Now that most states in the U.S. have moved to distance learning for the remainder of the school year, there is a weariness that has settled in for all involved. I noticed it in my own children, my students, and myself. The initial rush of newness and excitement is gone, replaced by the drudgery of this new system. I feel a little like the stage of friendship after camp. You leave camp ready to be friends forever. The first months are full of letters, texts, emails, and I miss you moments. As time goes on, things begin to fade away, memories become hazy, and the best of intentions do not always keep you connected the way face to face time did.
I found myself really going inward this past week and trying to determine what should this world look like for me as a parent, as an educator, for my children, and for my students. I spent a few days “shut off” and not really doing much except thinking. (okay – in this house with 2 dogs, 1 cat, 1 hamster, 2 teenage boys, one 8 year old girl, 1 husband, my parents and in-laws, 40 students, my friends…I was as shut off as I could manage.) During this time of reflection and soul searching, I saw this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqGRnlXplx0 Suddenly, it clicked that right now HAS to be about the big rocks. Big Rocks are the metaphor for the most important components of our lives. The ones that our energy, attention, and care should be directed towards. The pebbles, the sand, and even the Cerveza’s of this metaphor MUST fade away to an extent during this time of unprecedented crisis and trauma. The shock I found as I sat down to reflect on what the big rocks were for me is that, right now, there is only ONE big rock as an educator, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Just one big rock that DEMANDS our attention – here is how I am facing this rock.
THE ONE BIG ROCK – Health – Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health of myself, my family, my friends, AND my students has to be the first priority.
It is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in living color.
If we are not physiologically safe and feel emotionally secure – learning and teaching will NOT happen regardless of efforts. So – what are you doing to ensure this health and well being?
- Take care of your physiological needs – Financial needs, food, shelter, health needs, etc. have to be addressed. You will not be able to help anyone else before you ensure that you have that bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy met for yourself. So – take the time to file paperwork, order food, pay your bills, do a medical visit virtually with your doctor, keep your prescriptions refilled, etc.
- Building in time to ensure your own well being. Recent discussion among mental health professionals is that this time will be an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) for all of our kids to some extent. It is the same for us as adults. This IS, by its nature, a traumatic event. You must take care of yourself with nature, exercise, diet, meditation/prayer, joy and fun filled activities, spending time electronically or in person with those you love who support you, and giving yourself TIME!
- Be aware of your own children and family and put their needs ABOVE your students! I realized that so much of my early attention was put towards my students, particularly those most as risk. My own children NEED a present, loving parent to help them through these challenging times – THE WAY OUR STUDENTS NEED ONE. I am putting on my “teacher” hat with my own children, my “co-worker” hat with my husband, my parents and in-laws to find ways to listen and look for how their emotional needs are being met just like I do at school.
- Cognitive Re-framing – this big fancy phrase means changing your thinking. It is so important right now to reflect on what IS good, what IS right, what IS possible vs. staying in the negative. One week, I watched a little too much of the news and briefings and read too much on twitter for a few days until my husband and friend intervened and said ENOUGH. There is a fine line between being educated and informed and stressing yourself out. So – every day, choose explicitly to focus on gratitude, positive aspects of this terrible time, and ways you can solve problems. I like to keep my energy on WHAT I CAN DO NOT WHAT I CAN’T!
- Nearpod – Nearpod is my favorite educator tool particularly for distance learning. Set up a free account TODAY! You can have a zoom AND get feedback from all of your students. They have an entire set of FREE nearpods focusing on SEL for all age levels tied to Covid 19. Here is one I just did with my students that I thought was a great discussion starter. https://share.nearpod.com/lHAm7NQD15
- Weekly Reflections – This tool, that I have always used, is ideal in distance learning because every week, I can get feedback from my students on what is happening for them and how I can support. This information has become even more critical in distance learning. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316
- Thinking Creatively for the hardest to reach – We all have students who are really struggling during this time. Start to look for ways to keep connection. Individual or small group zoom sessions, phone sessions, using google classroom or microsoft teams “chat” features to send private messages, notes or letters sent to their mailbox, using volunteers to help tutor or connect, a “care” package of school supplies and materials delivered to their doorstep, using a simple video app like flipgrid to send messages back and forth (You can set up a flipgrid code for you and one student. Videos can be left there by both you and the student. Any device (even a cellphone) that has a way to connect to the internet can have the student press one button to send/receive a video.) Think about the tools that the student has access to that you can use to make connection.
The biggest shock of this time for me is realizing how essential the ONE BIG ROCK is. We want to make sure students are learning, our families are happy, we keep up some semblance of “normal”, we get some big projects done at home, and so many other things that we think are important. The reality is right now, in this time of trauma, we have just one big rock that requires our undivided attention – keeping ourselves, our families, our students, and our world healthy and safe. Everything else will happen in the best way it can given the circumstances if we make this our priority. So, give yourself permission to put your energy to this one big rock and stop worrying about the pebbles and sand. You might even find you have a little time left for a beer!