Some days I don’t like teaching

The above title is not a lie, but it hasn’t always been like this. I have no intentions on adding on more unlikeable days either, even while there are forces beyond my control always at work. I am seeking to understand how and why it feels this way?

Prior to January 2020, it would have been easy to count the number of bad days I have had  over 11 years of teaching on one hand – that includes the Laurel Broten years as MOE. Okay, 2 hands #FireLecce. Sadly, a year and a third later, I am using the segments of my fingers too.* I am sure that this admission probably mirrors what many in our profession are feeling whether in class or in virtual school settings. For the sake of this post, I will stay in my lane and write for myself with the knowledge that this is common ground. 

Not that my students would ever notice, but there are numerous days when I find it hard to like what it takes to facilitate instruction of any sort. I am struggling to find any of the profound and prevalent joy that naturally occurs in the in-person classrooms in which I am privileged to teach. While emergency online education has occasional moments of brilliance, they seem more like faded flashes of light than beacons of lasting inspiration lighting the way forward. I perish the thought that this becomes acceptable in education beyond these “extreme and exceptional” circumstances. 

These moments pass through our cold screens as quickly as posts on a social media feed. Lately, it seems as if students have become conditioned to seeking out fleeting moments of happiness/joy while on-line – something akin to the addictive need for instant gratification. They need to know the answers now, and don’t want to wait for them. Are you noticing this happening in your lockdown learning spaces?

At a time when most answers are available to learners by simply opening another tab or pointing an app at a screen, it is hard for students to get excited about “the learning” when it comes without a healthy struggle or a need to problem solve. By being able to get what they need without any demand on their intellect other than Google skills, students are missing out on some deeply foundational learning right now. The issue comes when they are asked to apply some of this instant knowledge to something different that can’t be searched. 

At first, I wondered whether it was the type of questions I was asking. Were the answers googleable? Teachers can fall into that trap really easily, but it can also be avoided by asking students to evaluate and infer as part of their responses rather than to regurgitate the who, what, when, and where answers. I am a why and how guy when it comes to asking questions so most of the literal variables in questioning are out. I suggest reframing questions to help students respond to content in ways that ask for their opinions while using the lesson or text to reference and support their own ideas.

Then I wondered whether the pace of instruction was too rapid? Was I assigning too much? I teach a combined class and try to provide enough time built in for much shorter lessons with considerably more digital supports for students to reference when they are working independently. Providing time in-class, re-negotiating due dates, reminders, and check-ins are all part of the process.

Despite multiple hours of availability on and off line, students have still been struggling to complete work in a timely manner. With so much pressure to keep everyone engaged more content/lessons/assignments get shared over the course of a the instructional week, more check-ins for understanding happen, and the cycle of lockdown learnig online repeats itself. Adding more work was not the answer. Maybe variety is the answer?

So I mixed it up with TED talks, TED Ed lessons, discussions, visual Math, digital manipulatives, assessments with links to prompt and remind students, and some extra time be silly and do Just Dance. That moved the excitement and engagement needle in the right direction and then in the last little while, the cameras began staying off. 

Cue the dots

This is what teaching looks like during a pandemic yet this is the reality of virtual instruction right now. Despite the differentiation it is still hard to find joy or connection in these spaces. At least the sounds of voices and the occasional witty remark in the chat lighten things in the moment. I can only imagine how hard it must be on the students who have been thrust into this virtual maelstrom and expected to perform as if nothing has changed in their lives or the world around them. I am still working on making it better for all of us in the spaces we are forced to occupy right now. In the meantime I am want to make sure that our time is meaningful, fun, and mentally healthy in advance of a return to in-person instruction in the future. Maybe then I can stop counting the unlikeable days and resume counting the amazing ones again. 

