Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As educators, we need to make more time for self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Over the holiday breaks, making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When we have these breaks, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few days to adjust, but I find that in a short amount of time, I am well into my winter break routine of catching up on some work and enjoying the extra time with family. The days are still filled but on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

This has been a challenging year and educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and keep up with the changes. We can struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth during the school year . So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

JabuMind for Teacher Self-Care

Guest post by Erin Swanson, M.Ed,  JabuMind

Teachers are in crisis, suffering from compassion fatigue and burnout at an alarming rate. Tasked with adapting to the pandemic, protecting their students from school shootings, teaching to high-stakes state tests, juggling crushing workloads, working overtime for little pay, responding to their students’ trauma, and more—teachers need our help.

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers is here to help. JabuMind was designed by a group of teachers, coaches, artists, school principals, and mental health clinicians. We share a common goal of creating a safer, stronger, and more supportive classroom experience for both teachers and students. Our mission is to support teachers in their own social and emotional growth so that they, in turn, can help their students and school communities.

Why Teachers Need Self-Care

Teachers are overworked and overwhelmed. No doubt about it, teaching is one of the most stressful professions. An analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that “one in five teachers (20 percent) feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared to 13 percent of similar professionals.” In addition, The American Federation of Teachers found that “78% of teachers reported feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.”

Let’s not forget the additional weight placed on teachers during the pandemic. A March 2020 survey from Yale and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) showed that teachers’ top emotions regarding teaching during COVID included fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad.

One of teachers’ main stressors is compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is the experience of emotional and physical fatigue due to the chronic use of empathy. It is often used interchangeably with the terms secondary trauma and vicarious trauma.

As teachers, we care deeply for our students. When our students face trauma, we feel the weight of heartbreak, fear, uncertainty, and responsibility as their caretakers. Distraught over how to support a traumatized child, we might start experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue—anxiety, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, hypervigilance, decreased motivation, trouble separating work from personal life, increased cynicism, or a sense of hopelessness.

Suffering from compassion fatigue is among the top reasons teachers leave the profession. No longer able to handle the pressure and heartbreak, they experience burnout. “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu.”

The Solution? Mindfulness

Fortunately, there is an antidote to the struggles teachers face. Research shows that teachers who participated in a mindfulness course had reductions in burnout and increases in self-compassion. Additional research proved that teachers who followed a mindfulness program developed resilience to stress and nonreactivity by practicing mindful awareness.

Even more, a study on mindfulness intervention and workplace productivity showed that mindfulness produced “increases in team and organizational climate and personal performance.” Meditation, in particular, activates the part of the brain associated with more adaptive responses to stressful and negative events.

JabuMind Brings Teachers Mindfulness and Self-Care

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers uses the iRest® method to support teacher self-care. Co-Founder of JabuMind, Jill Apperson Manly, explains why JabuMind chose the iRest® method of meditation for its app in this interview. We explain the 10 tools of iRest® and their connection to teacher wellness here.

Research shows that iRest® promotes better sleep, decreases stress, alleviates symptoms of PTSD, and enhances quality of life for school counselors.

The JabuMind app offers guided meditations, daily sleep and mood check ins, and professional development designed to meet teachers’ stressors. All premium app content is free through the pandemic to support teachers during this difficult time.

Jabu2Learn more about how the JabuMind app can support your self-care in these articles:

You might also enjoy our other resources to support teachers, such as:

Teachers—you, more than anyone, deserve self-care. In a career that asks you to be selfless, be the one to prove that self-care leads to better care for everyone.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Skip the Course, Get the Curriculum

Guest  post by Monica Gupta Mehta  @EmotionalMUSE

I know there are many teachers who just don’t have the time to read anything extra right now, but would love to include more social emotional learning into their virtual week. For those teachers, I have pulled together all of the student activities in one place. In order to not feel overwhelmed, I would recommend choosing just 1-2 activities to include in your curriculum this month!

