Holy cow, this is a crazy time! I wrote a post about this earlier in the week, but I ended up taking it down after being asked repeatedly by people if I was OK. I decided I needed to rethink my approach, so here we are. Let’s break this situation down.
Number one for pretty much everyone across the globe is a stark and sudden change to the way we lead our lives. Since we’re in the business of teaching and learning, what does this mean for us? Well, everything we have ever been trained as teachers to do – behaviour management, our ability to present new learning in a variety of ways to meet the needs of all learners, our focus on wellbeing based on the daily signs we see in our students – it has all gone out the window. From one day to the next we suddenly found ourselves in this new environment, trying to teach students that we couldn’t see, using a platform that neither ourselves, nor the students, are familiar and comfortable with. We don’t really know how much we’re expected to teach them, or how much we’re accountable for, and there are differing opinions about, among many other things, whether we should check in with students via live meetings, or whether this is too much of an invasion of privacy.
Parents have suddenly changed their roles as well. They are trying to parent and teach, sometimes coming from a background of very little education. They have multiple children at home, all working with different teachers who have different expectations. Many of these parents are trying to work from home themselves whilst overseeing their children’s learning, and some of them are teachers, teaching someone else’s children online, meanwhile trying to support their own kids’ learning. What??? This is hectic!!!
So, my question is, what are your expectations on yourselves? I’ll tell what I have done, just as I always do through stressful situations without realising until after the fact – I began comparing myself to people who were worse off. I kept on saying “well, at least I still have a job”, without giving myself credit for the chaos that I am dealing with on a daily basis. I mean, it’s great to be thankful for our own situation, but we need to be a little compassionate towards ourselves as well. I have seen so much of my old paranoia and insecurities creep back in. It was like an opening was created for that scared, nervous little girl who was the driver of so many of my “issues” for so long. The wonderful thing is that this time I spotted her fairly swiftly. I reassured her that I would take care of her, and I sent her on her way. But I have to keep reminding myself of that promise.
How can we not become insecure when we suddenly have a new job to do, with no-one to guide us from a place of experience and knowledge? How can we not feel inadequate when we see those posts on Instagram and Pinterest from super creative teachers who have found ingenious ways to engage their students through this new platform. All of a sudden we’re thinking that we suck compared to all of these tech savvy show ponies! We think other people – teachers and parents – are judging us as incompetent. Well, that’s where my head started to go, anyway. It didn’t help when, through those early days of the pandemic, our own Government seemed to deem us as unimportant – they didn’t appear to care that so many of us were vulnerable to the disease, maintaining a focus only on the fact that the children weren’t. At least this began to change as things developed. I am blessed to be part of a school where our leaders have our backs, and parents, for the most part, appreciate our efforts and understand that the changes have been as challenging for us as they have been for them. We put out a parent survey at the end of last week, and the parent comments were overwhelmingly positive and supportive. I hope that people everywhere are having similar experiences.
So, how do we keep ourselves grounded through this? And I must add here that it is of utmost importance that we DO keep our feet on the ground. Those children might not be in front of us each day, but they are watching to see how we respond to this, nonetheless. I think we need to start with a mantra. I do it through a short morning meditation, reminding myself that I am doing the very best that I can do with what I have been given. I focus on keeping myself open to learning new ways, but remind myself that I must be realistic in my expectations.
We also need to set ourselves a schedule, particularly when we’re working from home. I start my days at home at 7:30am. I am getting better at stopping for a proper lunch and movement break, and have set up my yoga mat in my home office for regular stretches. I am not into sitting in front of the computer for an entire day, but there has simply been no way around it in these early weeks. I MUST learn new things on here, and so I have been gentle with myself about it. I make sure that I finish off and shut down my computer by 4pm. I have a daughter who is in year 10, and I have to check in with her about her learning as well. I am SO thankful that she is very independent in this, and my biggest struggle is getting her to leave her bedroom!
This week I am going to try setting up my day with the morning for staff and student conferences, answering questions, live check-ins, and filming the daily message out to families; researching and planning the next stage of learning in the middle session (tutorials, Facebook groups, Google searches, etc.), and marking and doing an end of day check in the afternoon. After the school day has finished I plan to mark student work, record student attendance/exchanges, and make contact with the students I haven’t heard from for 2 school days in a row. I will also use this time to answer questions from parents and get anything sent off that students are needing. I’ll let you know whether it all goes to plan.
