5 Ways to Stay Alive Until Summer

We’re almost there, summer.  You can see it on the calendar, you’ve started making travel arrangements, and your classes are nearing the end of the syllabus!  Also, if you’re anything like most of us, you’re tired right now and hanging on the edge.  We all understand and totally get it, summer is coming and it will be gloriously refreshing and help us all recharge.  However, we’ve still got a few weeks left – how do we find the energy to get to the end?  

I read a couple great blog posts the other day that inspired my post this week, I like some of the ideas and will share those here along with a few of my own.

  1. Stay planned and organized:  The end of the school year is always crazy because there are a million things happening around school.  If you have kids of your own you’re juggling their end of year schedules too!  Similarly, if you’re moving away there are countless numbers of things that need to get done before the end of the year.  How do you do it all without the stress wearing you down?  Get organized.  Not only does this help relieve stress but the feeling of achievement as you cross things off your to-do list will give you the much needed boost of dopamine.  You’ll feel better and in turn be more motivated to keep moving forward 🙂
  2. Take some time to reflect:  The school year has been wild and crazy, and busy!  And if you’re struggling with staying organized (see #1) you probably haven’t taken much time to do this yet this school year.  I know you’re busy but hear me out – taking time to reflect on your successes this school year can help you relive the positive experiences and boost your serotonin.  Serotonin is a natural antidepressant and a chemical in our body produced to help us feel good and positive!  On a similar note, if you’d rather help make someone else’s day, write them a note to show your gratitude…it will make both of you feel better!
  3. Take a chance to breathe and find work/life balance:  This might be the hardest thing to do as we try to squeeze in every last bit this school year.  However, it may be the most important thing we can do for ourselves.  Taking a walk, going for a run, doing some yoga, seeing a movie, or reading a book are all possible ways you might step away from the craziness of everyday life.  Whether it’s 30 minutes before or after work, or an afternoon on a Saturday, take some time for yourself to unwind and relax.  I just looked back and realized that I wrote about this very same idea almost exactly one year ago – it’s that time of year!  
  4. The First Five:  It’s okay to stop and give a few minutes of your class time over to talking with your students about non-academic stuff (gasp!)  Yes, it is, really…give it a try!  I’ve written about the importance of positive relationships with our students and that doesn’t stop.  Keep the lines of communication open with your students by showing that you still care about them, even with the craziness of the end of the year upon you.  Not only will your students feel better but so will you, the connection helps everyone feel like there is more than just content, content, content.  
  5. Face the FOMO:  It’s the end of the year.  There will be parties, gatherings, group outings, and all sorts of social events.  Just like I tell new teachers at the beginning of the year – you don’t have to do everything, in fact skipping some things is healthy!  FOMO or “fear of missing out” is real…no one wants to be the only person to miss the party and they certainly don’t want to be sitting at home thinking that everyone else if having fun without them!  However, sometimes that’s okay, in fact it’s more than okay.  Taking a night off and missing a social event is a healthy choice, especially when you know there are a million things getting squeezed into the last few days of the school year.  We’ll never be able to do everything and we have to be okay with that, knowing that our lives are full of wonderful experiences and missing this one won’t ruin our lives!  

The school year is winding down quickly and so is my time here at AC and in Ecuador.  In fact, I just counted and there are only 43 days left.  I’ve got four trips planned, a hike up Pichincha, International Festival, my birthday, 29 school days, countless parties, and waaaay too many things on my to-do list.  Perhaps I wrote this post more for myself than anyone!!  It’s that time of year, be good to yourself and be good for each other!!

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Burning Burnout

This week I was inspired by a couple articles that I came across on social media.  I find articles all over the internet, sometimes on social media, sometimes by reading educational blogs, and other times from regular email lists I’ve subscribed to.  Both of the articles that have inspired me this week come at a very poignant time for me and many of our colleagues.  

The first article that caught my eye is from Harvard Business Review and is written with managers (aren’t all educators managers?) in mind, the topic is burnout and how to avoid it in a hectic and go-go work place.  We’ve been going full-steam ahead for the better part of the last three months and everyone is more than ready for the upcoming holiday.  I’ve written about balance and how important it is to achieve at least a semblance of equilibrium in our lives.  This article does a tremendous job of identifying some of the most important warning signs as well as prevention methods for burnout.  