These activities are organized by topic, so you can find them in the following order:

Curiosity, Mindsets, Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Self Care, Emotional Regulation, Calming Mind and Body

Feelings Board: Make a feelings board for your own students. You can do this using Padlet as I did, using your own digital tools…or simply make it an activity at the start of classroom chats, having every student share with one word how they are feeling.

Exit Slips: Use digital exit slips in your next class session to ask students what they most want to learn about a specific topic. Try to incorporate their ideas in your next unit.

Personal Projects: (Not a typical curriculum item, but especially helpful for emotional regulation and coping during this time of high stress) If your teaching team agrees, you could reduce workload for each course and jointly allow students to come up with their own project, something they would like to spend their time doing. Each teacher could take charge of one component – helping students set goals, make a plan, and checking in to see how it is going and if adjustments need made. I did this with my own kids over Spring Break – one chose to create a website for collecting people’s experiences during COVID19 (covid19capsule.org), one chose to study neuroscience, and one learned Scratch programming. It was a great form of mental engagement and inherently motivating.

Gratitude Journal: Begin a gratitude journal with your class. You can do this in numerous ways – you can use digital learning tools, ask them to complete one at home in a journal, make it simple or artistic. The practice of writing down what we are grateful for each day helps us to focus our attention on the positives in our life. A positive attitude helps us cope, and makes it easier to avoid excessive worrying.

Here is a link to one on teacherspayteachers but it costs money – fairly simple to make your own.

Gratitude Read-a-Loud: Choose your favorite picture book about gratitude and read it to your students, or record yourself reading it and post it for them. If you can find your book on Storyline Online, it will be read aloud by a celebrity and have beautiful illustrations to accompany it.

One book that works well for this is ‘Please, Please the Bees’ by Gerald Kelley – you can find it on Storyline read by Rashida Jones. It is an excellent story of gratitude and appreciation.

Everyday Heroes: For very young students, you could use this game to discuss gratitude for our everyday community heroes.

Mastery Orientation: Ask students about a time they did something well. Ask them to write a few sentences about what rewards they received. Ask them to think about what external praise they got for their work, and what internal rewards they felt. Ask them what else makes them feel proud inside themselves.

Growth Mindset Charts: Ask students to list sentences they have said or heard about their ability, and have them classify each as growth or fixed mindset on a chart. Have them convert fixed mindset expressions to growth mindset ones.

Growth Mindset Discussion Question: Ask students about something they used to struggle with, but now are good at. What are all of the things that helped them to improve?

Self Check-In: Using the Starfish/Tornado visual below, ask your students to check in about how they are feeling. Are they calm as a starfish, or agitated like a tornado (or have fun making up something in between!). Brainstorm a list of ways to calm back down when they feel agitated inside. Ask them to stop and think a few times each day about how they are feeling. It helps to give them a place to make a tally (worksheet, digital document) each time they remember to stop and check in with themselves.

Emotional Vocabulary: Ask students to process one emotional vocabulary word each week. Ask them to define it, comment on times when they have felt it themselves, and times they have seen others exhibit it. For example – ‘What is courage? What is a time when you felt courageous? When have you noticed others being courageous?’

Identity: For older students interested in personality as a component of identity, a basic starting point is on the topic of extroverts/introverts. This is an often misunderstood dichotomy, and it can help students to understand themselves better. Many are surprised to learn that being an introvert is not about being antisocial…it is about where we get our energy from. An interesting discussion point: many argue that these days, our society more publicly rewards people for being extroverted. Being in quarantine, we are seeing introverts thrive (relatively) and extroverts have a much more difficult time.

One of my all-time favorite TED Talks is this one, on the Power of Introverts.

Coping Skills: Take a ‘Coping Skills Inventory.’ Give students a list of activities that are often useful for coping with big emotions. Explain that people all around the world are feeling complex emotions – for example, a child may be happy they are getting to play more games with their family, but sad that their birthday party is cancelled. Ask them to check off which coping strategies most help them, and to brainstorm others that may help as well.

