Being Gentle With Myself

As mentioned in a previous post, it’s a new year and I’m at a new school. I often forget that so much goes into learning about a new place, space or community. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for not knowing the space and I’m asking questions. In this post, I’m sharing some of my experiences this past month. 

Learning Names

Names are powerful and important. They are a part of who we are and a key identifier in schools. I have to admit that learning names doesn’t come easy to me. As a prep teacher, teaching all students in our school, there are times that I feel overwhelmed with making sure that I also know how to correctly pronounce student names. It’s the end of September and I’m almost there but there are a few that I am still learning. This month there has been a lot of asking for reminders and using my time during yard duty to familiarize myself with names. While I wish that from day 1 I remembered them all, I think it has allowed my students to see that I too am learning and they have been patient in the process.

Setting Intentions & Reflecting

I started a journal at the beginning of this school year as a tool for reflection.  Every morning, I take 5 minutes to think about the day and in the evening, I take some time to reflect. In the morning, I list 3 things that I am grateful for; 2 things that will make the day great; and one affirmation for the day. I find that in doing this, I’m able to set an intention that helps guide the day. At the end of the day, I reflect on  3 things that made the day great, 2 actions that I could have done differently, and one thing that I did for myself. For me, it’s an opportunity to think back on the day and determine whether or not I feel the day was a success. The good news is that if I haven’t been successful, I know that I can try again the next day. 

In the beginning, I noticed that the 2 things that I was writing that would make the day great were things that I expected others – students, colleagues, etc. – to do rather than focusing on what was in my control. For example, rather than hoping students would pay attention during a lesson, I could instead write that I hope that the lesson planned would be of interest to students and offer multiple entry points. When I started focusing on what was in my control, I realized that I wasn’t as attached to the actions of others. 

Another thing that I noticed was that there were many days that I wasn’t actively deciding to do something for myself. I was fishing for things to write, which was a reminder of how much we often choose to do for others, especially as teachers. I’m going to keep journaling and reflecting this year.  

“Learning the Ropes”

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have walked into a new school and realized just how different the routines are. From entry to dismissal, every school has their way of doing things. I’ve learned not to make assumptions and to be explicit in asking questions so as to understand the practices of that particular school community. It may seem silly but while “learning the ropes”, I think nothing is off the table in terms of asking questions. Having been on the other end – someone very familiar with the practices of a school – I also realize the importance of sharing information with others who are new and trying to pass knowledge on. 

I hope you’ve had a great start to the school year. If not, I hope you know that it’s ok to be gentle with yourself. I know that I have been and will continue to be. We’ve only just begun. There’s still time yet for things to turn around.

Wrapping Up The Year

The end of the year is the perfect time to reflect and I’m certain that within our profession, I am not the only one who feels this way. Today being the last day of school, my mind is working overtime as I continue to unpack the year that has past and looking forward to the opportunity to rest and recharge over the summer.  For the last month, I’ve spent time in deep reflection, and starting tomorrow, I’m going to be focused on taking care of myself and making sure that I’m up for the challenge in September. In terms of reflection, I like to think back on the year and consider: what worked; what didn’t; how I’ve grown; what I’ve learned; and what I might like to change for the following year.  As I say goodbye to my current school, I’m looking forward to an incredible new opportunity at my next school. In this post, I’m sharing some of my thoughts going into the summer and looking forward.

Students, Students, Students

It’s what teaching is all about! How we support students; how we facilitate student learning; and how we learn with and from students. When students – and their families – are at the center of the work that I do, I feel a sense of purpose and reward. Over the last few years, let’s face it, it’s been challenging. This year, when the distractions came, I tried to focus on what was most important and what I could do. If there was something that I couldn’t do, I didn’t, without guilt. I worked as hard as I could for students and I’m content with what I was able to do. Also, I asked a lot of questions – why is this important? Who does this benefit? If it wasn’t of benefit to students, I kindly declined. It’s easy to get distracted by the myriad of things popping up on our plates. I’m grateful that this year forced me to focus on students and their learning and I plan on continuing come September.