As always, there is the constant battle between work and home lives. I aim to get in the habit of closing my office door after I finish my work day, and I always take at least one full, uninterrupted day off on the weekend. It is tempting to just do a little more when we are pretty much housebound, but I plan to revisit lots of my old hobbies. By the time this is over I will be fluent in Spanish, I’ll be making my own jewelry, I will have macrame wall hangings everywhere, and I will have written the book I’ve been thinking about since I was 14 years old. You just watch me…
Exercise is majorly important for our wellbeing, especially now that our job has suddenly become sedentary! I need to be moving for my brain chemistry as much for my physical fitness, so I make sure I get out to walk the dog or go for a run each day. There are great yoga classes online. My favourite is Yoga with Adrienne! I swear that EVERYONE can benefit from this, and it’s so doable in your own home!
We need to make sure we’re eating properly as well. I have been surprised in the first few days when suddenly I realised that the school daywas almost over and I hadn’t stopped for lunch! I thought the opposite would be the problem – constantly snacking out of boredom. But there is no time for boredom at all! I already had an alarm set for 5 minutes before the schoolday lunch hour, so I am going to really use that as my strict stopping time this week. I will get myself organised in the morning so that I have fruit and healthy snacks close by for eating at the desk outside of the lunch break.
There is one other thing that we have to protect ourselves against. Whilst we have mostly supportive parents in our school, I will share a story that provided a great learning and growing opportunity for me. My students were chatting to one another through Microsoft Teams in the morning. I used to say “work-related comments only”, but I soon realised that my students are desperate for some contact with their peers, so I have let the morning greetings go lately. I step in and remind them of expectations if they overstep a mark, but generally they’re appropriate and positive. On this occasion I had just reminded the students that they all needed to have a look at their literacy learning grids before our meeting so that they could tell me which activities they planned to do. One student said that he was unable to check his because his mother hadn’t gotten his things ready yet. I made a comment about how, as a year 6 student, he should be responsible for his own materials. I did it in a lighthearted way, and I wasn’t very serious when I said “take some responsibility, young man”. Now, he knows me, and would have known that I was half joking; but, of course, Mum doesn’t know me that well, and without my facial expressions, or the tone of voice, she thought I was “rousing” on her son. A big lesson for me! Be mindful of how much is lost in written communication. Of course, I apologised, and explained the situation as best I could, but Mum did not want to let it go. I checked in with my Executive, and they agreed that I had not actually done anything wrong, but that it could easily be misinterpreted and I was right to send the response I did. When the parent continued to send messages further messages about the same incident, I quickly disengaged with her and made the decision that I would refer her to my Principal if she had anything further to say.
My reason for sharing this story is that we are bound to have more issues like this one in this flipped learning situation. Suddenly we have parents in our learning environment. Now, I have nothing to hide, and don’t generally have a problem with this, but we need to acknowledge that this is another reason why we should be kind to ourselves. We didn’t negotiate any of these professional observations, and they won’t be referred to in our PDPs, but there is no way to avoid them. We must remind ourselves that we are the masters of our own craft, and call on the confidence with which we deliver our lessons in our classroom as we step into other people’s homes (virtually) to do our job. If parents are not happy with the job you’re doing, ask yourself if you are happy with your efforts. If the answer is “no”, learn from it and then let it go. We are doing no-one any favours by getting upset about what parents think of us.
There you have it. There are so many difficult things you are facing. I implore you to be gentle with yourselves. When in crisis mode we all tend to judge everyone around us so harshly, and this is only because we are scared. All of the darker emotions come from fear, and here is the biggest threat to our collective safety and wellbeing that we have ever known. Refrain from judging the frightened people fighting over toilet paper. Be patient with the parent who is trying to work from home and supervise the learning of four children at the same time. And give yourself a break. We’re all doing the very best we can with the tools and the knowledge that we have in this moment. Keep your heart open and be kind – to others as well as to yourself!