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Many teachers are several months into the new school year. As we move through the 2022-23 school year, what will you focus on in your classroom to decrease stress levels?Continue reading
This time of the year is for traditions, celebrations, and community. It’s also a time for rest, darkness, and solitude. In some ways, this time of the year is a paradox for me. How can I be both happy and sad at the same time? Can I be in the dark area of my soul and then see the light?
As I have aged, I believe that I have felt this paradox more strongly than ever. I see both sides of the story. I want to be with family and friends, yet at times I just want to sit on my bed by myself. The paradox is confusing. Life isn’t as cut and dried as we sometimes think it needs to be.
I want you to know that if you feel the push and the pull of the season, that is perfect. You are feeling, aware, and knowing that most people’s lives are not like the family photo on the Facebook page.
I work with a small school that I am lucky enough to support with staff professional development working on resilience skills. The resource we use is a book written by Elena Aguilar, Onward Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. It is a wonderful resource, and I have used it for the past two years.
I was first privileged to be part of a small group that read several chapters in the book; there are twelve for each month. However, we had started the book later in the year. Now I am part of an online book club that is reading and discussing the book, plus I am co-facilitating a local book study group of educators and community members at school.
There are three needs that I am currently seeing addressed through both groups:
- The need for community and support. We need to know that we are in this together. The feelings coming up, especially this time of the year, can be confusing. Knowing I am not alone in that feeling makes it okay. Giving voice to what you feel is a path to self-awareness and self-management.
- Learning skills that can be used to build our own resilience. Onward and many other resources are full of skills to develop our resilience. Knowing and implementing those skills can be a way for adults in the school or organization to regulate their nervous system (calm brain and body). There are many ways to regulate, and you can pick and choose what will work for you.
- Stress relief is huge and needed! One of the ways the groups relieve stress for me is through authentic connection. At the beginning of our sessions, we have a set of norms. We talk about having confidentiality within the group. This norm helps to give people a safe space to be authentic and vulnerable. When we feel safe in a relationship, growth and learning can happen.
In my last post, I wrote
“Even when I know better, I don’t do better.”
We go for the immediate rewards of the short sprint when we really need the consistency of the long haul. Building resilience, emotional intelligence, and ways to relieve stress, plus doing it with the support of a community, is the life preserver that we all need. I hope you find that group of compassionate adults who can support you in 2022.
Wishing you all the best in 2022!!
If you want to know more about the upcoming classes in 2022 for Strength-Based Resilience, click here!
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Even when I know better, I don’t always do better.
How about you?
I know I need to exercise more – however, it’s a struggle to get to the gym or out for a walk.
I know that I need at least 7 hours of sleep to feel my best – yet I stay up watching Netflix.
I know that yelling doesn’t solve any problems – and I find myself yelling at my family.
I know better, but am I doing better?
How about you?
I believe that many educators thought schools would be back to normal by now. At the beginning of the fall 2021 school year, I heard educators say,
“2021 has to be better than 2020!”
“We can now get on with fixing the learning loss of the past school year.”
“Let’s just move on from 2020 and put it in the past.”
Many people were hoping for school to be “back to normal,” yet that has not been the case; 2021 has been a challenging year.
When teachers talk about the last 18 months, words such as sadness, blah, and isolation are shared. Many are looking for support in the form of community, conversation, and connection.
Not just teachers are feeling the effects of the pandemic so are all the school support staff. Bus drivers, custodians, kitchen staff, school nurses, social workers, substitute teachers, and paraprofessionals are feeling the stress and exhaustion of the lingering Covid-19 pandemic. Plus, there is a lack of people to fill the numerous open positions in many districts.
The effects of the pandemic are undermining the mental health of our children. American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry posted a statement in October declaring a national emergency of a mental health crisis among children.
Behaviors never seen before in school classrooms are cropping up. Intense conflict levels, screen addiction, increase in substance use, disengagement, and lack of motivation are just a few of the behaviors educators have experienced. School leaders ask parents and caregivers, who are also at the end of their rope, to help with their child’s behaviors.
