After a difficult spring, use the summer break to get reenergized, rejuvenated and ready for the new year
We know: You’re bone-tired. You’re totally exhausted and emotionally drained after the whiplash events of the past few months. And it shows.
“This teaching during crisis is not a vacation. It is not a welcome break. It is brutal. It is stressful. It is not what’s best for kids,” posted Miska Pearson in the “CTA Teaching, Learning and Life During COVID-19” Facebook group in mid-May.
“Does anybody else feel exhausted after an hour of live teaching?” posted Kevin England.
On social media, in news stories, in essays, in person, educators up and down the state and across the country are sharing the real fatigue and anxiety that stem from coping with work and life during a pandemic.
How can you get reenergized and rejuvenated during these uncertain times? Daily efforts to meditate, do yoga, eat right and exercise help. But the summer break offers opportunities to dive deeper into restorative practices that can reboot mind and body and let you regain your sense of well-being and calm. They can also help you tap into your joy and passion for teaching. On these pages are a few ideas you can try before the new school year.
Pro-you and prosocial
“It’s crucial to keep coming back to what matters most to you. Seek opportunities to enact your values in small ways each day.”
—Amy L. Eva, Greater Good Science Center
Amy L. Eva, associate education director for Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkeley, assists educators and others who are feeling overwhelmed and helpless, whether due to external factors, such as workload, or internal commotion. She agrees that the standard stress relievers are good places to start, but adds that a long-term commitment is essential. “These things take daily ongoing practice, just like exercise,” Eva says. She and GGSC point to several ways to address anxiety and stress in depth.
- Self-compassion. Understand you are not alone in your feelings, and be kind to yourself. “[Acknowledge] the emotions you are experiencing right now and genuinely offer yourself some understanding,” Eva says in a GGSC article on teachers managing their emotions during school closures.
- Affirm your values and strengths. “It’s crucial to keep coming back to what matters most to you, again and again,” says Eva. “Seek opportunities to enact your values in small ways each day.” For example, if perseverance is a personal strength and value, model it with students, colleagues and family by sharing quotes and notes of encouragement that highlight this value. Or host a daily ritual like an online read-aloud, or feature stories of perseverance in your online history course.
- Have compassion for others and communicate it to them. Build your empathy and compassion for others by mentally — or tangibly — sending them wishes for good health, happiness and more. Eva uses “May I/you be safe; may I/you be happy; may I/you be healthy; may I/you live with ease,” and infuses this way of thinking into her daily interactions.
- Mindfulness as a way of being. Take time to simply be with your thoughts and feelings, with no judgment. You can incorporate breathing exercises and mental and physical soothing techniques, such as “The CALM Reminder” by Randye Semple and Chris Willard: Check in with your chest (C), arms (A), legs (L), and mouth (M), first noticing sensations in those areas, then tensing and relaxing each set of muscles, in sequence.
GGSC also advocates developing prosocial behavior to overcome feeling helpless and demoralized. Prosocial behavior is defined as behavior that benefits other people or society, such as sharing, volunteering and helping.
“When we are kind or helpful in service of a value that we hold, we also affirm our belief and feel a sense of agency and efficacy,” Eva explains. “[This might mean acting on] your belief that all students should have resources, or your desire to be an active citizen in your neighborhood.”
The result is the satisfaction of engagement and positive contribution, and the feeling that while “I can’t control what’s going on in the world, I can control what happens in my classroom.”
These methods have been scientifically shown to help you manage difficult emotions and stay centered and calm during stressful times. Greater Good in Education has extensive collections of strategies and practices for educator and student well-being.
Beyond the research, Eva likes to point people feeling emotionally and physically overwhelmed to a quote by author and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy: “You don’t need to do everything. Do what calls your heart; effective action comes from love. It is unstoppable, and it is enough.”
Align your money with your values
Kelly Knoche, founder of The Teaching Well and a former public school teacher, says that while resilience to stress, managing vicarious trauma exposure, and healthy communication are important parts of educators’ professional development, financial wellness is also a big factor in well-being.
“Teachers ask for financial wellness help,” says Knoche, noting that educator salaries are often less than optimal and can contribute to stress. The Teaching Well, based in Oakland, works with school communities to assist educators at “the edges of burnout,” bringing them back to wellness so that they can work sustainably at their school sites for years to come.