Take Time to Recharge 

We all know that we can’t be good for others if we aren’t good ourselves.  As teachers, many of us are problem solvers and we jump in and are there to support and care for others.  This summer, please take time for yourself. This past year, I learned the value of saying no to “opportunities” and really taking the time to take care of myself. This summer will be the first in years that I will be completely focused on taking care of myself and recharging to make sure that I’m ready for a healthy September. What will you do? How will you take care of yourself this summer? What does recharging look like for you?

Hear or See Something? Disrupt Publically!

I’ve written extensively about my experiences as a Black student and teacher. Things that I saw, heard, and experienced are sadly, things that I see, hear, and experience in the present day, although there are decades in between. Many of us know the lingo to add to our bios or to say in interviews – diversity, inclusion, equity, disrupting, dismantling, etc. – and yet, I wonder how many of us know what they actually mean within the school setting. When you see something, how are you disrupting? This includes experiences between students but also between teachers and students and between teachers. Notice who enters or doesn’t enter certain spaces within the school building. Why is that? What does it say about school culture? How do we build better community within our schools? I can’t tell you the number of times that people have come up to me in private after something public has happened and apologized for the actions of another. It’s time to publicly disrupt or nothing will change for those most marginalized – students and teachers alike. 

The past few years have been challenging. This summer, please take time to rest and recharge. The year ahead will be another filled with challenges. Let’s do what we need in order to make sure that come September, students can be at the center of what we do. Also, once September arrives, when you hear or see something, please disrupt. Congratulations on completing another year in education. Wishing you a safe and restful summer & a great start to the new school year.

fitness

Fitness is a funny word. I get quite a chuckle each time I see this meme. Knowing where to get a laugh comes in handy in this job. The trick is knowing when and where to fit it in?

Yeah, I'm into fitness. Fitness whole pizza in my mouth. – Wag Pet Boutique
https://www.wagpets.com/yeah-im-into-fitness-fitness-whole-pizza-in-my-mouth

Fit in itself covers a broad swath in its meaning as it ranges from adequacy/competence much like whether a premier is fit to govern or if a garment is the proper size. In legal spaces, the courts decide whether someone is fit to stand trial or have custody rights. When someone is upset they are said to be having a fit. When they are inconsistent, things are happening in fits and starts. When someone doesn’t play by the rules and norms they are often told to fit in or labeled that they couldn’t fit in.

Fit can also have a positive light around it such as, “They were a perfect fit for each other” or “all the pieces fit together so well”. When we are starting somewhere new, we always hope to fit in.  When we need an appointment, we are always hoping to be fit into the schedule.

Not to be overlooked, fit can also describe someone’s physical or mental state, as well. So as the days of our 9th month in school wind down I wanted to check in and share some thoughts on fitness in order for all of us to finish strong in June. To no one’s surprise in my world, humour plays a huge part in how I maintain my mental health. Sharing it with my class has become part of our support of one another since the start of the year.

With so much happening in our world right now to crush the spirits of our students and fellow educators, humour, art, acts of kindness, and movement are my goto strategies to combat relentless tragic news stories, a pandemic, and the return of standardized testing. So how does that look in the classroom?

Before I share that, let me reiterate that there is no need, ever, for a head in the sand approach with my students when it comes to tough topics. On the contrary, active discussions about the goings on in our world, nearby and far away are crucial. I believe there is room for conversations for students of all ages. I believe there is room for them to share what they wonder, have heard, and think. I am wary when classrooms are not allowed to be open spaces of inquiry when it comes to the big questions on students’ minds especially when our students possess a world of information, real and fake, at their fingertips. It is important to let go of the control and comfort though. For some that discomfort does not come easy, but hey it’s not about you.

