When the going gets rough, I sometimes fall silent. After a barrage of disappointing news, I can shut myself down with the belief that my thoughts or ideas won't make a difference. Take the pandemic. It feels huge and out of control. What impact can little ol' me make? I might as well curl up into a ball until it is all over.
This thought pattern is one that I often see among my teaching colleagues - not that they don't believe they can make a difference with students. They are all about that! But when it comes to school systems and processes, they make themselves small. But the fact is that they have a unique perspective on how these systems play out in the classroom. They can articulate the consequences of decisions made by the higher-ups because they are living it.
This is no time to make ourselves small. We can't just "go along for the ride" because our voices and perspectives matter. As we move into 2021, I encourage all of us to speak up and share how building and district decisions impact our students and us.
How will you honor your needs and be heard in 2021?
"To touch can be to give life." Michelangelo
Our pandemic lives are exacerbating the touch-deficit that exists in our Western culture. For safety, we have to give each other space, cover up, and avoid physical touch. But this touch is critical for our emotional and physical health. Touch communicates love, trust, and compassion. It calms us by releasing oxytocin (otherwise known as the "love hormone.") We need each other and need each other's touch more than ever.
Do you need more touch in your life? While there are no definitive ways to know for sure, here are some symptoms to look for:
During the month of October, we will be doing a deep dive with all things related to touch in the Tuned In Teachers community. Join us to explore the science of touch and tips on ways you can give and receive more of this form of connection. Go to community.tunedinteachers.com.
Schools are releasing their "Return to Learn" plans across the country, but let me give you a "heads up" - these plans will most likely change. They may change multiple times before the first official day of school due to spikes in cases, falling or increasing student enrollment, or other factors. This is unsettling for parents, students, and teachers. So, what do we do? How do we cope when we don't know what the school year will look like?
How else do you deal with the unknown?
I recently listened to a talk given by Dr. Kelly McGonigal where she shares research on how we view stress and the subsequent impact that view has on our bodies. If we fear stress and try to avoid it, our bodies will react to that fear negatively. If we see stress as an opportunity to challenge ourselves, we activate the joyful parts of our brain that boost our resilience and help to maintain good health.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not letting up and being overwhelmed easily, I'm naturally turning to the fear of stress. While I take some comfort in knowing I'm not alone in this crisis, this is not enough to ease my anxious mind. I find Dr. McGonigal's chart below helpful in revisiting how I'm narrating my experiences. How might I change my view of the circumstances to see the challenges we face as growth opportunities? This question is the challenge that I am giving myself as we continue to explore our next steps as a nation.
What would "school" be like if teachers were available online year-round like they are now?
I recently chatted with a teacher who is considering leaving her online classroom open after the school year ends as a lifeline for her students. She's seen too much of their home-lives on camera and wants the classroom community to be available to them.
As of late, I've been doing a lot of thinking about "school" as a physical space with designated times. Almost every day during quarantine, I have taken a walk past my child's school and have been surprised to see students coming to visit the building. They stand in front of the main entrance with big smiles and ask a parent to take a picture. It's surreal. The building calls them even when the doors are locked. Can "school" have the same sense of belonging in a virtual space?
Video calls from inside the home can be humanizing for students and teachers. It removes the hierarchy in the classroom since we are all sitting down in front of our computers. We see the personal touches of photographs, posters, artwork, and even a pet enter the frame. And in my teacher friend's case, she can see that not all of her students live in conditions that are conducive for learning. She is better able to meet her students exactly where they are.
Can online classrooms serve students in new and different ways? Or is the physical building where students thrive? Is there a place for both in supporting students without overloading teachers? What are your thoughts?
We have been given the gift of a sacred pause. Now is the time for us to choose how we will respond to this time for reflection. Will we tune in to ourselves and our family members, or will we continue to ignore or push away the feelings we are afraid to feel?
As it is right now, our jobs are safe. We may be on a hiatus or teaching online, but we can find relief in that we are still earning income. Others in our country are not so lucky. So what is the work of this time at home? That is up to us to decide.
How can we come into awareness? Here are some ideas:
How are you taking advantage of this gift of pause?
Like my dad, I'm all about efficiency. When I get in the car, I have my route mapped out in my head before I even buckle my seatbelt. My brain scans the streets, considers the weather and time of day, and the probability of running into slow drivers. Yep, I don't mess around. I like to get from point A to point B in the fastest and smoothest way possible. "Don't get in my way!"
The trouble with traveling this way is that the trip becomes about the challenge of getting there without obstacles. And as we all know, we are bound to run into barriers - excessive stoplights, road construction, distracted drivers, etc. Instead of an enjoyable ride, I can easily fall into the trap of feeling frustrated by what is in my way.
A few years ago, I discovered a different way to travel for myself. Just like Marie Kondo encourages us to "find joy" in the items in our homes, I decided to choose the more joyful path to my destinations. I found a way to my workplace that was scenic with limited stoplights. Even though it took me a bit longer to drive to work, I enjoyed observing the changing of the seasons along my way. I felt like I was cruising to work rather than battling the bottleneck.
Much of our days consist of the habits that we create, including how we get from place to place. I challenge you to consider your route the next time you get in your car. Is there a way to get there that is more joyful but would still allow you to arrive at a decent time? You have permission to pamper yourself in this way. Today is a gift, and you should gift yourself with beautiful experiences.
Are there other ways you have learned to travel well? Please add your tips in the Facebook comments!
I was lost in the ocean of my thoughts. The leading commentaries that came to the surface were the to-do list tasks and a series of self-judgments. This was my daily way of being. How could I support myself in that kind of environment?
In my work with teachers, I find this kind of inner dialogue all too common. I created Tuned In Teachers to help my colleagues steer back to center. Our relationship with Self is not encouraged nor celebrated in education. Yes, we are there for the kids, but we can't really *be* there if we aren't in our own skin- emotions, dreams, and all. When we push the unpleasant feelings away to tackle the work in front of us, we are putting ourselves at risk for further disconnection. And when we can disconnect so easily with ourselves, then what's to say that we won't eventually turn away from others?
If you are ready to turn toward Self and re-prioritize your life, I invite you to take some time for yourself today for reflection. Here are some questions from Tara Brach that I have found to be helpful in my journey:
Two days ago, I had the privilege of coming together with my neighbors to participate in the Iowa Caucuses. While the press is having a heyday with the slow release of the results, I can't help but bask in the unique process that we experienced.
How often do you talk with your neighbors, let alone talk politics? I'm lucky to live on a street where our neighbors are our friends. We have block parties, babysit each other's kids, watch fireworks together, and enjoy impromptu "drinks in the driveway." The Iowa Caucuses brought about another level of connectedness. We were able to talk with other neighbors from adjacent streets and discuss issues that matter to all of us. When else do we come together like this? In my opinion, not often enough.
While work and personal responsibilities fill our days, it is essential to remember to take opportunities to look up, look others in the eye, and connect. Whether they are our neighbors, work colleagues, or gym buddies, our communities are necessary for our emotional health. Find excuses to get together; your spirit and your community will thank you.
What steps might you take to instigate a community gathering?