Self-care and mental health has never been so important to school leaders, educators, and support staff as it is now. What is going on now with teachers will not be taken care of by a couple of mental health days during the school year.
Self-care professional development is on the rise for educators, and rightfully so. When the school’s system and culture set self-care as a priority, it can help the staff develop routines for improved well-being.
I will not share my top 10 tips for self-care or tell you to get a massage or take a bubble bath. However, that does sound good! Self-care, well-being, and mental health practices are a habit that you set for yourself. What might work for one person as self-care might not work for another.
However, there are a few areas that by setting a routine it can help you make considerable gains in feeling better:
- Good nutrition
- Setting boundaries
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, quotes, “In the long run, the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our habits.” He suggests starting with a tiny change. Maybe it’s setting a time of the day to exercise. Every day you exercise at that same time, maybe for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or you just get your shoes on. When you start, the length of time isn’t the goal, and the goal is consistency. You then become a person that doesn’t miss time to exercise, and a habit starts to form.
Many years ago, I set my morning routine to meditate and journal. I do it almost every day, sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for an hour. I have now become a person that meditates and journals in the morning, and I rarely miss a day. When I do miss a day, it just doesn’t feel right.
You are a person worthy of self-care, no matter what shape or form it may take for you. As an educator that honors self-care, you can do your work, change kids’ lives, and have time for yourself. Just develop the habit by starting small. Your students, colleagues, and family will thank you for it!
What happens when your expectations are high, but the reality is much lower?
The idea of having a family did not cross my mind until I was in my mid-thirties. My husband and I were not sure we wanted to have children. However, as we both grew older, the idea of having a family became more and more prevalent in our life. We were not able to have biological children and looked at other options for creating a family. We chose adoption through the foster care system. We wanted to adopt two children; we were blessed with four.
In our minds, we had expectations about what our family life would be like: Days filled with joy and happiness, rainbows, and tripping through snowdrifts (it was January in Minnesota when they came to our home). Oh, we knew there would be times where we would struggle. I had read many parenting books about adopting children from hard places. I was prepared! Yeh right!
I am glad my husband and I didn’t realize how little we knew at that time. Our expectations of parenting did not match our reality. Not even close! There have been times of tremendous joy and happiness, countered with times of overwhelm, worry, and struggle. It’s not easy going from 2 to 6 people in a house, literally overnight.
I had to let go of the expectations of a perfect family. However, in letting go of those expectations, I gained so much more!
Showing myself and others grace
Grace can mean courteous goodwill and can be challenging at the best of times. One of the changes I gained was to practice grace. I needed grace for myself before I can have it for others.
There have many times I have practiced grace for myself. One such instance was when my son had a minibike accident.
“What did you do that for?” is what I blurted out to our 10-year-old son after his mini-bike accident. He was riding his mini-bike in the yard, Racing faster and faster around the lilac bushes. I could see the deep path in the dirt around the bush. He cut a curve to close, and slip went the bike out from under him, slamming into the sharp, newly pruned branches.
After I asked my blunt question, he lifted his pant leg and displayed a deep puncture wound in his leg. Tears started to roll down his dirty cheeks. You can imagine the disappointment in myself for not showing empathy when my husband brought him to the hospital for nine stitches.
In this instance, I had to allow a little grace for myself. The words slipped out of my mouth before I even thought through the impact of those words. I have done this more than once, not considering the effect of my words.
Grace to Children
Our children came from a hard place. Their early childhood was less than idyllic. In listening to the podcast interview of Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry by Brene` Brown, the question to ask about a child’s behavior is not “what is wrong with them” but “what has happened to them.” Early childhood trauma can have a lasting effect on a person’s health, behavior, and learning.
