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“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!
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.
Much has happened over the last few weeks that my head is spinning. Maybe you can relate:
My daughter came home from college for spring break. One week has turned into staying at home for the rest of the semester. Classes are now online for her.
My high school-age sons were off school starting March 17. Now the eight days off of school have turned into distance learning until May 4.
My son, who is a senior, reacted poorly to the news that the last months of his senior year would be without the daily interaction of friends. The loss and grief of potentially not having a prom or graduation ceremony are real.
I work from home. Most of my weekdays are spent with my dog and alone in the house. I have the occasional Zoom meeting or phone call, but mostly just quiet. However, that has not been the case for the last two weeks and it seems like it will not be the case for the next two months or more.
I want you to know that I understand. I hear you. I feel the anxiety and pain with you. The struggle is real.
Yet, I say to myself daily, “This to shall pass.” I breathe and I go outside into nature.
The video I am sharing with you is one that I made ten days ago. I felt it was important to share with you during this challenging time.
Nature has the power to heal and here are a few reasons why the power of nature can help you and your student or children through the challenges in life.
I created this video for teachers, however, the process and ideas can be used for anyone. Teachers can use vision boards in the classroom as a way to build social and emotional learning skills. Vision boarding is a process of creating a visual around an intention, goal, dream, topic or vibe you want in life. Included in this video are several ideas of how you can use the vision boarding process for yourself or with your students.
It is a bright sunny day and you’re going about your daily business, going to work, washing clothes, sweeping the floor, making supper, and then boom!
A bomb drops!
Maybe the bomb is that your teen is involved with drugs, your friend’s mother has died, or your close friend is in an accident. Something that stops you in your tracks and shakes you to your core. You know you will step up to the plate and do your best, but how do you take care of yourself when life is anything but normal?
How do you react?
Where do you turn?
What do you do?
How do you react?
First, you react in a panic, milling around like a bug that has been swished by the big shoe of life! Or is your reaction sadness and crying, where you feel the pain and have empathy for your people involved, or for yourself. Your reaction might be to go into planning mode? Well, next I have to do this, and then I need to do that….
In reality, it could be all of these, and the reactions could all happen within seconds. Shock can take a toll on your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Finding ways to calm yourself down and make an assessment of what is happening is hard at times when life is less than brilliant.
Breathing is the first step to calming down your reaction to the situation. Deep breaths that go in through your nose and out through your mouth. Automatically humans take over 23,000 breaths a day. Mindful deep breathing is an action we don’t usually focus on in our lives. Yet by taking several deep breaths, you can get your racing heart and mind under control. Continue breathing deeply until you can lower your pulse and arrange the next steps in your mind.
Where do you turn?
After your mind is cleared, you might ask, “What is next? Who do I turn to? Please place people in my life to help me.”
As you breathe, say to yourself, “May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy and may I live with ease.” Next, say this for the other people involved in the situation. Send out encouraging energy and an intention of loving-kindness. Then think of people you can contact for support and start contacting them. You can find support from your partner, spiritual leader, or a trusted friend. Be willing to seek out trained professionals such as a therapist, counselor, or doctor in a time of crisis.
What do you do?
When turning to others, you will receive an assortment of advice, however, listening carefully to your heart, ask yourself some key questions.
- What do I want?
- What’s important about that?
- What is my intention in the situation?
- What or who am I overlooking that can help me?
- What am I committed to doing?
- What am I committed to not doing?
Working through these questions alone, with a trusted friend, or with a professional assures that moving ahead based on first reactions won’t produce actions that you will later regret.
So let’s be honest, the unexpected will happen in your life. It’s inevitable that upsetting events will occur. In situations where life is not a bowl full of cherries, remember to breathe through your reaction, turn to others and ask for help, and do work through the tough questions about the problem. The problem remains and needs to be dealt with in the best way possible. Dealing with the difficulty using these steps will help you address almost anything with a clearer mind and a thoughtful plan.