So you’re teaching from home. How’s your back?

Ouch! Each time that the government extends public school closures because of COVID 19, it hurts more and more. Although, concerns for the safety of our families at home and school are top of mind, it really hurts to be away from students, staff, and the frenetic spaces we normally occupy. It hurts wondering if they are okay or if they are struggling to cope with the turmoil and uncertainty wreaking havoc on our lives.

Well at least we are teaching and reconnecting with our learners again, but as I gaze at my screens, I feel the tension across my shoulders. As my eyes dart about, my ability to focus on digital content for extended periods of time becomes difficult. I feel my body rebelling against its natural urges to move about, write something on the board, and make eye contact. This pain hits the mind and body and I’m not sure which is worse. Ouch!

I am finding that my increased time in front of screens rather than my students is taking a toll on my body and mind that is different than face to face instruction. For one thing, I am sitting more, corresponding via email more, joining virtual meetings more, and aiming my eyes towards my screens more. If you are like me, you might have a work space at home that gets used on evenings and weekends. I use an old kitchen table and chair*. This space, which is normally only used for an extra hour or three each day, has now become my classroom and office for as many as 6 to 8 hours per day. Between the planning, prepping, office hours, and meetings the hours add up. By the end of the day, I feel it.

I never realized that my workspace would be the reason why I have been waking up with an aching neck and back after the daily grind of extended screen time – my spartan set-up has me sore, stiff, and in need of a stretch. I have already flattened 2 couch cushions beyond their intended shape. Decorating aside, this got me thinking about how other students and educators must be dealing with their non-traditional work/learning spaces in a time of physical distancing and social isolation.

I have seen pictures of students at kitchen tables that are just below shoulder height. I have heard of families, all working from home, having to negotiate work spaces between bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. All flat surfaces have been claimed by computers and books. TV trays are now doubling as desks, while bedrooms have become bastions for team meetings even though I have yet to be on a conference call when a child or pet doesn’t magically appear to add a little levity.

At my house it is 3 generations on 3 floors and even with all of that space, there are still moments that require the utmost patience and grace. I can only imagine what it must be like for families in apartments or condos with limited space where a comfy couch has become a conference space instead of a family refuge? I am also learning that not everyone has a place to escape to when things get crunchy.

The increased time spent in a non-traditional work space trying to do make traditional work happen despite non-traditional circumstances is new to all of us. So, it comes as no surprise that my new classroom hub was not capable of supporting me physically over longer periods of time. Knowing that continuing without making some adjustments was going to end up poorly, I made some adjustments. Here’s a quick list of things I added to help:

  1. Take movement breaks (stretch, exercise, elevate your heart rate).
  2. Hydrate (coffee/tea does not count, water works best).
  3. Take your eyes of screens. Think of the 20/20/20 rule.
  4. Adjust workspace heights. Consider adding a box to your laptop to make a standing desk.
  5. Take a break when you are tired. Call it strategic surrender.

Hopefully, these 5 things can help you to lessen or avoid the physical fatigue that we are experiencing. With so much more happening, I wanted to share some ways on how we can make emergency distance learning less stressful on our bodies. As we face at least 4 more weeks of emergency distance instruction ahead, it will be important for all of us to pay attention to our work at home ergonomics to be at our physical, mental, and intellectual bests.

If you have a story to share about you have adapted your home into a workspace, please share. Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay healthy.

Additional reading:

https://www.fastcompany.com/90480052/how-to-perfect-your-home-work-set-up-so-your-back-stops-hurting-so-much

Some solid information that is easy to digest about ergonomics for students(slide23)

*The table has been in my family for over 40 years and has math work(my sons and my own) pencilled into the soft pine as a inter-generational reminder of many lessons learnt and shared over the years.

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The Author

Will Gourley

J/I lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

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