Sample List: Going for walks, Music, Sleeping, Family Movies, Online Communities, Connecting with Friends, Puzzles, Comedy, Audiobooks, Books

This site has some great printables.

Sesame Street and Big Emotions: For very young students, Sesame Street continues to have wonderful content about understanding and processing our feelings. Here is a very sweet song with Abby Cadabby about big emotions. Here is a link to activities and other Sesame Street videos on emotions.

Calm Down Spot: If possible, ask students to create a place that is just for them to sit and be calm. This is a great place to have ready for later in this course, when students will practice going there to cool down when their emotions become overwhelming. For now, it can just be a place to sit and think about how they are doing, and what they might need at that moment. They can keep a few books nearby, perhaps some coloring, or even a water bottle can be helpful. A favorite stuffed animal is always nice to have. My daughter keeps her ipod and headphones there to listen to some music when she wants to relax and reset and think about life.

Empathy and Appreciation: One fun way to build empathy is to give your students an ‘Acts of Kindness’ challenge. Explain that to do effective acts of kindness, students need to observe others and think about what would make the recipient happy – not what the student themselves would want. Ask students to document their acts of kindness, ideally in a way that can be shared with their classmates. For example, you could ask students to create short videos about their act of kindness using FlipGrid or to create Padlets. For older kids, share the Berkeley study on acts of kindness and their impact on happiness. The study discovered the greatest benefit to self came from doing 5 acts of kindness all on the same day, once a week every week for 6 weeks. Teenagers could even do my #fiveacts challenge on Tik Tok!

Social Detective: You can teach students active listening and observation of others by playing ‘social detective.’ Ask students to think of a situation coming up in which they will be interacting with others. At this time, it will most likely be other family members in their household. Have students draw the anticipated scene and place each family member in it. Then ask students to give each person a thought bubble, and to write in one thing that person might be thinking – something the person might be feeling strong emotions about or hoping for.

Another way to play social detective is to use picture books. Stop at an interesting scene and ask students to notice everything they can about the scene and the people in it. This can also be done with movies. Here is a sample worksheet from the Michelle Garcia Winner Social Thinking series.

Cry Baby: This is a simple ‘social detective’ type activity as well. Show students a picture of a crying baby, and ask them to think of all the reasons a baby might cry. This is particularly effective as young babies can not yet talk to communicate their needs, and so students must work hard to be observant and practice empathy skills.

Turtle Time: Ask students to sit and observe people by acting like a turtle. They should move their head around in a slow, exaggerated fashion. Ask them to write (or draw) everything they notice. Then ask them to think of a behavior that would be appropriate for them when entering that scene…and one that would be inappropriate. For example, if their brother is having a school video chat, it would not be appropriate to be loud as they enter that scene.

(They do not have to be turtles. They could be spies with binoculars, or anything else they can come up with!)

The Main Point: Host small group virtual chats, ideally with 2-4 students per session. Ask students to take turns sharing a short story about their day, and ask other students to listen carefully. Then have each student practice showing they were listening by identifying what they felt was a ‘main point’ in the story, along with an appropriate emotion word. An example might be, “It sounds like you felt really scared when your sister got sick.”

Same But Different: Tell your students a statement in a neutral tone, and then practice saying it in different tones of voice. Ask students to differentiate the possible emotions and thoughts of the speaker.

Feelings Cards: There are countless online resources for creating a stack of ‘feelings cards.’ These are simply a collection of photos of people expressing different emotions. Ask students to identify what they notice in the photo, helping them make careful observations. Then ask them students what they think the person is feeling. I enjoy doing this activity with gifs, as they show a bit more of the natural movements of a person’s body and face.

Whichever images you choose, please don’t use emojis for your feelings cards. They teach very little, as they are not realistic expressions and have no body language.

Connection: Students are in need of connection to their peers, and as teachers we can serve as facilitators for this. Schedule video chats with students in small groups of 2-4, and send out a sign up sheet ahead of time. This allows students to sign up for slots with friends they are missing. If that does not work well for your schedule, you can also create ‘break out rooms’ in Zoom chats to allow a few students to be together during a full class video chat.