Further reading
The Twitter Generation: https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1182

https://medium.com/launch-school/the-dangers-of-instant-gratification-learning-d8c230eed203

Educational Perfection

As we end another school year and look forward to summer vacation, I think back to my first years in education and what summer “vacation” looked like for me. July was spent taking additional qualification courses and most of August was spent prepping and planning. It wasn’t really much of a vacation.  So why did I do it? Two reasons. I am passionate about learning and I am a (now recovering) perfectionist-especially as an educator.

I must have thought there was some kind of a prize for having the tidiest, prettiest and well organized classroom. I wanted my classroom to look like something out of the Scholar’s Choice catalogue. The custodians would be annoyed at having me in the school and I would wait anxiously for them to be finished waxing our hallway so that I could get in and set up my classroom. I needed everything to match. If I had baskets for items in the classroom they had to all be the same colour. It isn’t always easy to find 24 of the same basket at the Dollar Store.  Before the students started in September I felt the need to have labels on all of their notebooks, duo tangs and I even labelled their pencils. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to control the environment for my students. My classroom looked like a showroom on the first day of school and I would spend the next 194 days trying to maintain that standard. Our first printing practice lesson (because we still did that back then) was to practice writing “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” When I think back now to all of the time and energy that I wasted not allowing learning to get messy I shake my head. It was exhausting.

After twenty plus years in education I’ve learned a few things about educational perfectionism and letting go of control in order to empower the learners in the classroom. When I was given a portable for a classroom that I wasn’t able to get into much before school started I panicked at first.  I didn’t have space or time to create a showroom. I decided to give the design over to the grade 4-5 students.  I still had labelled duo tangs and a place for each of them to put their things that was their space ready on the first day but the rest, we did together. It built community, it gave the students ownership and it gave me some of my summer back. If you’ve ever taught in a portable that has the coat racks inside, winter is a bit of a nightmare for an organizational freak but eventually I let it go. We still had a tidy classroom because their wasn’t enough space to be too messy but the organization of things didn’t stifle the learning. We learned how to paint in a portable without water using buckets and trips into the school. We brought lawn chairs to school at sat outside at reading time. I loved our little cabin in the woods.

As educators we have a lot of people that we are accountable to in our jobs. Students, families, administrators, our board and our communities are all stakeholders in what we do. The pressure to be perfect in our roles can be overwhelming and paralyzing. What educators do each day is literally driven by “overall and specific EXPECTATIONS”. It took time for me to realize that the expectations that I was putting on myself were much higher than those of anyone else. It took reflection to realize that perfectionism isn’t the badge of honour that I thought it once was and that it was making my life more difficult. I came to understand that it isn’t the room or the resources that make me a good educator.  It is about the connections and relationships with my students and their families that matter. It is about embracing the Ms. Frizzle moments and rolling with it.  If I’ve learned anything from COVID-19 it is that being flexible and letting go of what I cannot control are the keys to staying out of perfectionism. I plan on guarding my summer vacation as I would a medical specialist’s appointment but I’ll likely take a few professional resource books along to read in the waiting room.

 

A world at our fingertips

What world?
The first question that comes to mind when I think about the title of this post is, “Did I ask for this world at the end of my fingertips, and since its “wide web” pervades my life, how then, is it possible to feel so isolated when everything is at our fingertips? Food, clothes, household items, tech, and other diversions can be at our doors at the speed of our clicks, credit cards, and local couriers. The choices are non-stop, but there is one thing I haven’t been able to order online yet; a real in-person classroom and the bristling energy of its learners. I can’t even order a bus duty right now. 

Anyone else miss yard and bus duty?

I miss school so much that I was thinking of making a program to simulate being at school. I miss yard  and bus duty. I miss taking the long way to the office via the second floor. I even miss the First Aid calls for ice and band-aids. Even with a top dollar VR set up, nothing comes close to the completeness of an in-person educational experience; no matter how brilliantly it is delivered or repeated. For now, the best I can virtually do is be the best virtual version of myself.  

