Many schools are not in session today because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. For those of you who enjoyed a long weekend, the "back-to-school-blues" are probably starting to creep into your day.
Returning to work after a break, teachers search their calendars for the next break and settle in for the long haul. We may hear some cheerleading from colleagues that sounds a bit like, "Let's make it to Spring Break! We can do it!" While the encouragement is coming from a supportive place, how do we "make it?" Are we living those weeks with our students, our families, and ourselves in a way that honors our lives? Don't we deserve as much? Or do we put our heads down and tackle the to-do lists while teaching, attending meetings, and trying to organize our families? Think about how the "grin and bear it" attitude affects your body, mind, and spirit.
You are worth the love and attention that you are capable of giving to yourself. You don't have to "get through" to the next break. You can decide that it is time to take care of yourself while sharing your gifts of teaching and learning with your students. You can have both, but it takes recognizing the need and living the habits that support yourself along the way. Are you willing to love yourself that much?
In a typical school year, we would start to feel the squeeze in February, but I'm feeling it now. I don't know if it is because of the Full Moon, world events, or the return to a regular schedule post-holidays, but the pressure is building for many of us.
If you are feeling this energetic compression, I invite you to explore viewing your current stressors with some imagery. Imagine that tension you are feeling as the squeeze of an orange. This pressure may be manifesting for you with headaches or body aches, emotional flooding, or illness. You are feeling it from everywhere and are looking for a break. The squeeze is unpleasant, but I want you to consider the juice that comes from this tension.
You should be feeling raw, having been crushed from every angle. It is a vulnerable feeling. But you have survived. And now, in private, you are given a chance to look at the juice you've produced. What needed to get out of you has left. With what will you fill yourself back up? Will you want to drink this juice that you have in front of you, or do you need to filter it first? Is the potency right, or do you need to feed your soul with something more?
Consider this juice to be everything you need right now. Optimism? Perspective? Add what you need to the glass and imagine yourself sipping it and filling your soul up. This is a renewal process. Don't poison yourself with what hasn't served you in the past - what needed to get out. Look at what will help nurture your inner being. It is in this act that we continue to grow into our best selves.
What does your best self need right now?
Last week was a rough one for teachers. I don't know if it was the upcoming full moon or what, but there was an energy in the air that screamed, "I need a break!" I posted an outreach message on my Facebook page and heard from several teachers that it seemed to speak directly to them. A few people even confided in me that they were taking a "mental health day." Why does it have to be a secret?
When you add exhaustion with the fear of getting reprimanded, what kind of teacher do you think you will get? Shouldn't we be encouraged (especially in the current state of the world) to take care of our well-being? Teachers have to go to great lengths to take a mental health day, often living more than half of the day with a guilty conscience that they don't meet the definition of "sick" as described by Human Resources. Then there are the questions when they come back to school, many genuinely out of concern, but also spiking the fear of being "found out." It's a painful price to pay for a respite. And in many cases, the guilt, scheming, and excessive planning needed to be absent aren't worth it.
There has to be another way to live - open about our spirits. Don't you think Human Resources would want to know how their teachers are doing? I would love to see the statistics on absences last week. Wouldn't districts want to be ahead of this and realize that this is a time of year where extra support is needed? Does your school have something in place that supports teachers taking a mental health day without the guilt? Please share in the Facebook comments or share your ideas on how we can make this happen!
The unknown can be a scary place for those of us who tend to overthink in the negative. And the waiting that is often involved can make our overactive brains go into overdrive.
Perhaps you are in this waiting period right now. Maybe you are waiting for news from a family member, waiting for a court case to be decided, waiting for medical test results, waiting to hear back about a job, etc. I recently received news that I need to go back to the doctor for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. The wait between receiving that news and my next appointment has been an exercise in mental toughness.
For those of you who are waiting for the unknown (including myself), I put together some reminders that hopefully bring you direction during this unnerving time.
When the unknown feels like a dark cloud, take good care that you are shining your own light through it. Be in control of what you can control and enjoy each breath of the day.
What ways do you keep yourself level-headed during periods of waiting? Please comment on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/tunedinteachers/.