Some ideas for games students can play together virtually are Simon Says, Guess Who, I Spy, and Twenty Questions.

Vulnerability and Belonging Discussion: For older students, just a great TED Talk that can be spun off into a discussion about connection: Brene Brown and the Power of Vulnerability.

Simple Self Care Practice: One very simple activity is to ask students to print out this handout, or something similar, and ask them to check off each item across the week.

Piloting Your Plane: This activity is a complex metaphor, but tends to resonate very well with young students. For a fun example of how to explain this analogy to students, watch my own videos here: Piloting Your Plane. (I made these today quickly to give you an example – the sound quality is not stellar. If anyone wants a better quality version to actually use in class, let me know and I can remake it.)

You’ll need to give kids some way to keep track of checking in with their bodies all day. Here is a sample worksheet you could ask them to use for this activity. Some other ideas: you could ask them to check in on a spreadsheet or document in Google Classroom, or use Padlets.

The script goes something like this:

“Imagine your body is a plane, and your mind is the pilot. Your mind is in charge of keeping the plane flying smoothly, without crashing. When you have tantrums, overreactions and large emotional outbursts, that is like your plane crashing. If you pay attention to piloting your plane, you can fly it smoothly all day.

Just like a real pilot, there are important gauges you can check to make sure you are flying smoothly all day. It is important to stop and check on your gauges all throughout the day. These gauges are:

Temperature: When you are feeling calm, you are in the green. If you check your gauge and it is green, you can go back to your normal activities. If you are in the red, that means you are very angry, frustrated, or upset for some reason. It is important to stop what you are doing and calm your body back down to green. Blue means you are feeling sad, or lonely, or disappointed, and perhaps could use a hug or something that makes you feel happier.

Fuel: Your fuel gauge measures if you are hungry or thirsty. Take a minute to check in with your body, and if you are running low on fuel, fill it up! Being hungry or thirsty can actually make our emotions overreact to situations.

Energy: Your energy gauge tells you if you are too full of energy, or perhaps too low on energy. If you are too full of energy, do some exercise and movement to help release it. If you are not getting enough exercise and movement in your day, then your energy gauge is going to get too full and could cause a crash. If you are low on energy, allow your body some rest – if not a nap, then perhaps reading a book or just relaxing on the sofa for a bit.

Weather: Your weather gauge tells you if your plane is going to run into some turbulence ahead! Think a little forward in your day – is anything coming up that might cause your emotions or body to not fly smoothly? Something exciting, or difficult, or a change of routine? Preparing for bad weather ahead can help you to handle it better.”

This analogy can extend further than teaching kids to check their gauges. Here are some additional pieces you can add on to this activity.

The Watchtower: The Watchtower is essential to flying a real plane, because there are events or conditions that a pilot cannot detect by themselves, even if they are very good about checking all of their gauges. Let’s take a moment to think who acts as our watchtowers? Often, this can be your parents or teachers, and perhaps even siblings. It is important to listen to our watchtowers about our emotional well being, because they often see things we don’t see ourselves.

The Rocket Ship: When something really big or exciting is going on, sometimes our everyday plane turns into a rocketship!! When this happens, it usually means our emotions are turbo charged!! This means we have to be even more careful about checking our gauges often, and taking care of our bodies all day. When we blast off for a big event, we have to look out for not only bad weather turbulence, but also asteroid fields and meteors!! When in our rocket ship, we fly fast, and that also means we can crash fast! It can be really helpful to take extra good care of your body when you are flying in a rocket ship.

Habit Tracking for Older Kids: Older students may not need the full ‘piloting your plane’ analogy, but they do need to learn about taking care of their bodies. For teens, a helpful activity is to ask them to track for themselves:

1. Sleep

2. Exercise/Movement

3. Screen Time (non academic)

4. Socializing Time

5. Outdoors Time

6. Water

7. Food

8. Mood

Ask them to draw connections between their activities and their feelings/energy levels. What is one habit they want to keep in their daily life to feel better? Have them set a personal habit goal and check in on it weekly.

