What an stressful time it is to be a teacher! This is especially a stressful time for those of us who have been teaching for a long time. Those of us who know our routine and have figured out how to do this thing called teaching have just been thrown a serious monkey wrench in the form of distance learning expectations during this pandemic.
Personally, I teach in New Mexico. All schools here have been closed for the rest of the school year. This means that I will be teaching from home for the next 6 weeks, while managing the education of my own 3 kids (high school, middle school and elementary). Add this to the stress of the unknown that we are all suffering right now, and I know that I'm feeling the stress. I am sure you are too, so I created today's blog post to help all of us reduce our stress load at this challenging time.
Here are 10 tips to help teachers reduce the stress of this time:
1.) Build a routine/schedule: Routine is so important to reducing stress because routines give our body and brain a start and finish time. Additionally, having a routine or a schedule helps us to get more done and feel more successful, which is a definite stress reliever.
Your schedule doesn't have to be complex, but it should give you an overall breakdown of your day so that you can stay on task, remember to do things like eat lunch, and feel accomplished at the end of the day. Make sure that when you make your schedule, you give yourself a time for lunch, a time for connecting with other teachers, and a time to turn it all off at the end of the day.
2.) Take time to exercise and move - I'm a big fan of yoga, but honestly any time of movement is important right now. Exercise release endorphins which reduce stress. Our bodies normally get some stress relief by moving around our classrooms, walking the hallways of the school, talking with our colleagues, etc. Many of us additionally go to the gym. So right now we are missing a lot of movement and this is NOT the time to skip the exercise. Personally, I build my time right into my schedule. I need it in the morning to get me going. My husband prefers it at the end of the day, to wind him down. Wherever it works for you, be sure to take time to move.
3.) Make a plan for your own kiddos - One of the most challenging things about our current situation is that many of us are trying to work full time AND parent full time. As someone who used to home school and run a business, I'm here to tell you that this is challenging! But it's not impossible. The best thing to do is have a plan ready ahead of time (and then be prepared to tweak that plan each and every day).
My kiddos are bigger these days. My baby is 9 now, but when I was home schooling, he was 3 and I planned my life and work around nap times and Little Einstein videos. I would not allow any television before my online meetings, and then when I needed to be on the computer, he was more engaged in his show. I set up times where he and his brothers played together, and I would save certain toys that he really enjoyed for the times when I needed to be the most focused.
Now that my boys are bigger, they have a schedule that they have to follow (with a paper checklist for them to complete) and then they have expectations that have been clearly communicated for when mom is needing focused time. Having a plan ahead of time means we have less arguments and less of the "Mom, when are you going to be done?" conversation.
4.) Use tools your students are familiar with - Whenever we try a new technology tool, there is a certain learning curve that goes with it, so I always try to find the familiar for my kiddos. Most district are requiring new tools already, so try not to add to that too much. Instead, try to do what you've already done as much as possible. My kiddos were already using: Zearn, XtraMath, Prodigy, Freckle, Clever and Google Classroom (with Google Drive products). So as much as possible, I come back to these programs. I may use them in a new way, but by coming back to the familiar, I am reducing the stress level for the kids, which in turn reduces my stress level because they are more likely to be able to figure it all out. Also, I'm not having to stress out about finding all these new things to use.
If your kiddos weren't using a lot of technology before, think of ways that you can do what you were already doing with a tech tool. Were you using my paper tiling puzzles before? Then try using the digital format now. This way students will understand the biggest part of what you are asking them to do, and all they have to figure out is the digital component. Remember that new tasks cause stress, so stay with the familiar as much as possible.
5.) Use what other people have made - This is not the time to recreate the wheel. There's already so much to learn and to do. Take this opportunity lean on people like me who have tons of things available for you to download and use in your Google Classroom or other distance learning platforms. Here are some of the items I have ready for distance learning include:
- Digital Tiling Puzzles
- Internet Scavenger Hunts
- Teaching Power Points
This also includes working with other teachers in your school. This is the most important time to collaborate and use what your teammates have made. Share videos you have made, share resources you have found, share technology tricks you have figured out, and work together!
6.) Don't be afraid to video tape yourself - Synchronous learning activities like Zoom meetings are one of the leading causes of inequity in distance education. However, creating video lessons is a great way to teach because it allows us to truly talk to our students and model things the way we would do in our classrooms.
Many teachers are scared to video tape themselves, but this is a fear we will need to get over during this time. Your kiddos want to see you. Turn on your video camera and then forget it is there. Talk like you would to your kids. Show them what you would show them in class. And then post it. Don't go back and re-watch it if you don't need to edit it. It'll just add to your stress. But I promise you, once you post that video and your kids see that you are still with them, their stress will go down. And so will yours.
7.) Over communicate with your parents - It's always been important to communicate clearly with our parents. But now it's even more important because they are the ones having the actual face to face communication with the kiddos. They are the ones setting the routine and schedule at home. They are the first ones to help when the kids get stuck. So part of our job now is to make sure that the parents understand how to log in, how to help kiddos, how to turn in assignments, how to get questions to us, etc. etc. etc. If we are clear in communicating our expectations with our parents, they will be able to support the kiddos, which will decrease the stress of the the kids, the parents, and US.
8.) Don't try to overdo it - There are so many amazing technology tools out there, that it's really easy to want to try it all at once. You can't. You'll stress out your students. You'll stress out their parents, and you'll stress out yourself. Give yourself some grace and don't overdo it.
9.) Allow yourself to use your phone and other portable devices - I have heard many of my teacher friends say "I've sat in front of my computer for hours!" Teachers don't normally sit for that long, so this causes stress for many of us. One of the ways that I reduce my hours in front of the computer is to download the apps to my phone. Google Classroom, Google Drive, Remind, they all have apps and using them on my phone means that I can stay up on what my kids are doing or what questions my parents have, and still go out for a walk or check with my personal kiddos on their school work. Not being tied to my seat relieves a lot of my stress, and back pain too!
10.) Turn it all off at a reasonable hour - Just like you shouldn't stay at work all night, you shouldn't be at your computer all hours. When you would leave your classroom, close your computer, stop answering emails and turn the work mode off. Go outside. Check in with your spouse. Call a friend. Have a glass of wine. Watch your shows. Working from home requires us to be responsible for saying "My hours are up." and not letting work take over our entire life. It is okay to turn your computer off and step away, just like it's okay to go home from school at a normal time. We need to use this opportunity to force ourselves to find a work/life balance.
Do you have something you're doing to relieve your stress level? Share that here so we can all help each other during this unprecedented time in education.
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