Are you feeling overwhelmed by the new upcoming school year? If you are a school leader, an educator, a parent, or a student, you may be feeling anxious, nervous, or entirely fearful of beginning the school year amidst COVID-19. For some of you, the 2020-2021 school year has just started or is about to start; however, this year, unlike any other year, the stakes are seemingly higher. Currently, many educators are feeling the stress of having to prepare, find tools, and learn how to conduct distance learning via Zoom, Google Hangout, and other online platforms overnight. Understandably, while they are in the process of learning how to use video sharing, chatbox tools, modifying their lessons for the online curriculum, as well as establishing new routines and procedures, many teachers are mentally exhausted. Not only are they coping with the logistics but also dealing with a profound emotional toll. Teachers went from being able to see their students daily to having limited contact with their students while trying to balance their own lives at home with their children who are also going through the same thing. So while most educators struggle to learn how to teach differently on the dime, they are also grieving from missing their students.
According to many news outlets and breaking stories, the emotional toll has been so significant that many teachers are preparing to walk away from teaching entirely. It's become a battle in many aspects; they miss their students yet, for those districts who are not offering online learning opportunities, fear has set in, and people are afraid for their lives and their loved ones at home. Fear, of course, is no way to live life. Educators are making preparations for the worst-case scenario, i.e., their death as they make decisions to re-enter the classrooms during an ongoing pandemic. However, It is always a good idea to be prepared for a just in case unforeseen tragedy. This emotional toll is devastating for educators, but let’s not forget that we must find a way to rise and shine! Remember, your purpose as a teacher is more significant than any fear. As educators, we must do what it takes to fulfill our why and impact our students and community. If doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers can push through such trying times, then so can educators; we are just as important. As educators, there is an unspoken oath and obligation to educate the next generation of leaders, so there must be a way to push past the fears that are keeping us from our destiny, our passion, our mission, and purpose. We need to develop a balanced approach that eases fears and works toward practical solutions.
Many risks are involved with everyday activities these days; however, don't make permanent decisions about your purpose in our temporary situation. Don’t let fear define your action today but be intentional with the choices that you do make. You must be able to make the best decision for you with confidence and without judgment. Furthermore, you must know that if you feel like you don’t have a clue about what will happen next, you are not alone. Just take things day by day and learn to be okay with the decisions you are making today. You can always decide to make another decision should there be a need to change gears. It’s natural to have a fight or flight response but take steps to stop and think to be intentional about your next move with the facts and the current information that you have now. The great news is, this week's blog will talk about making the best out of the current situation by using six tips to make lemonade out of lemons. It will also highlight questions to ask yourself as you are preparing for your next steps as you begin the school year.
Rise Up Educators!
Everything we were doing earlier this year came to a screeching halt when the pandemic broke, and as a result, many of our systems have flipped upside down. For months, the world has paused many facets of our society, and perhaps one of the most notable has been the pause on education. This unforeseen circumstance we find ourselves in today has potentially set the educational system back years. It may take years before we can re-stabilize. Never have we called into question more about the health and safety of individuals than we have over the past few months. So, naturally, when rapid changes occur, those who are not well adapted to change or those who are accustomed to being in control of their environment feel reluctant to stray from the norm. These individuals enjoy the haven of the classroom and resist the need to begin again differently. A famous author once wrote, “Change is the only constant.” We are indeed in uncharted territory when it comes to identifying how to proceed in a uniformed fashion; no one model fits all will work in this situation. The unknown has become a trigger for fear and unrest as the school year draws near. One thing is for sure, education must prevail, and educational leaders and educators must rise and develop an “all in” approach to returning to school via virtually or in-person or perhaps a combination of both models.
