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?
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/.