 

  • Prioritize Self-Care:

 

      • Good sleep habits
      • Nutrition
      • Exercise
      • Social connections
      • “Practices that promote equanimity and well being”

 

  • Shift Your Perspective:

 

      • I believe that the second article this week really shares a very important and interesting perspective on teaching.  The article, “My Name Is Tom. I’ve Been a Teacher for 10 Years and I Still Get My Ass Kicked Nearly Every Day”, is an outstanding piece about maintaining a growth mindset perspective as a teacher.
      • As Tom (from the article above) says, “The struggle isn’t just inevitable, it’s important. It shows us where to get better, where to adapt, where to throw out the old answers and come up with some new ones.”

 

  • Reduce exposure to job-stressors:

 

      • Be a professional, not a servant.
      • Set reasonable boundaries for yourself.
      • Give yourself permission to stop.

 

  • Seek Out Connections:

 

    • This is perhaps the best antidote to burnout…
    • Find rich personal connections.
    • Pursue meaningful personal and professional development.
    • Remember:  You’re not the only one!  

As Tom mentions, the struggle is real!  Remember, one of the most important pieces from above, we’re all in a similar position.  Reach out to your colleagues, make those connections and be good for each other 🙂

Granting Ourselves Permission

We have to grant ourselves permission to stop at some point, this is education and we could work 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives and the work still wouldn’t be finished.  The importance of slowing down and giving ourselves permission to search for balance in our lives is a crucial element of success in education.  

Each day that we work with our students we should be at our very best, but the reality is that none of us can honestly say that we’re doing this.  We come to school tired, sick, and overwhelmed by outside influences.  This is normal, everyone does this and that’s okay (to a point…stay home if you’re contagious!).  No one is going to have their best day every time they wake up and there’s a reason for that, we’re human.  However, despite being human, we are still able to control a lot of the factors that determine how balanced we remain.

We can help ourselves stay as healthy as possible by tending to our diet and exercise, we can ensure that we get enough sleep, and we can maintain healthy stress levels through yoga, meditation, or another relaxing activity.  Perhaps the most important way that we can help ourselves to stay fresh and in peak form is to grant ourselves the permission to stop.  Perhaps in no other profession does the anxiety over “getting everything done” build as quickly as it does in education.  After all, we’ve got these kids’ futures in our hands, if we don’t teach them everything they need they’ll never learn it…right?!?

Well, here’s a possible wake up call for you, if you’re burned out then your students aren’t going to learn much of anything from you!  Very often as educators we get caught in a cycle of coming in early, staying late, and then taking work home.  We want to try new strategies, give quality feedback, engage our students and increase student learning.  Don’t get me wrong, we should be doing those things…BUT…we need to do it at a sustainable pace, one at which we can stay healthy, relaxed and present for our students.  Find your limits and hold yourself to them without going over, it’s a long fall if you go over the edge.

It is essential that we acknowledge the fact that the work is never going to feel like it is done, that there will always be something more we could do.  Granting ourselves permission to draw a line and stop pushing for the sake of our own sanity must happen, or we will all work ourselves into the ground.  Prepare yourself at the beginning of the year, month, or unit.  Allot yourself time to complete the absolute essentials, then allot time for the balance outside of school,  and finally you can use what is left over to let yourself run wild with the “extras”.  To successfully maintain balance we need to plan for it and make it a priority.  

Including teacher inservice days we’ve been back to work for seven weeks now.  For new teachers tack on two more weeks dating back to your arrivals.  Some of you also spent a full week with kids on Discover Ecuador.  It seems like we just started school but we’re already well into the year!  Take a minute to check-in with yourself…are you getting the right amount of rest, what about your diet and exercise, and have you taken the appropriate time to decompress and relax on the weekends or with friends?

Grant yourself permission.

Pushing Forward with School Culture

Last week I wrote about school culture and how it is, perhaps, the single most important piece to achieving the academic success that we strive for in education.  I’ve continued thinking about the importance of shaping a school’s culture and have had a lot of conversations and feedback based on last week’s post (thank you to everyone for your thoughts!)  As a result of all these conversations I decided to start trying (and modeling) a few strategies that I thought could be beneficial to further engage our student and parent populations.  I’ve found a high level of success at the initial level and I’m excited about some of the feedback I’ve received from parents and students alike.