Some institutions, such as those in places with a high risk for natural disasters, had already adopted back up models of continued instruction. When the pandemic hit these institutions were able to quickly pivot instruction and make the transition to remote and online classes almost seamlessly. However, this was not an option for the majority of schools because they do not have the resources, and until now, they never had a justified reason to spend money on backup systems. Now schools across the country have to develop permanent backup policies and procedures to get through these circumstances. Not only must we create new systems, but we must also develop ways to address the needs of all students and educators brought to light during the pandemic. We know that there have always been gaps in student achievement due to the accessibility of resources and particularly significant for economically disadvantaged students. However, now is the perfect time to make the most out of this crisis by making lemonade out of lemons we have. We need to redesign better systems in education.
What we don’t want to do is bandaid a system, or return to a “normal” status quo, but now we can’t deny that “normal” is not what is effective. This old status quo that many are quick to say, people miss, is the same status quo that has proven to be ineffective and does not support and develop all students. Let’s not aim to return to a broken system; instead, let's build a more effective method of education and educators. Now is the time to rise and truly change the order for the betterment of all students. Creating a better educational system will take time, dedication, change, and undoubtedly effort. Unfortunately, none of this can happen if our mindset is stuck and seeded in fear. How can educators advocate for change and their students if they leave? Yes, there are risks involved, but without some degree of risk, how could there ever be advancement or significant gain? We need our educators and our educational leaders to become soldiers in this fight. Therefore, as you are making your final preparations and decisions regarding what your next steps will be, remember to be present at the moment and make the most out of what you have now. This year is shaping up to be a defining moment in the history of education. Are you ready to be a part of this?
What Comes Next?
The question you may ask yourself now is, how will you make lemonade out of lemons this school year? The 2020-21 school year will be unlike any previous year and will consist of many differences. Educators who have always had diverse student achievement and performance in their classrooms will likely have even greater diversity depending on each student’s current situation. While some students may have grown academically, others may have fallen way behind their peers. How will you inspire your students to get back on track? Additionally, what is your plan to get back on track? What are you doing to prepare yourself, given that much of what you previously had control over within your classroom is no longer in your control? How will you, as an educator, cope and manage new stressors? Furthermore, what is your plan to catch students up with grade-level curriculum given they may have missed out on essential lessons due to the early closure of schools in our nation? What triage plan have you developed to assess where your students are at this fall, and how do you plan to piggyback on what they missed? Do you have what you need to be able to look at specific student gaps and provide them with learning opportunities, tools, and guidance needed to catch up? Students may need additional assistance to make the transition this year. Are you familiar with the grade level below what you are currently teaching? The need for differentiated instruction will be significantly higher, and perhaps this year, you may consider gathering learning opportunities and professional development beyond a grade level, especially for crucial transition years such as 1st to 2nd grade or 8th to 9th grade.
Due to some significant setbacks, there will be an increased need to progress to monitor student’s academic development. How will you use student achievement data to make growth and proficiency projections throughout the year? It may be beneficial to use the data that you currently have from previous years or will collect during the first months of school to broaden the use of assessments. Many assessments available for use now will generate instructional information as well as pair with practice programs, free videos, apps, and other resources to link students to appropriate content. Most teachers will begin the academic year with the idea that students are behind. Teachers can double up on this urgency by being intentional about how to use and interpret the interim assessment data from previous years. In doing so, you will have a structure in place to make informed decisions about the next steps. If you want more on how you can make the most out of this year, check out the six tips below.
How Educators Can Make Lemonade Out of Lemons:
Prepare Your Body For Change:
Educators will want to prepare their body for the changes that lay ahead. Whenever there is a transition in a routine, it will ultimately have an indirect effect on the body. The transition from summer to fall can naturally have an impact on your body; with the current situation, these effects can be even more significant. This year, you may need to condition yourselves for lengthy periods of fixed time sitting down in front of the computer, especially if you are an educator who is always on their feet. There are also different ways to engage your body in activities while seated and working so that your body is still moving, even while seemingly remaining in a fixed position. Some examples are sitting on a ball versus a chair, performing simple movements, and non-distracting exercises while sitting down to teach a lesson. Pause often to allow the body time to move and include students in on the activity. Take care of your body internally and externally and use precautionary measures to help keep you and others safe. Also, take care of your needs! Educators, it’s essential to take care of your body. When you are physically well, your body will be able to respond better to outside factors and will keep you healthier. Now is a great time to condition yourself by making healthier diet and lifestyle choices to boost your immune system naturally.
