Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Recharging Throughout the School Year

By a show of hands, how many of you are tired...maybe even exhausted? That's a very common sentiment among those in the teaching profession. We strive to know each of our students and their families. We are constantly growing our practice. We collect and evaluate data and make constant adjustments to our lessons. We work to build a strong home and community relationships to strengthen the world in which our students are living. This doesn't even account for lesson planning, grading, horizontal or vertical team/department planning, ongoing parent communications, district-wide PD, IEPs, RtI meetings, 504s, parent-teacher conferences, data meetings, faculty meetings, PTA meetings, board meetings, and the miscellaneous paperwork that accompanies much of this. Anyone else exhausted just from reading this? (By the way, this doesn't even include all of our family, church, or community commitments.)

As classroom teachers, we are on the frontline empowering our students to become equipped to take on the world outside our classroom walls. We are helping them reach their goals and discover new avenues of learning for future goals. Most of the teachers I know LOVE their chosen profession. However, what happens when we get so run-down that we become sick or we fall into a negative frame of mind? Can we be the one that our learners (or our family) need?

How many times have we heard friends or family tell us to reduce stress? As one who is often burning my candle at both ends, I am very guilty of running myself into the ground.  So about a year and a half ago, I began researching simple ways that we can take time to recharge because I needed to find some concrete ways to do that myself. Here are some of the things that I've found particularly useful.

Get outside. There are copious amounts of research that point to the health benefits of being outside, whether it's taking a stroll, walking your canine companion, enjoying a meal in the outdoors, or taking on a more strenuous outdoor adventure. Fresh air, the sounds of nature, the scents of flowers blooming. Being outdoors can really positively impact your frame of mind. About a year and a half ago, we started finding great places to go and hike. Occasionally, we would paddle on one of the rivers or lakes in our area. When we began, I found two apps to be very useful as a jumping off point, Outbound and AllTrails (both also have a web presence with an online community). I've really found that by taking some time outside really helps me find some mental and physical balance after a challenging day or week. (If you follow me on Instagram, this one isn't a surprise.)

Disconnect from social media. Noise. It's everywhere, especially when you are part of the connected digital age in which we live. Yes, I've written about and spoken about the power of being connected to grow as a community of educators. Some of the most significant professional learning that I've had has come from my reading, connecting and sharing with other educators through social media. However, have you ever stopped and taken a look at the amount of time that we spend diving into our feeds? When we sit down for a minute, we immediately open an app and start filling our minds with the noise of constant conversations. Our brains need to take a break. We need time to think, process, and reflect. I found myself struggling to go to sleep at night. The to-do lists and noise from the day would come rushing in. I found that by putting down social media at a designated time in the evening and on the weekend, my sleep quality and my mental well-being has improved.

Say "No." Many of us find this one difficult. There are so many worthwhile endeavors out there. Yet, we are living with a finite amount of time each day. When we say "yes" to one thing, we are also saying "no" to something else. This is where we need to take time and reflect on our priorities and goals. If they aren't written down somewhere, before saying "yes" again, take a minute to write them down. While that new opportunity may be important, does it align with our professional goals for this school year? Will it take away time from other places where you have already make commitments? Could it take precious time away from those that you love and care about?  While this new opportunity may be a "no" for yourself, you could turn it into a "yes" by paying it forward to provide an opportunity for a young teacher to become involved and begin developing leadership skills.

Be creative. As educators, we know the benefit of providing students the opportunity to be creative. So why is it that we don't do this for ourselves? I know, we are busy, but we are worth the time. Set aside a few minutes each day or a larger block of time once or twice a week to pursue something that is creative. When I started doing this, I found myself working on creating things for my students and while it was useful, it wasn't really the point. We each need to pursue something that helps us develop individually. We don't have to be great at it, but we do need to enjoy it. About a year ago, I began playing with journaling and sketch-noting. I'm not particularly good at it (yet), but I've enjoyed practicing different styles of hand-lettering, borders, and doodling. It's a place for me to focus on verses or quotes that are meaningful to me, a way to set goals, and a way to document the fun things going on in my life. While journaling might not interest you, find something that you can pursue that lets the creative juices flow.

Create an oasis. While we hear this a lot on design shows, there is a thought that appeals to many of us. We want an escape, a mini-vacay, to connect with others face-to-face or with ourselves in the hurry-scurry lives we live. This doesn't have to be as big as room makeover. An oasis can be your favorite comfy chair where you can curl up and read, a front porch where you can listen to the sounds around you and write or sketch, an outdoor eating area where you can enjoy a meal with someone else, or a kitschy backyard oasis complete with an inflatable pool and plastic flamingos. I read one time that we should live a life where we don't feel the need to escape it by going somewhere else. We took that to heart and looked at the things that we enjoy when going on vacation and created little getaway nooks so we could enjoy dining alfresco or soaking up some vitamin D while reading a great book from the comfort of our own home.

While this isn't an extensive list, these are the specific ways that I have found to recharge my battery throughout a busy school year. Very little money was spent on any of the things mentioned above because it's more about shifting a mindset. Of course, I'm sure eating healthy food and exercising regularly wouldn't hurt either. I'd love to hear how you find ways to recharge.