Despite everything these nimble digits can cull from the world wide web, the feelings, sounds, and yes, smells of school cannot be re-created online. You see our connectivity comes with a cost. Our eyes may be tethered to screens, but it is clear that our hearts and minds are looking for something else. Connection.

What’s keeping you connected?

In my last post Insert name(s) here I wrote about focusing on connections rather than curriculum with students first. As we continue learning during the lockdown, I am finding that connection is the single most important thing to preserve our wellbeing. When I read that teachers are feeling pressured to load students up with homework each day I get worried. It’s concerning to find hear of distorted and unrealistic expectations that learning is supposed to be like it was pre-pandemic. The only question I can ask anyone who thinks it does is, “Have you ever seen a Kindergarten Zoom class?” “Have you ever taught one?”

Imagine taking the wonderous living maelstrom that is known as the JK/SK class, and then compacting it onto a small screen replete with daily pet show and tells, spontaneous dancing, hasty exits for calls of nature, and unsanctioned nose touching? I am sure that does not happen solely in JK/SK either. In my class, there are some seriously funny faces that get made while someone preens in to the camera, or when they suddenly think someone said fart, or when they all decide to stuff couch pillows under their sweaters for DPA. This must be playing out everyday around the world right now. 

Sometimes the supporting cast gets into the main shot.

How about when you hear parents yelling in the background or when they are trying to negotiate with a client while walking too close to their child who happens to be answering a question at that moment? Upon reflection, these moments are probably the best things about virtual school during these times. It’s the humanity of our students shining through, and that is one of the single most important reasons for us to keep coming back day in and day out for our students. Making time for laughter  in my class has led to engagement and to learning. 

But seriously folx.

Hearing humorous stories from fellow educators has been crucial to my mental survival during such a trying time. Lockdown learning also comes with the knowledge that there are a number of educators who are struggling right now. I encourage you all to reach out to someone to check in on them. That includes those who always appear like everything is going great based on their social media posts. The truth is behind the curated photos is a lot of toil and hard work. This grind is hard on all of us. We need one another and the good thing is we have the entire ETFO community of educators to lean on. 

Take time to reach out. Even though we can’t order a cure for COVID yet, we can use this medium to send support to one another without the excessive packaging and credit card statements either. 

“How can I help?”

The adage of “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” was ingrained in me at an early age.  Until recently, I have always thought that being confident, capable and successful meant never asking for help.  I used to think that asking for help meant that you were weak.  I now think that asking for help is incredibly brave.  My 17 year old son recently told me about a group chat with his workmates.  Someone at work had sent an urgent message to the group asking how to do something while closing up the restaurant.  Many of the coworkers poked fun at the lack of knowledge of the person seeking help.  My son (brace yourself for this proud Mama Bear moment) texted that it was really brave of his co-worker to ask for help and provided the information that the coworker needed to close up for the night. I think that his act demonstrated wisdom an empathy far beyond his years.

Have you ever felt a little territorial or protective about your ideas or lessons in your classroom?  I imagine everyone likes to be valued for their unique talents and abilities.  In general, I don’t think anyone likes to be seen to be struggling and consequently, some teachers might choose to work in isolation. Perhaps it is fear. I’ve spoken to many colleagues who have identified as suffering from imposter syndrome. Perhaps those of us who have experienced imposter syndrome think that if anyone else got eyes on what we do every day that we would be judged and found to be lacking in some way.  Often teachers will tell me that they don’t have time to share with their colleagues-there just isn’t enough time in the day to collaborate. With the busy pace of education, I know that I have absolutely felt that way. My experience has been that when I take the time to collaborate with others I in fact, have more time and consequently better programming.  It is a concerted effort and takes a trusting relationship to co-plan and co-teach but when it works, it is amazing.

