Last month, I made a concerted effort to think about managing stress through a series of challenges called #TchStressAway.
As I engaged in each of the challenges, and extended them to the 200 teachers that joined my journey, I became mindful of my own reactions to stress. I’ve since decided that stress is inevitable. An overachiever my entire life, I constantly stack too much on my plate, and I imagine this will most likely continue. In fact, I’m beginning to realize that I seem to seek out stressful situations. I take on responsibilities even when encouraged not to. I create “to-do” lists that I know I won’t be able to finish. And I dream up new ideas to explore, even where there’s no reason to do so. Most of this is simply innate to me as an individual, so it’s an aspect of my life I want to manage but not necessarily get rid of.
This is part of Crystal Morey’s Getting Better Together work. Crystal and all the Teaching Channel Laureates are going public with their practice and seeking support in getting better from colleagues and the Tch community.
I wrote this while enjoying my two-week winter vacation. Completing lists of neglected chores and appointments, I felt as though I would get back to equilibrium by the time school resumed. What I discovered, though, is that as much as I tried to recharge, I simply drained my battery too much this past fall.
Like a car whose lights were left on inadvertently, I too needed a jump start. This got me thinking. With the tremendous pressures and critiques we as teachers endure on a daily basis, what are we doing to regain balance?
It’s been said we tend to write the same story over and over. So here I go again. After a vacation of balanced living including time in the mainstream culture, here’s my heartfelt New Years take on the culture of our profession, the role colleagues play in our effectiveness, and our love of the job.
Idea #1: The Power to Tip
I reread Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point to ruminate on what he refers to as the “magic moment” when “an idea or social behavior tips and spreads like wildfire.”
For many people, the end of the holidays and the beginning of a new year is a time for reflection, setting new goals, and perhaps finally using the gym membership they signed up for a year ago.
Teachers, however, are not most people. Our “new year” actually begins in September, when we return to our classrooms once again to find our furniture flipped upside down and stacked in the corner of the room. We set new goals, reorganize the classroom library, and yes, wipe down every single tabletop surface with disinfectant, several times.
So what does a new calendar year mean for the teacher in you? How are you marking the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016?
Building classroom culture is something we tend to think a lot about at the beginning of the year, but it’s just as important to maintain and nurture it throughout the year. For this month’s chat, we want to talk about how you set up your classroom culture, how you maintain the things that are working, and how you change the things that don’t.
This #TchLIVE chat will be on Thursday, March 26th at 4pm PDT.
Teaching is an intellectual, cognitively challenging job. It’s an emotional one, too. The myriad emotions that come with being a teacher is a real part of the profession. According to this article by the New Teacher Center, first year teachers have an even more intensified emotional experience and this chart from the article outlines the roller coaster of emotions that come up during a teacher’s first year like this:
Image from New Teacher Center
When I first saw the chart, I found it enlightening and used it as a tool to help me understand where my teachers were coming from. And I recognized that even with years of experience under my belt, I sometimes experienced the same rollercoaster of feelings. I’ve come to discover that offering emotional support is as important as offering instructional support.
The subject for February’s #TchLIVE Twitter chat was motivation. We all need it and we all find it in a variety of places. When you’re having a tough class, day, or week, where do you turn for motivation?
Read the Chat Archive
Now that we’re getting back into the groove of the classroom, it can be a good opportunity to try some new things, improve on the old, and reignite your classroom vision. With help from Instructional Coach Katie Lyons, I’ve come up with a list of quick adjustments to your practice that will have big payoffs:
1. Revamp classroom management: Do you have some classroom management loose ends? Take some time to hash out those situations with your students and revisit classroom expectations. Together with the students, form new expectations if necessary, and the consequences for not meeting them.
2. Get organized: Are ungraded papers cluttering your desk? Create an organization system that is easy to manage. If you don’t have them already, create a file folder for each student. Have three baskets available on your desk for papers returned, papers that need to be graded, and papers that need to be filed.
Boost Your Practice
I’m good at projects, at taking on the next new challenge. I’m energized when I start something new, and tend to give myself entirely to whatever venture is in front of me. In short, I’m either “all in” or “not at all.” Teaching, great teaching, is an act of complete presence. An act of sustaining that complete presence. An act that accrues a special kind of exhaustion. My 5-Day Reboot reminded me that falling into funks may be a normal passage for hectic lives, but a concentrated restart leads to more conscientious living. Reflecting on my own reboot has given me five lessons for staying sound.
Lesson #1: Don’t Forego the Physical
I’m one of those teachers who can’t really plan for the new school year until my room is organized, arranged, in order. I’m one of those people who works through a stressful situation by creating some clean physical space first. For me, the physical makes way for the cognitive. It’s easy to forego the physical, and sleep is always my first victim. Of course, this leads to being less productive and to being less healthy. I’m not proud to admit that I have to actually work at sleeping. Really work at it. Partially because of how I’m wired, partially because the work is never finished, partially because I have a tough time saying no. Regardless of why, I learned that the doorway to de-funk must be constructed of sleep, exercise, and healthy choices.
A few weeks ago, I realized I had been slogging through too many days in a row. Maybe it was the let down of finishing one semester and starting the next one. Perhaps it was the post-holiday sugar detox I was sorely in need of. Or maybe those weeks of sleeping too little and pushing too hard had finally drawn their line in the sand. Whatever the reason, I found myself realizing I had been holding my breath for too long.
Even though I’d just come back from winter break, I still heard myself saying, “I need a vacation!” It wasn’t the kind of exasperated quip I sometimes spew at the end of a long week. No. I was serious. I needed that feeling of taking in clean air, of seeing something beautiful, of breathing deeply. It was clear: I needed to reboot myself right out of this funk. Not one to stay funk-ified for long, I decided to figure out exactly how one restarts when you just can’t stop.
Given all of the constraints staring me down (time, resources, commitments), there was a lot I didn’t have. Conveniently, we teachers are used to those kinds of limitations. So I put on my thinking cap and designed a way to reset my purpose.
Here’s my 5-DAY REBOOT — a little bit of a fresh start to help kick the chaos and restore some balance.