When looking at a child’s behavior, ask yourself, what has happened to this child? What is the child’s story, and how can I give them some grace in this past stressful, overwhelming year? The act of grace comes in all forms, saying sorry, smiling at a child that has just made a rude comment, or taking a deep breath (or two) before you consider what to say.
Take the time to give yourself, your family, and others a bit of grace in your life. Interestedly the word grace has increased in use over the 20 years – maybe because we need to show more of it. We all need it.
This past year during the pandemic, I was looking for ways to connect with other people. One of my past instructors was offering an online business class. I decided to join the class to brush up on a few skills and meet other coaches and consultants. At the first session, there were several other people on the Zoom call. The instructor introduced himself and jumped right into the “how-to” of the topic.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, my brain was saying. I was not concentrating on what the instructor was saying at all. Instead, I looked at the faces (or black box with a name), wondering, Who are these other people? What do they do? Am I safe to share about myself?
In the past few weeks, teachers have welcomed students back to the classrooms. As soon as the students step into the room, many teachers choose to jump right into the subject matter.
Maybe the instructor feels the pressure of covering X amount of material, and we only have X weeks to go in the school year. Perhaps there is an expectation set by the administration to keep students moving forward. Or it could be all the discussion around learning loss as a pervasive message that learning is just for a short period of life.
Many of the students might be going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
The transition back into the classroom and face-to-face instruction doesn’t need to be abrupt when remembering that relationships are currency.
What do I mean?
Our relationships are the currency that we build with the learners. I can remember back to when I had an instructor that I loved. Engaging, funny, and told stories to illustrate a point. I didn’t like the subject; however, I learned to like it more than I did before I took the class because of the teacher’s enthusiasm and connection with the students.
Here are several points to think about as students and staff come back to the classroom:
- A safe brain is a learning brain. We (yes, you too) have been under a lot of stress over the past twelve months. Stress can do crazy things to your brain. If the brain is feeling consistent stress, it can’t concentrate on the algebra problem because it’s too busy figuring out if this place or person is safe or not.
- Students coming back to school may look distracted, frustrated, and overwhelmed. According to researcher Marc Brackett, these behaviors may look like learning disabilities or behavioral problems. However, these disabilities and behaviors can be manifesting due to prolonged and unmanaged periods of stress over the past year.
- We are all suffering from loss and grief. We are experiencing loss and grief from losing a loved one, losing time with friends, losing family time, losing jobs, homes, and so much more.
- Loss, grief, and stress take emotional and physical energy. When our energy is being placed in other areas to stay safe, it feels like we are in a holding pattern. Just holding it all together and with one slight pull of a pin, we come all undone.
Stress, loss, and grief is taking a toll on teachers, learners, and parents. Pretty much everyone.
What can you do?
- Start slow—Check-in with students by using a morning question or start the class with a question. Either share out loud or put answers on sticky notes—some way to check in with each other.
- Breathe. Take some deep breaths and have others do it with you. If you are in a classroom, don’t try to ask students to do things you can’t or are unwilling to do. So take a deep breath, or maybe 3 or 4 together.
- Take the view from the balcony. This is one year in your life, maybe two. This is one year in this child’s life. What does the long view look like? How do you want your students to remember this past year?
- Weave in some ways during your day to complete and manage the stress cycle for yourself. Plan into your day either exercise, quiet time, laughter, connection with others, a phone call, singing, or creative playtime. Whatever that will help you to slow down, breathe, and feel safe.
Consider taking some time to pull back on the reins as we go back to the classrooms. Be intensional as you welcome students, staff, and families back to the school.
As my friend Stacy reminded me, we are all navigating the storm of this past year; however, we are all experiencing the storm differently. Life can be difficult, yet when we slow down, breathe, take the long view and do some self-care, we can build relationships that will feel safe for other staff, parents, and students.
Are you a parent, teacher, or leader?
Looking for a way to support your child, motivate your students, or maybe bring out the best in your employees?
I am a certified Strengths Communicator, and I know that your strengths are the first place to do just that!