In my role as an instructional leadership consultant I am responsible for two portfolios; Innovation and Technology and the New Teacher Induction Program.  At the beginning of the COVID pandemic as teachers were teaching virtually for the first time, some had never used things like Google apps, FlipGrid and Kahoot. I was doing my best to support teachers with tools for teaching online.  Thankfully, I knew some other teachers that I could reach out to and ask for help.  These teachers, close to the beginning of their careers, were using these tools in the classroom and were able to help design and present webinars to other more seasoned colleagues.  As teachers, we often think that we need to have all of the answers for our students and with one another.  I’ve heard it referred to as the “Sage on the Stage Syndrome.” We seem to feel that we need to stay ahead of everything, which is impossible.  Education is changing more rapidly than ever.  I learned so much from my colleagues over the months that we worked together as a team and even though it was stressful at times, it was also incredibly fun.  I look back now on the powerful outreach our work had and the gratitude that was expressed by our colleagues and I am so glad that I got over myself and asked for help.

In the t.v. drama “New Amsterdam” whenever the new director of the hospital is introduced to someone, the first question that he asks is, “How can I help?”  It happens in the first episode about twenty times. This was a BIG a-ha moment for me.  What a powerful question!  How often have we wanted our students to ask for help?  How often have they refused when we have asked “Can I help you?”or “Do you need help?”  Unfortunately, asking for help is still seen as a weakness by many people.  However the question “How can I help?” turns it around so that the responsibility and focus is on the person offering assistance.  It is more difficult for someone to just say “No.” to this question.  It can help to create psychological safety in order to focus on what can be done to help rather than someone sitting in discomfort or shame because they won’t ask for help.  Sometimes just asking can make all the difference to someone when they are feeling overwhelmed, even if they decline the offer.  The four small words, “How can I help?” can make a powerful impact.  Sometimes, asking for help is the bravest thing you can do.

Attitude of Gratitude

Many years ago I remember watching a gratitude themed Oprah episode.  There was a gratitude journal that the guest had developed and was relaying all of the benefits of writing down things that you were grateful for each day.  The power of suggestion (I’m a sucker for an impulse buy for self-improvement) lead me to the nearest Chapters to purchase one of those journals that weekend.  I certainly didn’t fill that journal. I think I lost interest in a couple of months because it felt as though I was writing the same thing over and over again.  I realize now that gratitude, like mindfulness and meditation, is a “practice.”

Gratitude practice is most effective when life is rough.  It sounds counterintuitive.  It is much easier to be grateful when things are going well right?  Easy to “count your blessings” when you are sitting on a beach in a resort in the Dominican Republic.  I personally feel the power of the gratitude practice when life isn’t going according to plan.  Though, I want to be clear here, there is a fine line between true gratitude practice and “looking on the bright side” or “finding the silver lining.”  That bright-side-silver-lining thinking can border on toxic positivity which isn’t helpful.

Gratitude practice means different things to different people.  For me, it is connected to daily journaling.  Each night since the fall I have been writing about my day in terms of gratitude before going to bed. Some nights I might write for 5 minutes.  Some nights I write for a half hour.  It might read something like, “I’m grateful that we got outside for a walk, that my son felt good about his essay after all of the struggles and tears, that we were able to eat a healthy meal, for Hello Fresh being delivered to my door and for the opportunity to reach out and connect to some new teachers through professional learning today.”  I try to reflect on the events of my day in terms of gratitude.  I could write in my journal that the technology in my professional learning session that day was glitchy, we got off to a rocky start trying to get everyone into the WebEx room, and there were links that didn’t work even though I had tested them twice. Instead, I choose to be grateful for the connection and discussion that I had with the teachers that day.  It isn’t that I ignore that bad things happen or think about how things can be improved, but ruminating on the bad things that happened during the day right before going to bed isn’t going to ensure much of a restful sleep.