When we fit this work into our days, we tell our students that they are safe to ask when uncertainty abounds. In case you’re wondering. I am into fitting this into my days.  Okay now back to what can only be expressed as a fitting conclusion to a year at the speed education.

  1. Lessons getting shorter. Connecting and applying concepts still continuing.
  2. Time to explore concepts outside of the boundaries and boarders of the curriculum being added.
  3. Collaborations on projects between grades(4 and 5) guaranteed.
  4. Time for exploring new learning with another self-directed inquiry project(Genius Hour)
  5. Student led social activities and DPA. They always know the latest and greatest vids.
  6. Organization of one more PAK (purposeful act of kindness)
  7. More time listening to one another.
  8. More time for the arts beyond our weekly schedule.
  9. Joke(s) of the day.
  10. Time to celebrate that each of our mistakes is evidence that we were trying.

Lastly, there is going to be an end of school in-class celebration to honour each student for their hard work. persistence, growth, and contribution to our class family. As exhausting as the lead up to June is each year, the satisfaction and joy from a job well done lasts far longer than any memories to the contrary.

Each day of this year has been physically and mentally taxing. I have eaten my feelings on occasion. I have been called grumpy from time to time. Mea culpa. I have also found time for a lot more personal fitness in order to combat those tougher days we all go through as educators. Whatever you do to keep fit, I hope it sustains you and gives you joy through the upcoming month and well into a restful summer.

If you see fit, please share what you are fitting into your classroom in June. Thanks for reading.

the eyes tell our stories

Trigger warning: This post may be triggering to some folx as it discusses the emotional and physical toll happening on our students and our profession. I hope you read on.

A student asked to speak with me the other day. They said things weren’t going so well. They didn’t have to say a word. Their eyes told the story of someone who had been going through a lot lately. They shared and I listened while resisting every urge to cry along with them. How has it come to this I thought? How have so many of life’s weights been placed on a student who deserves to enjoy these years without worry, fear, or doubt?

While they spoke, it became known that these feelings of sadness and dread have been building up for a couple of years already. It struck me a bit odd as this student comes across as one of the most well liked, bright, and optimistic persons. If they were struggling, then how many more have not found the courage to come forward? My mind raced around how best to support them in the moment, but then moved to thoughts of what needs to happen on the macro level of our classrooms.

Despite some training, my mental health first aid kit is still only partially stocked, and unless additional social workers can be added to our school, I fear things will only be getting worse.  If it is happening in one school, then it is probably happening in many others. Notwithstanding the already existing immense work loads placed on centralized caregivers in school boards, it does not appear that supply will meet demand any time soon.

I guess that my best move for this particular person will be to check in with them a little more frequently, contact family to construct a cohesive support plan, and to recommend seeking some help from a social worker if at all possible. I am also going to build in some wins for them throughout the week. These could be a few more affirmations or intentional opportunities to have fun in their day.  Maybe this approach could help in supporting staff as well? Read on.

They didn’t have to say a word. The eyes told a story of someone who has been crying a lot lately. What happened before coming to school? How were they going to make it through another day when the sound of fast paced walks toward their door meant another part of the day, intended to plan and organize, was going to be co-opted again. How can this continue to happen when things are supposed to be safer, better, and back to normaler? Cue the tears. Cue the sadness. Cue the confusion. It’s hard to hide the stress or frustration. With all of that to manage, anger is never far behind. So when someone asks what is causing the tears specifically, the answer is nothing and everything at the same time.

Nothing because there is nothing we can do about what is happening other than mask up, make sure the kleenex box is full, and brave out the current chaos of each day. Everything because the number of issues provide more than enough straws to collapse every camel’s back. Mixed messages, inaction, anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, insane rates of infection, lost preps, fatigue, and having to complete the same system work with less time due to time that has been ‘liberated’ from one’s daily schedule.