Be Responsive and Flexible:
Responsiveness and flexibility are virtues that educators will need to be intentional about this year and in future years. Be proactive and develop effective backup plans now. Develop a mindset for accepting change. Being willing to pivot and practice accepting change will help you to be more responsive to the needs of students and your profession. You will be a more effective educator when you are prepared to teach in any circumstance. Show a willingness to be flexible where you can. The more resilient and flexible we can be, the more agile we will become, and we will then be better prepared to respond to anything that may come up.
Mindfulness and intention will go a long way toward starting this new school year off in the right direction. Our intention creates our reality; therefore, when we live with purpose, we can feel like we are in control of the decisions and the outcomes that result. Educators are more likely to feel overwhelmed due to the enormous responsibilities and tasks that go hand in hand with the nature of their profession. As a result, it’s easy for educators to overlook themselves and their needs as they tend always to put themselves last. By being intentional and establishing intentional habits, it will help teachers to remember to take care of themselves even when things get busy. Like flying in an airplane, newer teachers especially need to learn how to put their masks on first. If teachers are not feeling well, whether that be emotionally, physically, or mentally, they won’t be able to be there for their students in the way that they want to be. An excellent place to start with good habits is to be present at the moment and to make the most out of each day given. Remember, an effective teacher should take things one step at a time and when the tensions rise and the stressors creep in pause, take some deep beats, and reflect at the moment. Allowing time to refocus can make a world of difference. Most importantly, make decisions with intention.
Taking the time needed to get organized, set up a clean workspace, develop a mapped out priority list, and establish goals with your top three things that need to be completed. Also, creating a calendar or time tracker will help mentally prepare you for the next days ahead. By creating organized systems, routines, and habits early on, teachers can set themselves up to eliminate unnecessary anxiety. Priority lists and goal setting is an effective method to identify what matters in the short term, as well as, in the long run, and will help keep teachers focused. Developing good organizational habits will help educators feel better prepared.
Check Your Fears:
As stated above, it’s perfectly normal to have the back to school nerves. Along with nervousness can come opportunities and challenges. If people did not feel the occasional feelings of nervousness now and then, then there wouldn’t be much room to push the boundaries and step outside of the comfort zone. When people step outside of their comfort zone, real opportunities for growth and movement can occur. Teachers need to give themselves space and time to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable and time to explore how they feel. A post mortem period can be a healthy thing, along with sufficient time to process the stages of grief until arriving at a period of acceptance.
Along with acceptance comes a period where educators must recognize that many things are indeed out of their immediate control. So, therefore, they must learn to be okay and develop ways to accept and pivot their thoughts and feelings so that it does not diminish their purpose and noble goal. Remembering to practice SLI both for yourself and your students will lead to positive results.
Last but not least, find opportunities to practice being grateful for what you have. When you can experience the feelings of gratitude, it can have a profound impact on your life. Dr. Alex Korb, a neurologist at UCLA, said, “once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for.” Use gratitude as a way to prepare yourself for this coming school year. Instead of allowing fear to guide your decisions, use gratitude and faith to steer you into a path of positivity. Focus on being grateful for your health and the health of your colleagues and students.
There are no limits on how you choose to respond in the face of the unknown. You can choose to develop a positive mindset toward the challenges that lay ahead of all of us during the 2020-21 school year. If you reflect on the tips, we shared you will be better prepared to rise and be a leader in your school and a soldier for the community. Make decisions based not on fear but in the confidence of what you know now. Use your goals and your priorities to help you determine where you will go from here. Check out this resource from the HealthyCildren.Org for tips on returning to school during COVID 19: Click Here to read the article "Return to School During COVID-19".
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