In some of the professional learning opportunities that I have recently hosted with new teachers we have discussed the struggles of the current climate in the classroom.  It is important to have a safe place for teachers to voice those concerns and have someone listen with compassion and empathy and ask curious questions.  I will often say that there are many things that I can’t help them with, but that I am there to “embrace the suck” with them.   At the conclusion of those discussions my final question is always, “What is a recent personal or professional success that you’ve experienced that you would like to share with the group?”  This ends the discussion on a note of gratitude. It is SO easy to get caught up in venting and complaining about the situation in education right now. Teaching it is NOT an easy job on any given day but the difficulties have grown exponentially with the pressures that COVID has added.  So when we can take a moment to remember why we continue to go to work each day, why we got into the job in the first place and what our recent wins have been, I think it brings a feeling of hope.

Sometimes I practice gratitude in a less formal way that is more like mindfulness.  Recently while walking on a treed trail on a bright, sunny, winter day with my best friend, I stopped mid sentence and just looked around at the beauty.  I said to my friend, “I just had to take a minute to take this in.  We are so fortunate to be able to walk here.”  It only took a moment.  I don’t do that all of the time, we’d never get anywhere on our walks! However, remembering to do it every so often helps me to deal with stress and the bad things when they do happen.  If in the moment of a stressful situation I can take a moment to breathe and practice gratitude it sometimes keeps the emotions from escalating.  When conversing with someone who is frustrated and perhaps complaining or lashing out I try to remember that this person is doing the best they can at that moment and that each opportunity to interact with someone who is suffering is a chance to learn and I try to be grateful for that.  Author Andrea Owen in her book, “How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t” would call it an AFOG-another flipping opportunity for growth.  When I remember to think about gratitude in a not so great moment, I might do it raised shoulders and through gritted teeth, but I keep trying.  It is, after all a practice.

“If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.” -Brene Brown

Nothing changes but the day

Vernal Equinox

It’s Spring and the recent trip around the sun finds me with some thoughts about fresh starts, green grass, and bunny rabbits bouncing around meadows laying chocolate eggs. Well at least the chocolate part is plausible. Thank you Cadbury. Anything to get my mind off of the fact that more and more schools are closing due to cases of COVID 19. Looking for any rays of hope, my thoughts turned to vaccinations. Now that we have those life saving jabs ready to distribute, things have to get better. Right?

For better or worse? 

My daily exposure to people in my school is around 300 people. That is 20 times greater than the promised/recommended class size for safe in person learning, and 100 times greater than at home. Who am I kidding? It’s exponentially bigger than that as each student has their own web of contacts. Like all educators, I have taken the safety precautions seriously because lives are at stake. Mine and my family members’ at home and school. All I needed to do was remain diligent, follow the protocols, and maintain my distances.

I did find some comfort knowing vaccines were coming. Having ignorantly assured myself, in January, that our provincial government would priortize educators to receive their shots (I’ll wait for you to stop laughing at my naivete). If not so much for our protection, but so that schools could remain safely opened as promised when “no expenses would be spared” was the promise. Our students needed to be back at school so their safety had to be guaranteed. Ventilation, new PPE, increased safety protocols, nurses(heard that one before), and mental health matters.

Meanwhile, at schools a different reality is playing out. Exhaustion and exhasperation while the world around us becomes smaller and smaller through restricted movement, cohorting, fatigue, anxiety, grief, fighting to speak while constantly masked, and becoming an expert at keeping 2 metres apart outside, but only 1 metre apart inside. Don’t forget the learning. What could possibly go wrong or be wrong with such a sweet set up for a learner’s success?

Gorilla in a sport coat

As an educator, nothing says, “You are NOT important to me.” like not being included in the first rounds of vaccinations. This only seemed logical as the numbers of new infections, hospitalizations, and ICU cases were climbing again through the winter and new year break. I take no joy in knowing that they are on the rise again.