I have created a special offer to help you begin on a path to knowing your unique talents. The offer includes the Clifton Strengths assessment, a 60-minute strengths conversation, and supplemental materials to support you!
It all begins with you! You need to know your talents and strengths before you can help bring out the best in others.
Let’s dive into your strengths.
Here are the details to Deep Dive into Your Strengths conversation package.
What if people were asked to work only on what they were good at doing?
What if schools asked children to do activities that they were able to successfully focus on because these activities brought them joy?
What if we asked students what they want to improve in their learning?
Learning about children’s strengths can better equip parents, educators, and youth in finding out what activities might bring the students the most success. Strengths are a combination of talent (the natural way of thinking, feeling and believing), skills and knowledge. Strengths have been researched by the Gallup Organization and placed into 10 talent themes for youth. Teachers can help a student to:
- discover their talents and then
- build-up and reinforce what is right with that student.
Here are five ways teachers can help students discover their strengths
Self-directed projects help students determine what they are interested in and what they may have a passion for. Many classrooms are instituting what is called a “Genius Hour.” A genius hour is simple and has 3 criteria: a driving question, research and a way to share the learning with others. In the adult world, both Google and 3M have implemented a similar idea – a “20% of time” rule – for employees to work on their own projects. This rule has led employees to develop some major innovations, for example, “Post It Notes” from 3M.
Unstructured play is important for children and adults. Play is a way students can increase both their social skills and learn more about their strengths. Students will show preferences for what they want to play with and how they want to play with others. Some may enjoy a solitary game or play with a small group, while others like large group play. Watching children and how they play can tell you a lot about their strengths. Global School Play Day was February 5th, however, you can do this in your classroom any day!
Stories are a great way to get students to explore their strengths. One of my favorite books to read to a class is Andrew Henry’s Meadow. The boy in the story is not recognized for his strengths by his family and finds a meadow in which to build a home to accommodate his talent for inventing. When I read this book to classes, I ask students to identify Andrew Henry’s strengths and then have them draw a house that would reflect their own passions and talents. Other stories can be used in the same way. Have students choose the type of books they love to read and have a “Drop Everything And Read” (D.E.A.R) time during the day. Adding choices to the day will enhance a student’s joy of learning.
Journals allow students to, not only write, but create. Many times journals are used only for writing about topics assigned by a teacher. When students have choices over the topics this can be a great motivator and allows them to explore their learning styles. “Wreck This Journal” is created by Keri Smith. She also has a “100 Creative Ways to Journal” that you can try out and see how your students respond.
Similar to journals, sketchbooks can lend insight to a child’s way of learning and perceiving the world around them. Everyone is creative and there is no right or wrong to art, especially to a child. When my son was younger, he loved to draw. Now he doesn’t draw anymore because, along the way, some well-meaning adults “corrected” his drawings. Because of this, he now thinks that he’s not very good at art. Art cannot be done wrong. The Tinkerlab has a wonderful Sketchbook Challenge that offers daily ideas for fun, low-stress ways to create art.
How can teachers help students discover and develop strengths?
- Make and record observations
- Be curious about your students
- Ask questions, for example, “What did you discover about yourself by doing this project?”
- Refrain from making judgmental comments, for example, “I really like the way you used that color.” Instead give students acknowledgment, for example, “I notice you enjoy helping others when you are playing.” Or, “When I see that it’s your turn to clean up the art supplies, you are very organized in putting the supplies away.”
- Create non-graded activities that infuse fun with learning.
Student strengths and talents are discovered and developed by the adults around them. Helping students to discover what is strong about themselves is a great way to boost engagement and confidence. Be open to the possibility of having children explore to create awareness of their strengths and to accept who they are as a person. Never miss that chance to let your students see their brilliance!
Our refrigerator has more uses than just keeping food cold. It’s my billboard for reminding me how to keep sane with all that goes on in my life. This makeshift “board” in the kitchen holds various reminders that keep me from losing my cool and help me stay focused on what is important in life.