Mindfulness – Nature Walk: One mindful activity that is often satisfying for young children is going on a nature hunt. Ask them to take a magnifying lens if possible, and to walk slowly around their yard or neighborhood looking for nature. They can analyze leaves, look for insects, find snails, notice spiderwebs…there is so much to discover. Ask them to remember the things they are seeing and to come back and journal them.

GoNoodle – not just for movement!: GoNoodle has a number of video series that are helpful for self care, beyond their movement and exercise videos. One that is good for self care is: Take on the Day,

Movement and Exercise: Since movement and exercise are so critical to emotional regulation and sleep quality, it would be beneficial to offer students ideas for how to stay active at home. To get you started:

GoNoodle

Backyard Play

Biking

Walks

Station Rotations (sit ups, jumping jacks, push ups, plank)

Games (tag, Simon Says, hide and seek, freeze dance, animal workout)

Dancing – zumba videos, Kidz Boop, Just Dance

Cosmic Kids Yoga or simple yoga on own

Mental Enrichment: Students may need mental stimulation beyond school work. It could be fun to brainstorm a list together of things students can do to stay busy beyond school, ideally without devices. To get you started:

Reading

Video Chats

Obstacle Courses

Escape Room

Imagination Play

Art

Board Games and Cards

Puzzles

Brain Teasers

Cleaning/organizing/tidying

Helping parents with tasks or chores

Clue Hunts

Learn a new skill

DIY projects

Experiments

Writing stories, poems, comic strips, etc.

Building (Legos, scrap materials)

Acts of Kindness

Origami

Audibooks

Journaling

Problem Solving Wheel: Teach students to stop, calm down, and then think. Use this wheel to help them make a good choice for what to do next.

Bending the Rules: Try playing games but changing the rules of the game. This might be met with resistance, but if you can come up with rules that make the game slightly more fun, eventually it may be met with joy and curiosity.

Three Solutions: Students often come up with one answer, and then dig in their heels defending that answer or way of doing things. Ask students to come up with three possible answers to various questions or riddles. This is a very important skill to hone for group work.

Breathing with Cookie Monster: For very young kids, they might enjoy watching Cookie Monster use breathing to calm down and increase his patience while waiting for his cookies to be ready.

Yoga/Stretching: There are many printables available online of ‘animal yoga.’ These stretches are relaxing to the body. You can also find great story-telling style yoga at Cosmic Kids Yoga.

Calm Down Spots: I mentioned these earlier, but having a spot that students are used to using as a ‘calm’ area will also help them when agitated. Students can be asked to go to their calm down spots until they are back in the green, or at least the yellow. It should be explained to students ahead of time that this is not a punishment, being ‘sent’ to their calm down spot. It is merely a strategy that is very helpful for avoiding poor behavior when agitated. In this article, I give lots of advice for how we made a calm down spot at our home for my son. This includes building a ‘calm down kit‘ to keep nearby.

Breathing Shapes and Props: A unique way to practice breathing is to ask students to choose their favorite breathing shape. I have included one example here, but there are many different ways to practice deep breathing – often one style will suit a particular student better than another. Ask students to practice this daily, so that they build their muscle memory. Students who attempt to do deep breathing when agitated, without practice, often end up breathing far too rapidly and feeling more frustrated. This site also includes props, such as breathing with bubbles.

Exercise and Movement: As discussed in the unit on Self Care, exercise is great for emotional regulation. While a child who is very upset won’t likely be in the right state to go for a bike ride, taking a little walk or doing some movement in place, such as jumping jacks, might help them to work out some of their energy. Whatever movement they choose should not be one that requires much coordination. My favorite is to keep a balloon around, and to ask them to bop the balloon in the air and keep it up for at last 10 iterations. This helps their mind focus and clear, while also giving them an opportunity for safe movement. If something more aggressive is needed, students could try ripping up a pile of junk mail paper.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding: For children who struggle with anxiety, it can be helpful to teach them grounding activities. 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding is a method in which you use all your senses to ground yourself in the moment. Ask students to list:

5 things they can see

4 things they can touch

3 things they can hear

2 things they can smell

and 1 thing they can taste

Here is a graphic you could use while practicing.

