Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Overwhelmed? Think Three Ts

Being stretched and stressed seems to be part of a teacher's job description. Few teachers are able to work a 40-hour work week and achieve a healthy work/life balance. Some do, but I think it's safe to say that most educators' plates stay way full. And as if there wasn't enough already, along came Covid. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been a source of enormous stress for everyone, but especially educators. It's now September and while the curve has flattened in many areas, the virus does not seem to be going away anytime soon. But learning can't wait and we are moving forward with safety protocols in place. Although North Carolina is on Plan B which allows for in-person instruction with social distancing and other safety guidelines, our district has opted to start the school year with K-12 remote instruction and it's been quite overwhelming. But whether we teach remotely, face-to-face or in a hybrid model, there are new technologies, routines and requirements brought on by this pandemic and it seems every single educator is barely keeping their head above water. Some changes are temporary, but I highly suspect much of it will stick. Needless to say all this newness is causing educators to be stretched very thin - especially for those that have children at home. A lack of work/life balance can adversely affect not only our teaching, but also our health. I'm concerned that if we don't make some adjustments the exhaustion and stress can be just as hazardous as the virus we are trying to steer clear of.  

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While you may think there's little you can adjust, think Three T's: Toss, Tweak and Treasure.
  • What can we toss? If you are a tech enthusiast like me, you may be quick to jump in and try the latest toys to help stay remotely connected. But if we are not careful, those tech tools or novel strategies that may seem very promising may not actually be very beneficial and take us away from that which is priority. So, if it's not mandated by your school or district, it's not essential to remote learning, not required for your curriculum, and/or not really making teaching and learning more effective, toss it (or save it for later in the year). 
  • What can we tweak? Is there a routine or strategy that can be implemented a little differently? Perhaps there's a step you can omit? Could you record your lessons and use a tool like Edpuzzle that helps with checking for understanding, automatically grades and integrates with most learning management systems? There may be something you've successfully implemented in the past that perhaps can be digitized and used in remote learning. Reach out to a colleague or an instructional coach for time-saving tools, tips and pointers. Sometimes slight tweaks that can make a huge difference. Watch "212 - The Extra Degree."
  • What do we treasure? Our greatest treasures are people and relationships. Students are the reason we do what we do, but we also need our colleagues, parents and other stakeholders to keep us moving forward. But there are also some tech treasures that while initially overwhelming are winning our hearts and are becoming a staple in our practice. For us, district-wide implementation of Canvas LMS and Social & Emotional Learning, as well as school-wide implementation of Zoom are proving invaluable. And the consistency has been well-received and appreciated by students, parents and staff, most notably the use of Canvas. Prior to Covid, we were free to use the learning management system of choice (or none at all, although most used either Canvas or Google Classroom). Nevertheless, it's been exhausting as we've had to work through the summer in order to prepare for changes implemented this fall. I will say that we need to be careful to not throw out the baby with the bath water as things start to normalize. Before we consider tossing something new, we need to give it some time. As we become more familiar with new technologies, new curricula or new routines, the more speed we'll pickup and the more comfortable and relaxed we will feel. Much of our exhaustion is due to all the newness teaching in a pandemic has brought us. 
We are now in our fourth week of school and we are starting to adjust to this new normal. So if you are just starting the school year, please know that things will get better. Social media is loaded with posts from teachers venting their frustration and exhaustion. But as I read every post, I'm also encouraged by the unwavering commitment and dedication.

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Most of us could have never imagined having to teach through such challenging times. And while we may feel as if we barely have time to breathe, rethinking and prioritizing our workload will not only be good for our health, it will make us better educators, and impact our personal lives as well. Being intentional and reflective, figuring out what can be tossed or tweaked will help us to find the treasures in our practice that will restore our energy and love of teaching and learning. 

Stay positive and hopeful, my friends. I still believe good things will come of this. If you have helpful tips and strategies to help keep us strong, please reach out or simply comment below.

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