Image
via https://twitter.com/MikeJToronto/status/1520175065333219329?s=20&t=NLlivpQQu-yLApHE3_iEUA

I looked into the mirror. My eyes were dull, glassy, and dry. Thankful that another week has passed where I did not have to be out of the classroom. Thankful that I did not have to isolate. Relieved that time outside of school meant a chance to disconnect and recharge.

Although there is no single thing to attribute this current state. It could be because of the daily dread built up from what is happening in schools right now. It has gone far beyond any occasional days when OT jobs went unfilled to a sadly predicatable and unprecedented time in our profession. When was the last time you ever heard of 9 unfilled OTs at one school? Last week comes to mind.

If it hasn’t been mentioned before, the folx caring for this province’s most precious resources are having a tough time and are being pushed to the brink of exhaustion and anxiety. It seems that once again, pontificating politicians have put their heads in the sand when it comes to equipping educators to meet the realities of the day with the resources they need.

Let’s start by having more teachers available to cover the amounts of educators having to take time to quarantine due to illness/exposure to COVID19 or to care for an infected family member in the same home. As we enter the final months of the school year I am not feeling super confident that things will change and that has me worried about my own energy and emotional levels.

Despite every educator’s individual efforts, ‘things ain’t goin’ so good’. No amounts of extra time or out of pocket expenses are going to fix what is happening. We need personal supports for students and staff more than ever not affirmative memos and lipservice from elected/board leaders. Help.

…and in this corner

….weighing in at the size of that giant elephant in each of your classrooms.

Yup, with a sense of timing so impeccably ironic, that it is only achievable by elected officials, we are once again face to face with maskless learners and colleagues.

Oh the freedom!

This all despite numbers related COVID19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths) increasing across the province. Despite a strategic throttling of information from the current government and an ineptly duplicitous media incapable of calling out the “horse hockey” being shovelled at an unwitting public who is either happily oblivious learning how to live with COVID19 or now scrambling to avoid a negative patient outcome for someone in their life who is immuno-compromised.

Another struggle took centre stage the moment the masks were allowed to come off in Ontario. We are once again facing government sanctioned chaos when it comes to public health policy and education in our province and there are signs of  trouble in nearly every public school. #Onted via Twitter reveals numerous schools with growing numbers of COVID19 cases and exposures among their youngest learners. That means more absences (students and staff), more missed learning opportunities, and more uncertainty in schools/homes.

To no one’s surprise who has actually taught in a school over the past 2 years, students, teachers, and support staff  once again find themselves at greater risk of being exposed to COVID19 now that masking has become optional in public schools.*

Thankfully, at the school where I teach, the number of students and staff still choosing to mask up each day remains around 90%. Odd though how that figure corresponds to another public health statistic at 90%. Hint, it rhymes with vaccination rate. Hmm? Yet, that is not the case inside of many other schools and has the potential to be problematic on a number of fronts. I’ve seen this movie before and as I recall, it ain’t a comedy.

The removal of required masking, limited cohorting, mandatory hand sanitizing protocols, and social distancing have not provided me with the peace of mind that the return of such “freedoms” pretends to promise. So what is can a health conscious public educator do while they are now placed on the frontlines of learning to live with germ warfare?

Psst. Running away and hiding are not options.

The safest moves are to continue limiting our own exposure to potential infections by keeping our distance, masking at all times, sanitizing, and limiting our social interactions. Overcoming a global pandemic entering its 6th wave is going to take a little more time. We have gone through so much and have learned an equal amount about ourselves and others.

I can sense that students are still concerned about this too. I have noticed them still sanitizing their hands and trying to maintain their distances with students who have chosen to go maskless in class. Thankfully, I have not observed any social shunning as of yet which makes me hopeful that this will be the case in the general public when ideologies collide as legislated social expectations are gone. It is in this spirit of care and respect that I encourage you all to stay safe and strong as you continue to serve and shine in your classrooms.

* I was going to make a snappy comment about how private schools did not have  to remove their mask mandates while all public schools were ordered to do so, but I could not think of a good way to phrase it without the use of profanity.