Accomplishments Box: Celebrating accomplishments can help build confidence, self esteem and optimism, all of which are helpful to staying regulated. Here is a fun activity for building an accomplishments box, which will help keep students motivated as well.

Finding Humor: Humor is often the secret key to help students return to a state of calm. Keep some joke books, comics, or even comedic audiobooks handy for when a child needs a pick-me-up.

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Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Guest post by Charles Williams (@_cwconsulting)

I do not profess to be a religious man. A man of faith, yes? But not a man of religion. I could dive into my reasons but that is not the purpose of this reflection nor do I believe this is the proper space to have that discussion. Maybe another time in another place.

There are, however, three words that have consistently presented themselves to me during this pandemic. Three words taken from The Serenity Prayer written by the American theologian, Niebuhr (nee-bur), around 1932. Despite various renditions curated by various groups for their unique purposes, all centralize on three concepts.

Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.

I recently took my daughter to pick up her high school graduation items. It was a surreal experience as we drove along a nearly empty roadway through the school’s campus to various stations returning books and collecting items. Aside from the handful of teachers at each station, there were no crowds, there was no cheering, there was no … celebration. And, nearly as quickly as it started, it was over. The whole process lasted maybe 5 minutes.

Four years of high school. Four years of studying. Four years assignments and exams. Four years of late nights and early mornings. Four years culminated in five minutes.

As we drove away, my daughter sat in silence. When I asked if she was okay she replied that she never imagined that this is how it would have ended. She had held onto a feeble hope that maybe, somehow, this would all go away and that she would have a real graduation. After all, she had already lost prom and senior banquet.

I drove along contemplating how to best respond. Knowing my initial logical response void of emotion would only make the situation worse, I kept quiet while I attempted to formulate the right words. During that time, those same three words returned.

Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.

With them in mind, I delivered a response. I don’t know if it was the right one. I don’t know if it could have been better. She gave me that smile, you know the one. “Thanks Dad, I know you’re doing your best.”

So I will do my best to share those words with you. I know that there are other seniors out there dealing with the same frustrations, hurt, confusion, and sadness. I know that there are adults experiencing similar emotions for their respective situations. This is for you.

Serenity, the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.

Seek to find peace in your troubles by letting go. I know that this is easier said than done but when you attempt to control the uncontrollable, you will find nothing more than additional stress. Accepting this fact is not easy. I know. As a leader it was one of the toughest lessons that I had to learn.

A story I share is one when I was still in the classroom. I was attempting to teach a lesson to a group of students who were particularly talkative that day. Few were paying attention and I was quickly growing aggravated. At some point, someone decided to stick a small piece of chalk into the automatic pencil sharpener resulting in a persistent drone. I attempted to remove the chalk by tapping the sharpener on the desk. Nothing.

Chatter, chatter, chatter. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Tap, tap, tap.

Nothing. I tried again. Harder this time.

Chatter, Chatter, Chatter. Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. Tap, Tap, Tap.

Nothing. I tried again. Even harder this time.

CHATTER, CHATTER, CHATTER. BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ. TAP, TAP, TAP.

Silence.

The students stopped. The buzzing stopped. The tapping stopped. I had smashed the sharpener on the desk.

I was embarrassed and ashamed. I had allowed my emotions to take over. I focused on something over which I had no control. And I failed myself and my students.

I encourage you to reflect on your situation and categorize the various aspects as controllable or not. What you will quickly realize is that a majority of the external factors are uncontrollable. You cannot control what others think or do. You cannot control the passage of time. You cannot control the outcomes of your actions. Your best hope is to influence.

What you can control is how you respond to situations. You can control your thoughts and actions. You can control your beliefs and attitude.

Find peace in focusing on those aspects over which you have control.

Courage, the ability to do something despite the presence of fear.