The 800 pound gorilla who promised everyone would be safe, especially front-line workers, must have been distracted by something shiny on a can of buck a beer. 3 months into 2021, and despite ETFO demands for action, nothing has been done that gives me or my colleagues confidence that our health and safety are important to the sport coat set in government. As a frontline worker, I can’t help but feel saddened by the obvious message our current provincial government is sending the public about how little it values our profession by not including educators earlier on for vaccinations. Sadly, this inaction and lack of any rational thought of the long term costs will leave all Ontarians crumpling under the weight of lost lives and lost opportunities.

Is it me or are things getting heavier?

The past 3 months on-line and in person have been exhausting. There has not been a single day where I arrive home and am not wiped out mentally and physically. My students are too. This is like being asked to fix a leak on a dam with Play Doh and being told to hold it in place while the water on the other side evapourates.

January passes by, and February too, yet still little concrete news of when educators would be vaccinated. March arrives, our break is postponed in order to save the province from its collective irresponsibilty due to out of country travel and attending large super-spreader events. Now I am thinking about how each school with a case of COVID has the power to become a pint sized super-spreader event.

At my school and hundreds of others, we have had numerous students going home each week due to precautions. As of March 30th a whole class at my school is in isolation as a precaution. This is playing out across the province while restrictions are easing? If this isn’t reason enough for us to be vaccinated sooner rather than later based on data, then perhaps an appealing to compassion would be better since reason is off the table? Who am I kidding? Compassion is not part of their vocabulary because it gets in the way of patronage and profits.

As the inevitability of another lockdown looms in April, I encourage you all to stay safe and continue standing up for our students and profession as you have each and everyday. Make sure to look after yourselves too. I pray that, when this is all over, the ones who were entrusted to look after the health and safety of our public and failed will not be able to hurt our schools anymore.

 

Rejuvenation Through Creation

For me as a kid, there was no better feeling than opening up a new box of 64 Crayola crayons.  The big box with the flip top lid and the sharpener on the side.  I can remember agonizing over which colour to pick first and being so thrilled by the perfection of the colour palette in neat rows in that box.  I loved to draw and colour. I could do it for hours never lifting my attention from the page.  In adulthood, I abandoned doing art for pleasure.  It seemed silly for me to sit around and draw or paint for no real reason.  I felt I should be doing something productive.  A few years ago I began to create art again and realized how much I had missed it and how much joy it brought to my life. I create digital art now, which isn’t quite the same rush as opening a box of crayons but it is easier to share with others-like the picture above.  I have recently learned about the health and wellness benefits of creating. Creating is rejuvenating, it is rest and it is soul food.

Dan Tricarico, in his book “Sanctuaries: Self-Care Secrets for Stressed-Out Teachers”, he talks about how people get lost in an activity that you love so much that the rest of the world seems to fade away.  He calls it a state of “flow”.  I find myself getting into that state of flow when I draw, create music, write, cook or do jigsaw puzzles.  It isn’t that passive state of binge watching something on Netflix.  However, sometimes life’s answer is just that.  The state of flow is active and when I emerge from that state of flow, I feel rested and invigorated.  In Jessie Scholl’s article, “Go With the Flow: How States of Blissful Concentration Can Boost Your Overall Health and Well-Being” she states that, “Flow triggers the opposite of a fight-or-flight response.  Breathing becomes more relaxed, muscles loosen, and heart rate slows.  The specific biochemistry associated with flow varies depending on the activity, but the overall benefits to health and well-being are the same. ”  In fact, a 2018 Forbes article, “Here’s How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health” written by Ashley Stahl, claims that creativity increases happiness, reduces dementia, improves mental health, boosts your immune system and makes you smarter. Well, who doesn’t want all of those things?

You don’t have to be a professional musician, writer, artist or athlete to practice flow.  You can do it with any activity with some level of skill that requires you to pay attention.  It is really a type of active meditation.  Flow can be found with exercise, writing, dancing, baking, gardening, robotics or whatever activity brings you joy.