Mindfulness in the Classroom

Are mindfulness activities a part of your program? 

Each day more than the last, it feels like mindfulness activities are being promoted for classroom use as part of a solution to what we are currently experiencing as humans on planet earth. 

I am not a mindfulness or meditation expert, nor am I trained in yoga instruction. 

I am however, a curious participant and reflective user of daily mindfulness opportunities in the classroom.

In a blog post for The MEHRIT Centre titled ‘The Self-Reg View of Mindfulness (Part 1)’, Dr. Stuart Shanker, an expert and leader in the field of self-regulation discusses mindfulness through the lens of self-regulation. He states the goal of mindfulness activities is not “developing techniques to suppress or flee from unpleasant thoughts and emotions” but rather to “pay close attention to them with the hope that, over time, you’ll be able to tolerate things that you have hitherto tried to repress or avoid”. 

Shanker highlights that one’s ability to engage in mindfulness and meditation experiences are not instinctive, for neither adults nor children. He acknowledges that for some people, the “act of concentrating on their breath or their emotions” while attempting to sit still or quietly can bring great amounts of stress or anxiety. 

Shanker cites the work of Dr. Ellen Langer and emphasizes the importance she places on understanding “mindlessness” in order to create an understanding of the term mindfulness. 

 

This resonated with me. 

 

If I am not achieving mindfulness am I engaging in “mindlessness”?

It had never crossed my mind how dangerous this dichotomization could be.

 

Mindfulness or mindlessness?

 

Thinking about those who do not find success or find stress in widely used mindfulness activities… are they still being viewed through a positive lens? How can I expose my students to meaningful mindfulness activities that are positive while maintaining a sensitive and trauma informed approach?

As Shanker points out, a state of mindfulness is unique to every individual person and should be achieved as such. Additionally, what calms you “may change from day to day, even moment-to-moment”. Mindfulness must be differentiated and unique: Like any new concept introduced, students need time, patience, space and practice in order to discover what helps them feel calm and under what circumstances. Contrary to this statement, students also need time, patience, space and practice while they discover what does not work for them in order to feel calm. 

Accordingly, the act of differentiating these completely personal moments of mindfulness feels to me like in order to be genuine, they need to be voluntary. To allow for students to discover their own state of calm: Mindfulness opportunities must be optional. Although necessary, offering students a choice of participation in mindfulness activities feels confusing or worrisome. What if they choose not to participate? Can they match the calm state of their classmates in different ways to avoid disrupting the calm state of others? Should mindfulness be practiced as a whole group? What are the benefits to whole group mindfulness instruction? What are the disadvantages to a ‘one size fits all’ approach to mindfulness?

Have I perfected the use of mindfulness in my classroom? No.

Does this exist? Likely not.

Nevertheless, I continue to reflect on the polarization of mindfulness and “mindlessness” and what this means to me.

What does mindfulness mean to you? How does this influence your teaching practice?

if you are not learning…

Fill in the blank.
As an educator there is always something to______________:

  • do
  • feel
  • learn
  • repeat
  • unlearn
  • lean into
  • chase after
  • reflect upon
  • run away from
  • learn more from
  • do better next time
  • experience differently

Each of the above resonate with me as a reflective practioner/teacher and as I look back, my thoughts keep returning to whether I see myself learning alongside my students or not?

It isn’t the first time I’ve tossed this thought around. Believing I was on the verge of an intellectual breakthrough to explain it all, this time I wrote, “If you are not learning, then you are not teaching” in an earlier draft of this post. A rhetorical call to action if you will.

Knowing that there is nothing new under the sun (Proverbs), I wanted to check if this brilliant quote was mine or would it be attributed to someone else unbeknownst to me? Enter American economist Vernon L Smith*. Well it was fun while it lasted, but that did not take away from the quote’s truth in my mind. If I wasn’t learning then I was not teaching. So I asked myself,
“Self?”
“Yes.”
“Are you learning?”
“Yup.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ll get back to you.”