Fear takes many shapes and forms. It is present in many situations. It has the power to control us. It is imperative, however, that we find the means to not only face our fears but to overcome them.

For so many right now, there is a huge fear of the unknown. We don’t know what to expect in terms of this pandemic. Are things going to get better? Is it safe to begin reopening? Will we be returning to a sense of normalcy?

My daughter has been sitting on a huge decision. Should she attend Purdue or IU. She has been accepted to both. She has wonderful opportunities at both. She has friends that will be attending both. Outside of distance, the two are virtually identical. And yet, she has yet to make a decision. Why? Because she is scared. She has no idea what the future holds. She was accustomed to the fairly predictive nature of high school. This is different.

Stepping into courage is the first step of battling fear.

I sat on my podcast for years. I was scared that nobody would listen. I was scared that I wouldn’t have the knowledge or skill sets. But as I listened to other educators, I slowly grew more confident. I can recall listening to Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pedagogy and finding episode 130 – Tips for Starting a Podcast. I started getting excited. This sounded very possible. Then I started listening to Tim Cavey’s Teachers on Fire Podcast. I found elements of myself in nearly every guest and started realizing that I too had something to share. Then I connected with Mike Earnshaw from the Punk Rock Classroom. He and his co-host, Josh Buckley, shared their experiences from their unique perspectives as punk rock educators.

That was it. I sat down. I started recording. And now The Counter Narrative Podcast exists. I have no idea where this will go but I challenged my fear by stepping into courage.

Wisdom, the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

Both serenity and courage rely on wisdom. You need to be able to identify situations over which you have no control and those in which you need to step into courage.

Wisdom requires experience. Knowledge in the absence of experience is little more than facts.

Unfortunately many students, like my daughter, have not yet had the opportunity to gain the wisdom that comes from making mistakes. Instead, they must rely on family, teachers, faith leaders, or others to guide them in the right direction. Even as adults we do not always have wisdom and must rely on the counsel of others.

It is a humbling experience to admit that you do not know and even more so to ask for assistance. It means that you are vulnerable and thus you should seek out this advice from someone you can trust.

In time, you will gain enough experience to differentiate between those situations in which you need to let go and those in which you need to step forward.

For all of you reading who are experiencing times of difficulty, know this. It is okay not to be okay (thank you Traci for that one). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What is not okay, however, is to give up. Giving up is not the answer.

Find peace with those things that you cannot control. Find the courage to deal with those things that you can. And find the wisdom so that you may know the difference.

Until next time.

_______________________________________________

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Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Finding Peace and Balance

 

Guest post by Karl O’Leary, @KarlOLeary4, High School Principal

The new normal has looked very different for all of us. From work, to family, to personal lifestyles, so much has changed to acclimate to what we need to do for our society. The old manner of taking time to have space, sit down dinners to review your children’s day at school, and the weekend at sporting events looks drastically different. But does it have to?

Peace and Balance

What does is mean? Peace has been connected to the long-haired hippie days of Woodstock and tie dye colored shirts. This is a misconception of perception. Finding Peace within yourself enables you to:

  • Look inwardly and reflect about how you live your life.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Maintain a positive mental attitude (PMA).
  • Do good toward others.

This can be in mediation, or reflection, or journaling. Taking the time to look in the mirror to assess yourself and what you do can provide opportunities to reconnect with your passions. Start with the question: Am I being what I wish to be?

Balance is connected to daily routines and activities. Like any pie chart, listing what activities are done each day provides a visual to understand where time is spent. Finding Balance entails making the necessary goals for living life how you wish.

What is different now is everything! But there are opportunities with how change exists.

  • Find time to take the morning walk
  • Incorporate routine
  • Have fun with family in a different manner
  • Leave work for work hours
  • Be realistic with expectations

The new Balance does require for some phone calls outside the old hours, but there is also opportunity to not send information late to others. By flipping the conversation, would you wish to have your child’s teacher email you during dinner, or family time? That time can be used for reflection and relaxation. Balance the need to send assignments outside of school hours; the email will still be there in the morning!