In the past I’ve written about the importance of feedback and how giving and receiving feedback are things that people need to practice.  Similarly, I read Thanks For the Feedback a while back, upon Dan’s recommendation, and have been thinking a lot about the concept of learning to receive feedback.  There are a lot of factors at play when receiving feedback, which is what we’re asking our students and parents to do as part of the process of further engaging with academics.  One of the most impactful ideas is that people need to be in the right mindset when receiving feedback, otherwise it may fall on deaf ears and be ignored.  

One challenge that exists when sharing feedback with students and parents is that all too often we only make time to share the “negative” feedback, the stuff intended to help our students improve and grow.  This is essential information and must be shared with students and parents, but it’s not the only piece.  Balance is an important part of life, in all aspects, and when it comes to feedback there is no difference.  In order to reach a level of balance in student/parent communication that will act to further engage these stakeholders we have to ensure that we aren’t solely focused on the “negative.”  If we only contact parents about “negative” issues or approach students with “negative” feedback they will begin to block us out and our feedback will be completely lost.  

Which brings me to my idea, one of a few I’ve been trying out lately…and seeing incredible results!  Positive messages home.  I’m not making things up just to have an excuse to contact parents and celebrate their kids.  Rather, I’m looking for the positive and taking the time to share the celebration with students and parents.  Meanwhile, I continue to make my usual parent contacts for less desirable reasons (detentions, missing work, etc.)  What I’ve noticed is that when I copy (CC) parents on these messages to the students (I always do this), I’m receiving a response from the parents 85% of the time when I share a positive message, compared to an approximate 20% response rate for “negative” messages.  One of my (many) theories is that as we engage more parents with positive messages that our response rate on “negative” messages will increase.  It’s only natural, that as parents begin to see that we’re in this together, that they’ll begin to engage further with their students academic pursuits.  When I have kids come up and thank me for sharing a positive message with their parents I know that they’ve had a conversation around this topic.  My hope is that we can find a way to help parents open the lines of communication by starting with the positive, then when the “negative” arises they’ve already established a path for having these conversations.

It takes a village to raise a child and we’re all in this together.  After a few conversations around this topic, some teachers have already jumped on the bandwagon and have begun to share more frequent (both positive and “negative”) messages home, with wonderful results.  If you’re keen to help continue this surge toward a more positive school culture I encourage you to give this a try.  Let me know if you’re thinking about it and I can give you some time-saving tips to help prevent spinning your wheels unnecessarily.  There’s no better time than the present to celebrate the wonderful students we are fortunate enough to work with every day, you never know when that one positive note home is going to change something for a student or parent!  

Maintaining Balance in a Hectic Life

This past week I had to stay home sick, something I don’t do very often.  I know why I got sick.  It wasn’t some bad fish, it wasn’t because I went outside with wet hair (although the dunk tank surely didn’t help), it was because I hadn’t done a good enough job of taking care of myself and finding balance in my life.  I pushed my body too far and it finally gave-in to something I would’ve normally fought off.  

It’s easy to do, push ourselves too far.  We’re all dedicated professionals who work hard to help our students become successful.  We also like to have our own lives.  In my case, I normally spend the weekends resting and relaxing.  I do some reading, cooking, and try to get outside a few times to enjoy the weather and this beautiful country.  That recharges my batteries or, as Stephen Covey used to say, helps me “sharpen the saw”.  However, these last few weeks I didn’t do that very well (owing to traveling for AASSA and a full day at the We Are Ecuador event) and the result was me getting knocked back so far that I needed a day in the middle of the week to recover.

What do you do to help make sure that you lead a balanced and healthy life?  Getting plenty of exercise is certainly important but, as I realized after last week, exercising while your body is trying to fight off sickness might not be the best idea.  We have to know when to slow down and pull back on our regular routines.  Whether it’s skipping a Tuesday night Zumba class in favor of lounging on the couch to give your body some rest or postponing a weekend trip to climb Fuya Fuya, we have to recognize when our bodies are nearing a breaking point.

I want to keep this short and sweet this week.  Take some time for yourself to make sure you’re feeling recharged and fresh for our students…more importantly, for you!  Step back and ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success for this last downhill run, we’re almost to summer…take care of yourselves and it will be here before you know it 🙂

How You’re Changing the World

Why do we put ourselves through it all?  The long hours, the stress, the students who “don’t listen”, and all the thankless effort.  Our students are with us for a year, maybe two, and then they move on to some other teacher – sometimes at a completely different school on the other side of the world.  We invest our blood, sweat, and tears and see very little in the way of immediate returns.  Of course, we see them grow, we see the progress as they become better writers, mathematicians, artists, scientists – and for many of us that is enough, we can sit back at night with a glass of wine and know that we’ve made a difference in the world and improved our students’ lives.  