It is within this meditative metacognitive space where I frequently find myself dwelling this year. Maybe it’s because the season we’re enduring makes things seem bleak. Or maybe the extended time indoors during global pandemic allows time to make some sense out of things that exist within and beyond our control. Cue the next quote from Smith.

“I believe that all learning is ultimately a form of self-education. That formal schooling is simply a way of introducing you to how to learn. And I think, at some point in my own education, I realized that the most important thing I was learning was that I was learning to learn. It became a lifelong endeavor.”  Vernon L. Smith

After ruminating on this quote, I started wondering whether the conditions created in my class each day genuinely allowed learning to learn to occur? Was it possible to continue being “the guide on the side”(Garfield Gini-Newman) or did I need to model learning how to learn more for them? Were the resources I was curating and creating providing a rigourous, but not spirit crushing challenge or was I underestimating their abilities as learners? Did my students have time to develop their own curiosities rather than those prescribed in the curriculum, and if so were they inspired and empowered to do so?

I wish there was an absolutely definite yes here, but it is not that simple. At least not yet.

Here’s the tricky part, I think that this is happening in some ways in my classroom, but now find myself with a new challenge to learn how to really know it. Suddenly, I feel that some of the pressure around this has been removed. Maybe the reflection had to happen in order to organize my perspective here? As the lead learner in the classroom there is always more to learn. As the guide on the side, I can always “bend, blend, or break” (David Eagleman)  what we are learning to help students go further than in days before.

Like most classrooms, what worked before is not guaranteed to work again or like it did. This in itself  has been an incredible thing to learn. Perhaps acceptance is a more apt term? How often do teachers find themselves holding on to something that worked in the past, but is not working now yet hoping it will miraculously work again in the future? Teachers need to accept that everything we do is done at the speed of education. Whether a day lags on the tarmac waiting for takeoff or jets off at the speed of sound each can lead us to discover and develop some profoundly creative skills if we approach it as pilots and not as passengers.

One final thought.

Remember earlier when I asked myself “are you learning?” I asked again. This time the reply came back as, “As I learn so will I teach.” Thank you for reading. Feel free to share this post and to leave a comment to continue the conversation.

*There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.

The Other 11 Months

Black History Month is just around the corner. I’ve seen the posting of new books and the sharing of activities and TPT lessons on notable Black people. I know that some go all out with their bulletin boards and their quotes of the day. Some really push hard for Black people to be “celebrated” during the month of February. Many give themselves a lot of credit for their efforts in February but I wonder what happens the other 11 months of the year? Years ago, I wrote about my thoughts on the “Cultural Months” that are “celebrated”.  I guess as the month where I’m supposed to be “celebrated” approaches, I’m reminded again why these months don’t sit well with me. In this post, I once again ask for a few considerations to be made.

Black Teachers Exist in Schools Too

I know that a lot of what we do in education centers around students. This is imperative. At the same time, I think that it sometimes gets lost on some that within the school setting, Black teachers exist too. We’re real. We face the same challenges and impacts that are presented to staff in meetings when it comes to anti-Black racism. Just because we are adults, doesn’t mean that we are somehow beyond or above any of it. When working to seek more equitable outcomes for students, it should not be lost on anyone that teachers are looking for the same equitable treatment. Please keep this in mind when you are speaking with Black colleagues and wanting to “pick their brains” for activities this month.  We’re Black every month and I honestly think that many would be shocked with what we have to contend with year-round. 

Words

As teachers, we’ve all heard about impact versus intent. We’ve also heard that words matter. This month, while you are trying your best, please know that there will be moments of discomfort for Black people navigating spaces that were not meant for them, particularly at a time when they are supposed to be “celebrated”.  If a colleague feels safe enough to speak up about something that is said or written that is problematic, listen. Learn. I know that it’s uncomfortable to hear that we’ve made a mistake but doubling down on words, concepts or ideas that are anti-Black is more uncomfortable for the person who spoke up. When someone shares with you something that is problematic, remember that it’s not all about you. Take steps to grow, move on and change.