Don’t have the “time” for a creative pursuit?  It definitely requires some intentional effort to ensure that you take some time each day to pursue what you enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to be for hours but make it a specific small goal. In building anything into a routine or ritual, micro habits are key.  These are tiny steps towards implementation that grow into longer lasting habits. When I started creating art again, I just started with doing 5 minutes a day.  I just drew something.  I wasn’t worried about perfection or even completion.  I started getting lost in the flow and those minutes eventually became hours over time.  I continued to build my time until I created the habit to attempt to do something creative at least twice a week.  Beware of your inner perfectionism critic if you have one, like I do.  Give yourself some self compassion if you get out of the habit.  No one is keeping score and it is meant to be for you and your health and wellness.  When I get lost in stress and the life’s duties I often think, I should probably create something and get into that flow state-it has been a while.  Ultimately, I never regret taking that time away from the rush and hustle.

If your activity is just one more thing on your to-do list, it isn’t going to bring you joy and happiness.  In order for something to really feed your soul, it has to be something you value, something authentically you and something that you want to do because it brings you a sense of flow, peace, focus and energy.  Hopefully you will find something that gives you that “new box of crayons feeling,” whatever that means for you.

 

 

June Tired

Is anyone else June tired in March?

 

The loss of March break has clearly impacted everyone involved in education – students included. The rumours of shut downs coming our way and whisperings of the government cancelling the April break are lurking everywhere I go. The thought of either of these things happening is devastating to me personally for many reasons. 

 

Though we continue to battle a pandemic everyday while committing ourselves to our students, their families and the community – we are tired. We are here. We are doing our best. We are rocking it. But.. we are tired. 

In response to this, I want to get a conversation going. 

What things are you doing for yourself right now? 

Of course, there are many things we are doing for our students to keep learning exciting as we all feel in desperate need of a break. But what are you doing for you? How are you practicing self-care?

Please feel free to comment on this post as a space to share what you are doing for YOU. If you have not done anything for yourself, this is your reminder! 

Take care everyone, secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. 

 

“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love” – Brenè Brown

Staff Relationships: COVID Edition

Everyone wants to feel welcomed, liked and seen at their place of work.

To me, this sense of belonging provides me with the confidence and the resources to have conversations with fellow staff, ask questions when I need help and create new connections.

As an OT, creating meaningful relationships with staff you don’t see daily can be difficult. 

Add in a pandemic with a side of cohorting, social distancing and a dash of remote learning and, like many other things this year, you’ve got yourself a challenge.

This school year, I started Occasional Teaching for a new school board in late September. For me, more connections equals more work and more valuable experience.

Using social media, I have been able to reach out and connect with educators who are seeking Occasional Teachers that are comfortable working in their classrooms. Social media has been a wonderful space to both talk and listen to other people like me. Together, we support each other through the many transitions happening this year, answer each other’s questions and lift each other’s spirits. 

As we approach nearly a year of connecting this way, it feels like the new normal. Will our days soon return where we can attend PD sessions with dozens or hundreds of others? Connecting, talking, listening? 

As our methods of supporting each other constantly evolve, we must continue to place importance on creating and maintaining relationships – no matter how great of a task this may feel. 

As grateful as I am for these online connections, they don’t feel the same. They don’t completely and totally measure up to sharing a coffee with someone or looking them in the eye across the table.

Human connection cannot be replaced.

How have you been creating relationships with fellow staff this year?

No Tired, Like Online Covid Teaching Tired – Rest, Sleep, Restore

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.

It’s been 6 weeks since I started teaching synchronously online and it’s draining me. Before the winter break, I was teaching synchronously online and in class. As a few of my students are solely online, I tried to make them feel included in all our lessons. Being physically in school gave me the opportunity to interact with people, from a distance. I enjoyed my days teaching physically present in school.

But teaching online all day is different. Interacting all day in a virtual class forum drains me.