The new normal of Peace and Balance are what we make it to be. There are so many great opportunities to connect, at a low or free cost, to try what we have always wanted to. Look inwardly to reassess our daily activities and press the reset for moving forward.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Guest post: Teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt

Be patient during the COVID-19 pandemic

As schools throughout the nation close for the remainder of the year, take a minute to consider what this will mean for thousands of teachers who are doing their best to educate our children. School leaders and local officials are scrambling to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our top priority, and as we retrofit our education system on the fly to meet the needs of millions of students, we ask for your patience and understanding.

Schools are not designed to adapt quickly

Be kind to teachers who are on the front lines navigating school closures in an education system that is, like so many institutions, incapable of meeting the demands placed upon it by the outbreak. At best, the expectations for most teachers right now are loosely defined by school leaders. Many teachers are trying to patch together inadequate distance learning programs without guidance. This is not the time for parents to use social media platforms to compare teachers or to publicly complain about a teacher who is slow to adapt. Our nation’s teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt, so please show some grace if you are irritated.
During normal times, school districts take several months, even years, to institute changes in curriculum and instructional methods. Expecting teachers to do this at a high level, with no time to prepare, during a national emergency is ridiculous. If you feel the need to share feedback with an educator, consider what would be helpful before you hit send. Negativity toward a teacher at this time will bruise deeply and could limit the creativity of teachers trying their best to meet student needs. A measured tone is imperative if you feel discouraged as a parent and wish to share your frustration. Trust me, teachers wish they could meet the needs of every student and family they serve.

More than the internet

Connecting and teaching students in a distance-learning environment is not akin to a teacher simply jumping online and presenting academic material to students. Conducting meaningful virtual instruction requires dedicated professional coaching for staff, and it also requires significant training and practice for students and families. Most teachers have never been expected to integrate remote learning into their curriculum. The instinctive knowledge teachers have spent their respective careers amassing has a vastly different application online, and most educators have never been trained to deliver robust instruction in that format. In addition, the inequity of student access to technology and broadband internet service is woven into the challenge of teaching students remotely.

Teachers are pros at building relationships

Teachers are well versed in building relationships with students so be grateful for the teachers who are trying to maintain their connection to students. This connection — virtual or in-person — is critical for academic and social-emotional growth. Our best educators specialize in making those human connections and they are experts at molding positive relationships, devoting their talent to create a culture of learning, and contributing to the school culture. Those indelible skills for expressing care and demonstrating a commanding presence may translate online for some teachers, but it is unfair to expect it to happen naturally.

Teachers are stuck waiting

Many of our teachers can’t share with you that they are at the whim of school leaders and state mandates that are not always communicated to them effectively. While teachers are on the front lines of most communication with parents and students, they are not always armed with the information parents seek. Your child’s teacher understands your concerns about assessments and grades, your child falling behind and your desire to have access to more resources. Teachers are trying to be flexible and they do not want to throw their school leaders under the bus by voicing their misgivings to you and fueling the anxiety parents are feeling.

Uncertainty and sadness

Educators lament the loss of the celebrations, getting that last high five, hug or final word of encouragement to students. Teachers have been working hard to get your child to the finish line, and in a career that has always included clear beginnings and ends each school year, this new reality is bewildering. Many educators are helping their own children cope with the loss of a traditional school year while they also cope with the same reality as a professional. Not being able to grieve the loss of the school year together is tough on the children and the adults who serve them. Teachers wonder if their current efforts are making much of an impact on students. In some cases, only a handful of students are still connected to school and that is disheartening. Teachers are used to receiving regular feedback from students and adjusting their teaching strategies accordingly.

Moving forward

The best thing you can do to help teachers is to unite with them and let them know you appreciate them. If you feel the need to share your concerns about school district policies and local programs, reach out to school leaders. Our educators are committed to serving all children and we know that we’re in this together. Teachers and school leaders throughout the country care deeply about the health, safety, and engagement of their students. Right now our teachers need your support.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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