MORRISTOWN, NJ - Recently there was an article by Keisha Easley on Education Week entitled "I've Been Teaching Online for Years. Here's How to Prevent Burnout During a School Closure" (link here). It sparked a conversation between some ot the educators at Unity Charter School over the importance of self-care during these most confusing and stressful times.
"We’ve seen the string of memes and gifs about parents wanting teachers to receive “a $1.5 billion salary increase”" said Kristopher Scotto. "The positive feedback has been overwhelming. Yet each teacher arrives each day in school, ready to help create a better future by inspiring children, engaging minds and preparing them socially and emotionally to adapt to anything that comes their way. That resiliency was on full display this week. One of my favorite Gifs was one that stated, “look to the children, they will get us through this”. That Gif resonated with me as an educator and as a father. To be completely transparent, the amount of stress put on teachers to plan, differentiate, scaffold, create hands-on learning experiences, video chat students, answer questions, film themselves teaching Math, Science, ELA, Art, Physical Education, Foreign Languages (just to name a few), and a plethora of other experiences needed to keep students engaged, while attached to their computer is draining, time-consuming, stressful, and honestly, more difficult than teaching in a brick-and-mortar school. So as we venture into another week of virtual learning, let’s take time to remember that with all that is happening, finding balance is key".
According to Scotto, Easley speaks of 5 self care tips that are all important in their own right.
"I will paraphrase her words for the first 4 (adding in some personal tips) and then elaborate on the fifth, as it speaks to more of our general population, not just educational professionals", said Scotto.
Conduct essential self-care activities first
Brushing teeth, putting on “real” clothes - I quantify “real” as if in an emergency were to happen, could you leave your hours at a moment's notice, even putting on make-up and shaving (guilty on this one) could honestly make yourself feel better for that random video chat you have to have with that certain 6th grade student who cannot complete any assignments without them seeing your face telling them how to do it - trust me on this one.
Plan your week, schedule tasks that need to get done
This is true for a normal school/work day and should carry-on to your WFH (work from home) schedule as well. Must-dos, should-dos, can-dos in that order is how I’ve always prioritized my day, and it is especially helpful now that I’m at home teaching my fifty students plus entertaining two young children of my own at home. Mixing job activities with home activities seems daunting, but I know that when my scheduled Do Now activity goes out five minutes before class starts at 8:25 am, I have until 8:40 to unload and reload the dishwasher, or make sure my own children are set up with their morning learning activities, Disney movie, Legos, Sand Art, etc.
Set some alarms on your phone
This ties in nicely with number 2 on this list and is pretty self-explanatory. If you struggle with maintaining a schedule or dive into tasks unknowingly how long they may take (writing this article for me), setting reminder alarms or “stop doing this activity and move on to the next one” alarms might be extremely helpful - they have been for me.
Two words: Meal Prep
I can personally thank my wife (also a teacher) for helping me with this one. Even before I went “Doomsday” food shopping two weeks ago, she planned out breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the whole family, or at least options for all of us. This has simplified life for us and we are honestly treating it as “one less thing” during our hectic day. And please, do not think that you need to be on some Keto/Paleo/Carb-Free/Low-Fat/Sugar Free diet and workout three times a day in order to pre-cook all of your meals for the week - I’ve also been there - but in times like these, it just makes more sense.
Outdoors is not closed
"This is, by far, the most important aspect of self-care on this list. We, as educators, parents, and the WFH workforce have an option to work from anywhere within our homes - even outside of it" continued Scotto. "I conducted ⅔ of my lessons last Thursday from my backyard with my kids running around me - it can be done and the sunshine felt better than sitting in my living room. The other part of this is that as parks, playgrounds, and other group meeting sites get closed or shut down, there are still physical activities that can be done: walking, running, and cycling are all viable options for anyone, no matter the age or fitness level".
"As a Cross Country & Track coach, I am obviously biased, but this quarantine and WFH life has improved my personal fitness tenfold. Not only that, but I can take my own children on a walk in the morning, afternoon, and night and they are becoming more physically active and when my wife joins us, it is an amazing family bonding experience. Those moments can be few and far between, but as we practice balance they can become more frequent and richer".
Being sedentary is already being programmed into our children’s brains, and this virtual learning experience that was thrusted upon us for students, teachers, and parents will only enhance that programming (or diminish it, depending on how you look at it) if we do not get our entire community out and moving.
"As we progress educators will adapt", he said. "This Friday, I actually asked two of my classes to get off the computer and work on projects - even encouraging my 7th graders to go outside and run for at least 5 minutes so they could calculate their speed in miles per hour and see how long it would take them to complete the 100 mile Western States Ultramarathon. The fact that 11 out of my 12 students all sent me their data. Two sent me videos of themselves running. This was indicative how their want to interact in mult-faceted ways not just in front of a computer screen".
"It is possible for us, as a community, to reduce stress and prevent burnout through self care. It just takes some reflection and planning in the beginning of each week to put a solid plan in place. As a teacher, with two children at home, , I cannot explain how much giving some time back to myself has helped me get through this first week of virtual teaching. Shaving might still be too time-consuming for me, but prepping meals, activities for my own children, and getting out as much outside time as possible have really reduced my mental stress by improving my physical well-being".
"I’ll leave you with a quote from Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston Marathon winner and American Journalist - “There is no failure in running, or in life, as long as you keep moving.”