way. Head over to a site like this to learn more and practice along.
I hope you find one or more of these beneficial or consider exploring similar strategies. We all have our own preferences. The point is, try these and other practices because our own self-care must come first, before we can care for children and the people in our personal lives. That is not selfish, it is sensible!
Thanks to Meghann, Kristin, and Michael for sharing their commentaries.
This is the final post in two-part series. You can see Part One here.
In Part One, Jenny Grant Rankin, Amber Teamann, Morgane Michael, and Wendi Pillars contributed their reflections.
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.
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- 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
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- What Students Like (and Don’t Like) About School
- Technology Is the Tool, Not the Teacher
- How to Make Parent Engagement Meaningful
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- 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
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