“The goal of financial wellness is to learn how to align your values with how you spend your money.”
—Kelly Knoche, The Teaching Well
That includes handling personal finances. “The goal of financial wellness is to help people develop a healthy relationship with the money they have, and to gain tools to balance their budget and use their money in a way they feel powerful.”
In other words, “You learn how to align your values with how you spend your money.”
As an example, one of your values might be eating healthy and taking care of your body. “You make sure your budget allows access to healthy foods and ingredients for you and your family,” Knoche says. “Or you may value a hobby such as playing guitar or gardening.” Your budget should place a priority on the lessons or tools you need. Budgeting allows educators to see if they are spending money in a disproportionate way — such as ordering delivery, going to restaurants or bars, and online shopping — and make changes. Knoche recommends the following resources to help educators gain control of their finances.
- Acorns ( $1 to $3 monthly fee) rounds up your purchases and lets you invest your spare change in stocks and bonds.
- Landed helps educators purchase homes in pricey metro areas by paying half the down payment. If you stay in the home, you don’t need to pay it back, but if you sell or buy out the investment, Landed takes 25 percent.
Capitalize on your creativity:
- Be empowered by options that allow you to supplement your income through creative work you are already doing. Teachers Pay Teachers is an example.
Knoche says developing a “money mindset,” along with mastering other selfcare practices and tools, is essential so educators can start the new school year with renewed energy instead of depletion.
It’s particularly critical in recovering from the current pandemic, she adds, noting several steps involved: “We spent the spring responding to our communities and meeting the basic needs of students. This summer is an opportunity to reflect and take time to nurture ourselves and our families. Once we have rested, we can sift through ingenious ideas that surfaced during the crisis, to find what we want to continue. Which leads to renewal — we take what we’ve learned and walk with vitality into the 2020-21 school year.”
In the new school year, educators should be prepared to face students who are still coping with the pandemic’s impact. Erica Moran and Giuliana Valdovinos, both social workers with Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, know what to expect after working with young people this spring.
“Students were feeling grief from loss of routine and structure,” Valdovinos says. “There was a lack of engagement and motivation [for school].”
As an example, she notes how a disruption in sleep patterns — staying up late and waking up late — would result in missed Zoom calls with teachers and other important academic deadlines. Moran adds that students’ lack of physical movement and missing the company of peers may lead to mild or severe depression.
How can educators address these issues and set a productive classroom tone? Children and teens pick up on teachers’ moods and emotions (studies have found that students’ cortisol levels — a marker of stress — mimic their teachers’ levels). So while educators need to be able to manage their own stress and anxieties, it’s also critical for students to learn how to regulate their emotions.
Moran and Valdovinos offer suggestions based in social-emotional learning (SEL), the process through which we understand and manage emotions, develop empathy, and establish and maintain positive relationships.
- Start by making sure your connection with students is there.
This involves welcoming rituals such as greeting students by name, making eye contact, and smiling — all of which can be done with distance learning as well as in person.
“Let them know they can show feelings and behaviors, and they are safe,” Moran says. “Provide routine.”
She stresses that teachers should not feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities to ensure SEL, saying they can “fold in SEL, a little here and there, starting out class with a couple deep breaths, which helps students focus and be present, either daily or when students are not focused.”
- Understand what trauma is, what it looks like in students, and use a trauma-informed approach.
“Acknowledge the loss and grieving we’ve all gone through as a result of COVID-19 — the collective trauma of losing routine, losing milestones,” Valdovinos says. “Validate these feelings.” She adds that you shouldn’t be afraid of talking about your own experience and showing your own vulnerabilities.
- Use SEL exercises to help students learn coping skills.
In addition to deep breathing, this can include drawing pictures, writing poems, using music, and talking to a friend or helpful adult (with teacher follow-up). Moran and Valdovinos are big proponents of restorative circles, which can help restore the sense of classroom community and collective relationships. Once a week, consider doing a deeper SEL activity.
- Let others know if a student needs more help.
Contact your counseling team or administrators, who can reach out to parents and help develop a plan for the student. You should not be solely responsible for managing longer-term student needs.
Search these practice collections at Greater Good in Education:
- Stress Management for Educators
- Affirming Important Values
- Use Your Strengths
- Connecting With Students
- Connecting With Colleagues
- Helping Students Feel Connected to Each Other