Call me an info geek. I love reading and watching the news to a fault. If I wake up at 2 am, I'll check every news app on my phone to find out the latest local, political, health, environmental, and entertainment news. In the summer, I relish a morning with a cup of coffee and The Today Show. But in the last year, my drive for news has changed.
I started to notice how my body reacted to the news, and it wasn't positive. Story after story included guns, lies, and fear-laced health scares. My thoughts hung onto the alarming words and images. I knew this wasn't a healthy way to live, surrounded by negativity and fear. I shut it off and limited my exposure, and my life changed. Now, I spend my energy on text and stories that fuel my growth and my passions. I may not know the latest developments on JLo's engagement to ARod, but I'm willing to sacrifice that for my well-being.
How do you balance learning the news of the day while respecting your body and mind's reactions to it?
Are you still wondering what happened to August? With all the preparations for school, it's no surprise that last month flew by. What makes time go fast or slow? How can we slow things down so that we are genuinely enjoying each day? Here are some ideas I am going to try:
What do you do to slow time down? What are your favorite activities to do this time of year? I'm determined to savor September!
When I stumbled on this quote by Hannah Brencher online, it gave me pause. When was the last time I stopped and looked at what I was carrying with me? The answer - probably never. I'm a packrat at heart with teaching resources that span age 3 through high school. I haven't been able to get rid of them since I subscribe to the attitude "you never know when you might need that." You can imagine that this hoarding of teaching materials most likely extends to the hoarding of memories, experiences, feelings, and beliefs.
I love the imagery of the bag and thinking through what I might take out. I feel lighter just thinking about pulling out worry of the unknown, negative self-talk, and the belief that I am not enough. Why do I let old wounds stick around and influence me today? It's time to sit down with this bag and do some re-packing. I'm ready to move forward with a lighter weight on my shoulders.
What about you? What are you ready to leave behind? What is critical for you to keep in your bag?
Where do you draw the line? You probably have your classroom management plan all figured out, but have you taken an equal amount of time to figure out your time management plan? Do you have boundaries set for what you are willing/not willing to do? If you haven't taken this step for yourself, please consider tackling this before the school year gets rolling. By setting boundaries for yourself, you will be able to quickly respond to requests, re-capture some of your precious time, and be more in control of your life. Here are some topics to consider when setting boundaries:
Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning novelist, passed away this past Monday. If there is one quote of hers that sticks with me, it is the one in the above picture: "If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." This is how I feel about life in general. If you don't like your situation, you have the power to change it.
When I look at our education system in the United States, I see elements that are working and those that clearly are not. We have the power to create change by asking questions, sharing insights, and advocating for a better way. Tuned in Teachers is a vehicle for change by putting teacher well-being at the top of the priority list. Teachers cannot be effective if they are struggling. We need to advocate for better systems that support the whole teacher at every stage of their career.
Here are some questions you may consider asking the next time you are in a decision-making meeting at school:
"What we know is that the impact of a team can often be more profound than just the impact of one person. This, of course, is not to minimize individual improvement, but when a group improves together, so does the climate and ... maybe even the culture ... of a school building. " Dr. Peter DeWitt's recent Education Week blog post "Do Principals and Their Leadership Teams Need Coaching Too?" reminds us that one-on-one coaching is not our only option when working to improve our schools. Team-coaching can make an impact on the entire building - clarifying vision and setting action steps to achieve goals.
What would happen if a school focused on teacher well-being as a building goal? What if a leadership team was open to coaching around this topic and took steps to make well-being a part of the culture? This is my dream for education. While teachers can take their own steps for self-care, schools and districts have the ability to change the environment for teachers and students. Imagine teaching in a building that was structured in a way to support the WHOLE teacher - person, really. When decisions are made, teachers and administrative leaders would collaborate in order to understand all aspects of a decision while maintaining focus on how this impacts the well-being of the teacher. What if NOT doing-it-all was encouraged and instead administrative leaders coached teachers on prioritizing initiatives while helping teachers feel good about coming to work everyday?
Is this dream possible? Do you work at school that considers the "whole" teacher when making decisions and taking action? If so, please tell us about your school in the comments!