Excellence

Recently, I had the chance to revisit the notion of Black excellence with my friend, judy. It’s one that I have often struggled with because I find it implies that as Black people, we have to be excellent to be noted and/or celebrated. Me just sitting and being as a Black woman somehow isn’t enough when it seems as though the demand isn’t nearly the same for others. As you celebrate this month and the excellence that is Blackness, I ask you to consider and reflect on those you choose to share. Why do you share their stories? What is it about their story or existence that makes them worthy of note? While you’re doing that consider your Black colleagues. Are they as excellent in your eyes? Why or why not?

I’m certain that some of what I have said here as truth for myself can be the truth of others who struggle with being seen within education spaces. While it’s great that we celebrate the diverse identities that exist within our school communities during special months of the year, it’s imperative that we do more throughout the other months of the year. See your colleagues. Realize the impact of your words. Value existence as excellence.

no cape required

Have you ever seen or heard this one? “I teach. What’s your superpower?” It’s on shirts, mugs, plaques and all sorts of other tchotchkes. I’ve heard it at conferences and keynotes too and it never fails to make me chuckle when I do because it seems like a humble brag even though it is true. To continue the candy coated clichés then, it comes as no surprise that each educator possesses super powers that they use everyday.

You know the ones I’m talking about. Pivoting (easy stomach) to emergency online learning with little to no notice, covering classes while losing prep after prep due to a lack of available occasional teachers due to illness or quarantine requirements, putting on a brave face for students and colleagues who are showing the signs of anxiety at the edge of a nervous breakdowns, and facing a barrage of unrealistic expectations from system leaders who are decades between the classroom and the boardroom. I guess the capes these superpowers come with are back ordered due to supply chain issues like our HEPA filtration units, school nurses, RAT tests, and consistent policy. 

Cape or no cape, I guess it’s not bragging when it’s backed up with actions because I know that it is happening in classrooms in Ontario and beyond on a daily basis. 3 weeks into the new year and the shift is coming to relax restrictions rather than enforce measures to protect the public. Each day another classroom is emptied while caretakers “sanitize” because another student departs with symptoms. Each day our front office team deals with 20% more calls and reports of COVID related absences of students. Each day we prepare to accommodate learners who have stayed home able to choose the hybrid option. Each day the struggle to see something positive in every situation becomes more difficult even for the most enlightened optimists among us. 

That is why, this post comes with its own irony, as I write this month, because it is taking all of my superpowers as an educator just to get through each day right now. I truly believe that it is not normal to wake up feeling restless or trudging home with little left in the emotional tank for family let alone friends or additional school work such as planning and assessment. It is taking every ounce of my superpowers to find the air and the serenity right now. Each exit from school at day’s end feels like emerging from underneath water to finally draw an overdue breath of air. 

The move to online and then back to the classroom this month with little to no regard to the wellbeing of students or educators is once again due to negligence and dereliction of responsibility by the current government. There’s nothing better than making sure families start the year wondering and witnessing ongoing acts of orchestrated distraction, unchecked number vomit news pressers, and photo ops provided confusion in the media for the public. These stage managed wretched events only amplified how an out of touch premier and his party of gaslighting grifters are able to go to inconvenience a province and its 2 000 000 students and make it sound like they are doing their jobs.

It is political performance art at its worst through a series of non-messages, announcements about announcements and off news cycle timing intended solely to keep everyone stuck to a web of distraction and uncertainty woven by political incompetence. It is also the kryptonite that weakens education and civil society at the expense of future generations who are only learning about their super powers in our classrooms. 

Thank you for reading and for sharing your superpowers. 