My life can feel like chaos theory in action. I’m involved with our two active teens at home, helping our two young adult children navigate life, teaching, and trying to have some time with my husband. With all that’s going on in my life, here are my top three secrets on how to create mindful moments for myself. Mindful moments allow me to have the energy to support others in my home and my work.
The first secret is to know the definition and feeling of Peace. I have the following quote on my fridge door:
Peace – It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
This simple refrigerator magnet reminds me to be in the moment. I need to stop and breathe, recognize that the only moment I have is this moment. Then ask myself, “how do I want to spend this moment?” The practice of mindfulness has helped me to pay attention to the heartfelt intention toward myself and others. I say practice because that is what it is, doing the same thing over and over within myself.
This morning I noticed that my son was very slow in getting up for school. In the past, I would have been loudly encouraging them to “get a move on and daylight is burning.” I would yell this up the stairs. This morning I reminded him of the time and when his friend was coming to pick him up. Then I went about making my breakfast. It was hard to not keep reminding him to hurry, but I stopped myself, took a breath and ate my eggs. He made it on time!
There are days when I can’t calmly take in the behaviors of my teens. This is when I use my second secret, giving myself an Adult Time Out. When the kids were younger, we had a “time out” chair for them. Out-of-hand behaviors got them a few minutes in the “time out” chair to calm down. Now they are a little big for the time out chair and yet there are moments I wish I could return them to that spot. I am now the one that takes the time out.
In moments when my emotions are so heightened, I grab my journal and my needs and feelings cards off the top of the fridge. In a state of heightened emotions, I head to our bedroom for a little Adult Time Out.
What do I do there? I take out my feelings cards and go through them searching for the feelings I am currently having in my mind and body. I lay the cards out and ask myself, “What was I needing at that moment from myself and from others around me?” I quickly shuffle through the needs cards to search for those needs that resonate with me. Then I journal.
Sometimes my handwriting is large scribbles and heavy-handed. As I exhaust my emotions onto the page, my energy changes and so do my words, taking me to a place of calm. Calm enough to move from the bedroom into a discussion with those around me, I share what I needed and was feeling in the moment.
For times when I am not able to get away, I use another form of the Adult Time Out. I hum upbeat songs under my breath and busy my hands washing dishes or with some other task. This helps me to check in with myself and allows me to take a step back from the problem.
My final secret is the process of stepping back and taking a view from the balcony. I keep a poster on the front door of my fridge: “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys”. The poster is a reminder that many of the conflicts and problems my teens encounter are not mine to own. The problems are theirs, and they need to solve them. Sometimes the solution comes through the valuable lessons learned from making mistakes. They will fail, begin again to become resilient adults.
We were at our lake cabin this past summer and I was walking with my sons in the woods. They were ahead of me arguing about something. At one point I wanted to step in and beg them to stop. Instead, I hung back on the trail and watched the conversation. Recognizing that this conversation was not “my circus,” even though they were “my monkeys”. Finally, the discussion ended and we were back on the trail heading for home with a whole new topic of discussion. I allowed my teens to come to the conclusion that they can agree to disagree.
Being a parent and teacher has been a journey of self-discovery for me. I have found myself learning more about how I want to show up in the world, My three secrets of being mindful, Adult Time Outs and removing myself from the circus have helped to keep me in the present moment. Knowing that all I really need is right here and right now.
Rain, Rain, GO AWAY! That’s the chant we are saying in northern Minnesota. The cloudy skies and the drizzle over the last two weeks have put a damper on my mood.
I decided that the best way to handle the gray skies and the gray mood is to have a little fun with it. In my most recent video, I demonstrate the five competencies of Social and Emotional Learning with a little Minnesota humor.
I hope you enjoy it and please help me reach my goal of 100 subscribers by clicking on the red subscribe button to receive notification of new videos.