A common story in my hometown was that kids went to college and came back to the area with a comfortable job and happy life.  You’d bump into your fifth grade teacher at the grocery store and explain to YOUR kids that, “this was daddy’s teacher when he was in fifth grade.”  I’m sure that still happens in good old Waukesha, Wisconsin but in the world of international teaching it’s pretty rare to just bump into your former students.

So thank goodness for the internet, it allows us to stay connected to friends, family, and former colleagues and students all over the world.  We’re able to “bump into” our former students as they do amazing things.  In 10+ years I’ve met, taught, and coached an awful lot of students from all parts of the world, literally – Texas, Italy, China and now Ecuador.  Every once in awhile, seemingly when I need it the most, the world sends me a message.  I want to share a couple with you to give you a taste of some of the things YOUR former students are doing out in the world.  These two young adults are certainly special but they aren’t unique, they represent their peers.

I taught Xien during my first year as a teacher in Houston, Texas while I was there through Teach For America.  For almost 10 years he and I had been out of contact, until Facebook recommended us to be “friends”.  As soon as we connected, Xien shared an article with me.  He has become a successful programmer while studying at Texas Southern University.  Some of the work he’s done while working in a summer internship has helped NASA, incredible stuff.  Xien is literally changing the world.

This morning as I was still half asleep I was scrolling through Twitter and the #Learning2 hashtag when I saw this video.  The Learning2 conference (coming to Quito in October) is happening right now at the American School of Milan, where I formerly taught 5th grade.  As I was scrolling down I saw the name of one of my former students mentioned in a Tweet, turns out she presented a TED-style talk at the opening of the conference.  It was AMAZING.  She stood up at an educational conference and told everyone what was wrong with the current educational model of stressing students out and “unbalancing” them during their high school years.  Brilliant.  

These are just two small examples of some of the amazing things our students get themselves into after they leave our classrooms.  Whether you teach Pre-K, fifth grade, or high school your students are going on to do amazing things.  What you’re doing right now might just be the driver for their success.  What you’re doing with these kids today may, literally, help them change the world in the future!  

Today could be the day you change someone’s life forever…are you ready?

The Middle School Balance

A couple weeks ago we sent out applications for the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) to all of the students who qualified academically.  We sent out just over 90 letters in the Middle School congratulating those students on their academic efforts.  Along with that letter went an application to share all of their awesomeness with the NJHS Faculty Committee who would be voting on this year’s NJHS class.  What we got back was inspiring to say the least!

56 students returned applications for the National Junior Honor Society which focuses on the five pillars of: Scholarship, Leadership, Service, Citizenship, and Character.  We are all well aware of the academic capabilities of the students.  It was downright impressive, however, to see the amount of opportunities our students have to get involved (in our school AND community) on display via these applications.  These are opportunities that wouldn’t happen without you, your time, and your efforts!  Our students are flat out lucky to have such amazing people working at their school; people who are willing to get involved to make the community a better place for the kids.

Being away on China Trips last week and hearing all of the positive comments from kids about how much fun they were having as well as seeing them push their limits and learn new things was a very positive experience.  Then to follow it up this week by looking at all of these amazing student applications and all of the wonderful stuff they’ve gotten involved with really strengthens my belief that we’ve created a well rounded and balanced program for our Middle School students.

When we look at how we live our own lives we can appreciate the importance of balance.  Whether it’s finding time to workout, read, enjoy the city around us or try new things we all find ways to manage our lives in a healthy way that doesn’t allow work to take over completely.  This important part of living a successful life is what we’ve used as the foundational belief for how our Middle School functions.  Creating a program that guides students toward living balanced lives is at the core of our Middle School.  As our students move to high school this balanced approach to life becomes even more important as they learn to tackle the rigors of independence.  Looking past high school we can all attest to the need for balance in our lives as college students and beyond, into the “Real World”.

Thanks to your willingness to offer amazing opportunities for our kids to get involved with leadership, service, and other amazing after school activities we’ve put our Middle School kids on the path to successful, balanced lives!  All of your efforts, both inside and outside of the classroom, are what make SCIS an amazing place for our students to learn and grow through their middle school years!!