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Teachers’ Mental Health – We Need Care Too

It is now, more than ever, so important to recognize and acknowledge the importance of self-care. To me, self-care is a life skill that many teachers of all ages and experiences, including myself, tend to neglect and push off for another day that never seems to come. We are all working in a time and place of uncertainties and are under constant pressure to adapt to rapidly changing situations in the workplace and in our personal lives. We are, at times, forced to find new innovative ways to do our jobs in this current reality. There is no doubt that, for many (if not all) of us, there has been a steady increase in our stress and anxiety levels due to the ever changing realities of COVID19. However, it is vital that we take time and take action to care for ourselves and to respond to our body’s needs. Self-care will improve our energy level, our focus and attention and our ability to cope with daily challenges. When we take care of ourselves, we are also showing care for our students and our loved ones. In particular, we are modelling good mental health strategies to, and for, our students who are often looking up to us for guidance and moral support. 

I often practice mindfulness activities to keep myself sane and ready to face the outside world on a daily basis. These activities allow me to see things more clearly, as it happens, and to pay attention to what’s going on with my body and the things that are happening around me. These mindfulness activities allow me to create a “pause” in which I can respond to situations calmly and justly throughout the day. Here are some simple activities I follow that might be of some support to you:

  1. Pay attention to your body and the messages/signs it sends out to you. It sounds simple, but it’s one of the things our bodies do that we often misread, misunderstand or completely neglect to follow. Try to tune in to your body’s natural signals and respond accordingly.
  2. Be kind to yourself. If your body is telling you that you need a break then take a mental break. A mental break doesn’t have to be something long (though I wouldn’t count that out, if that’s what your body needs). It could be a 5-minute break during work, something done over the lunch break, or something you do right before or after work by yourself or with others. I often listen to some relaxing music while I am working/planning, or even when students are collaborating on a task. You can do some art, play a game on your device or read a favourite book during your break. One of the things I find most rejuvenating is leaving the classroom and going for a walk to see or chat with other staff members. For me, talking to others really helps to clear my mind and to destress from a tense situation. I have also done a walking club with staff. On a Friday afternoon, during the lunch break, we would put on our walking shoes and walk around our community for about 20 minutes. It was always something to look forward to and we always felt reenergized and ready to manage whatever comes our way. A colleague of mine is heavily into martial arts and he would organize sessions for staff once or twice a week. The focus (i.e. martial arts skill sets, meditation, mindfulness or self defense) of each session would change depending on the needs of the group. Whatever interests you, just make sure you intentionally take time to make it happen on a regular basis, for your own mental health.
  3. Eat, eat, eat! Take time to hydrate and to nourish your body. Have healthy snack breaks and drink plenty of water. If you often sit, get up and walk around or do some stretches to get the blood circulation flowing. Use your lunch break for lunch (or something of your own choice)! Don’t take on too much work, especially during your personal time, that leaves you with very little time to eat uninterrupted or very little time to unwind in your own way. I personally value that “me time” because it helps me mentally prepare to manage the rest of the day. I am learning to say “No” when I really mean no, and to have a balance between the demands of work with my own personal time and wellbeing. 

Self-care is a necessity in life, but for some, it is often easier said than done. Above all, please remember that you are not alone. There is support that is out there to help you get through these difficult times. Your school board usually has an employee assistance program, a wellness page or mental health podcasts to support your wellbeing. Here are some other resources that might be of support to you.

LiveWorks offers clients mental, social, emotional and financial support in all aspects of life.

Ted Talk: The Importance of Self Care for Teachers Kelly Hopkinson talks about how teachers should prioritize their own wellbeing, in hopes that one day the school board will do the same. 

Your wellbeing matters to us all. Over the upcoming holidays, I encourage you to commit to taking care of yourself by intentionally creating/making space throughout your day to do you! My hope is that this commitment and the strategies developed over the next few weeks can be transferable to your work day in the new year. It is through our own ability to self-care that we can become the beacon of light in someone else’s life.