Teaching online is also lonely. Yes, I get to spend my day talking to students through my online meeting platform. But in this lockdown, I am isolated as my partner is often away working for the Red Cross. It’s just me and my 19-year-old cat, Whitney.

When I was teaching in class, I had a chance to go for a walk, stretch my legs, visit with colleagues (via social distancing) and get outside during my recess duty. While teaching solely online, I am stuck in my home office at my desk.

For me, teaching is more than just explaining and guiding via lessons. Teaching is all about reading how students are feeling about their work and figuring out how to help them understand content and the ideas within the content. When I teach exclusively online, I feel blind as I cannot use my senses to read students’ moods and body language. This means I need to focus solely on students voices and asking questions to promote clarifications within students’ work.

One day, it was particularly challenging as I was dealing with a student who was having challenges attending online. I dealt with constant interruptions while teaching. I told the student that I would help them separately on a one-on-one basis. Their mother was also calling me on my cell phone about this student’s behaviour/mood. I heard the student state that “My mom wants to talk to you right now!” I informed the student that I would help them later and that I would call their mother after school was over. When I did go to help the student, they had left the online meeting. Mom did not pick up when I called.

I usually have a solid attention span, but this situation threw me off. While teaching about the surface area of 3D solids, I made a mistake forgetting that the formula for the area of a triangle is base times height divided by two. It was embarrassing but I turned it into a learning opportunity by explaining that I learned about math by making many mistakes.

I find being online all the time, exhausting. It’s pushed me towards burn out were I sit wanting to do nothing. I am also dealing with ongoing insomnia. My mood is leaning towards more being cranky than experiencing anxiety.

Being online sucks my “social” energy until it is gone.

As I try to write about issues that are informative and helpful to teachers, I’ve included some things that I’ve found helpful being isolated during this lockdown.

Acknowledge Yourself

Taking steps to care for yourself is not a selfish act as it is critical to your happiness and wellbeing. Without self care and setting limits with work, your physical and mental health will be impacted. Your effectiveness in your work will deteriorate. Work less to be more effective.

Restore Yourself

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Take time to do something you love.

This could be taking up a hobby you’ve  done in the past or reading books you’ve wanted to read. I’ve learned if I work too much, I become less effective. Taking time to restore myself with non work activities makes me more effective as a teacher in my practice. My hobby? I’ve returned to my cross-stitch, focusing on making “Really Cross Stitch” by @haleykscissors which has been fun and cathartic!

Calling Friends and Colleagues

Talking to friends and colleagues connects me to others and gives me joy to hear their voices. I have not seen some of my friends and colleagues, face-to-face, in over a year now. I miss the regular collegial conversations we once had at work. Reaching out to others also supports them in this time of isolation. It keeps us connected, even though we are apart.

Sleep Hygiene

Getting to sleep is an ongoing issue for me. Waking up is worse as I feel like “molasses flowing in February.”

When I am overworked, I find it hard to relax enough to fall asleep. Being relaxed before sleep means sleep comes quicker. I takes steps to make sure that I do not take any stimulants past 1 pm, drinking only decaffeinated teas at night. I even refrain from chocolate.

My need to fall asleep challenges me as my partner virtually falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. I end up listening to him and my cat softly snore while I toss and turn, flipping like a fish in bed. The worse thing I can do is look at the clock, noting how long it has taken me to get to sleep. Some nights one, two, and three hours pass before sleep finds me.

When reading up on how to get a better sleep, I’ve found some tips that might promote sleep and establish an improved sleep hygiene :

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends!)
  • Set an alarm to go to bed, as well as to wake up
  • Take a bath with bath salts
  • Hydrate with warm caffeine-free drinks
  • Skip alcohol before bed
  • Try to let go of your daily “drama” related to work and/or family
  • Big one for me – stay off social media (I’m known for my late-night Twitter posts)

Readers, if you have any other tips to pass on, please note them in the comment section.

Wishing you more rest, sleep, & restoration,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD