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Ten Strategies for Educators' Wellbeing:
A Handbook for Schools During the COVID-19 Outbreak

When a crisis or a disruption like the COVID-19 school campus closures occur, we all respond differently and our responses will change over time. These closures may remind us of past traumatic experiences like the outbreak of a war or civil unrest, or the sudden destruction of an earthquake or terrorist attack. Some of us had an opportunity to pack up and say goodbye to colleagues, students, and friends; some of us did not have that opportunity. Some of us are stuck in our apartments, spending most of our days alone. Some are far away from the community in which we were living, balancing parenting and teaching in a new environment. Some of the new environments in which we are living are chaotic and lacking privacy. Some of us have found enclaves of educators in the same situation, and are finding comfort in these pop-up communities. 

The experiences are as diverse as our community. There is no right or wrong response to this crisis, there is no “one way”. But there are actions we can take to help us not only get through this current crisis, but to emerge from the crisis wiser, stronger, and more connected.

How can we do this? First, we have to understand that resilience is not a personality trait, or a fixed characteristic that some are born with. Resilience is a learned capacity, a process of adaptation, a strength that we build over time. As the American Psychological Association reminds us, “resilience involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary.”

Below are suggestions of how we might take an active role in building our own resilience throughout this experience. 

1. Understand the normal emotional responses to a crisis.

Before you judge your reaction or the reaction of others to this crisis, understand which feelings are typical in this kind of a scenario. The following are all normal responses, and they may play out differently for each of us: 

  • Fear: Is my family safe? Will we be okay? 

  • Anger: Why didn’t they prepare us for this? How could that person possibly be posting all of those cheery tweets? People back home just don’t understand!

  • Confusion and Frustration: What is my role as a teacher now? Where are we going to live? I have no idea how I’m supposed to juggle all of this!

  • Guilt and Self-Blame: I’m not comfortable with digital technology and I feel guilty that this is affecting my teaching. I should be back in China where my students are. I’m not being the kind of parent I’d like to be right now. I should have had a better plan.

  • Shame and Humiliation: I see colleagues online who are thriving, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I am not. I feel humiliated because I’m not sure how much longer I can financially support my family under these circumstances. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m weary of going back to school. 

  • Sorrow and Grief: I didn’t get to say goodbye to my friends and students, and now I don’t know if I’ll be back next year. I miss my routine, my neighborhood, and my community. It’s just not the same here.

All of these emotions are normal. Let this be a reminder to be compassionate and understanding of ourselves and others should we be experiencing any of these feelings. With support and intentionality, we will get through this, but we need to exercise patience with ourselves and others in the meantime. 

2. Maintain boundaries.
It is important for our health to maintain boundaries during times when we are relying more on digital technology than usual. Our colleagues, students and parents may expect you to be present and quick to respond because the online experience simply lends itself to that expectation. Juggling everyone's time zones exacerbates that. So do our personal feelings of guilt and obligation and our drive as educators to fly in and save the day. Here are ways to maintain healthy boundaries:

  • List your available hours, current time zone, and expected response times in your email signature. Share this information in an email with your colleagues, students, and parents. 

    Sample text  “I am working and typically available between the hours of X and Y, London time. If you are contacting me outside of those hours please allow at least 12 hours for me to get back to you. If you are contacting me about an emergency outside of those hours, please contact CONTACT NAME and INFORMATION. If you are contacting me about something urgent, please write the word “URGENT” in the email subject line so that I know to prioritize this when I begin my work day. Thank you for your understanding as I find ways to balance both my teaching and family obligations during this unique time.”
     

  • If you use a shared calendar or scheduling application for work, don’t limit the technology to just meetings and online class time. Schedule blocks of time for taking care of yourself (like going for a walk, catching up with friends, reading to your children, going for a run, reading a book just for pleasure, or meditation) and blocks of time for the kind of professional work that requires concentration and no interruption. 

3. Establish a routine for both you and your family.

As educators we know the importance of establishing a routine for children. Routines provide structure and a sense of safety, which helps our students learn and take intellectual risks. Routines are important for adults, too. These kinds of crises can make us feel unmotivated or powerless, and a routine helps us keep focused and feel like we are in control. If you have children at home, invite the whole family to contribute to the creation of a daily schedule. Be sure to schedule in fun time, family time, and self-care when you can!

4. Be intentional about your social media usage.

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with social media. On one hand, social media makes it easier than ever before to stay connected with our loved ones and colleagues around the world. On the other hand, there is a lot of negativity and distraction to be found. The key here is to take control of your social media experience; don’t let it control you. You can do this by:

  • Scheduling time to use social media and establish usage time parameters. There are apps that can help  block you from certain sites at particular hours of the day or by tracking the amount of time you use social media.

  • Setting an intention before going on social media: “I’m going on Twitter to find some inspiration from other colleagues” or “I’m getting on Facebook to ask for help with this digital tool I am trying to use” or “I’m getting on WeChat to check in on a colleague I am concerned about.” Then set a timer for 15 minutes increments to see if you are still sticking with that intention. 

  • Noticing your emotions as you scroll through social media. It is common for us to compare our holistic experience with what we think our colleagues and friends experience, but based on only what they choose to show on social media. We all know these images and texts are curated and never tell the full story. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Be vigilant by practicing self-awareness and protect that joy. 

5. Practice Self-Awareness.

The Consortium for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified that building a reflective practice is the first step we, as adults, can take in our own Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) journey. We can apply this advice to the current crisis. The more we are aware of our feelings, knee-jerk reactions, defense mechanisms, and relationship dynamics, the better we will be in taking care of ourselves and our students. Here are ways to do this:

  • Start a daily journal and use prompts to build your self-awareness like: 

    • What went well today?

    • What did I learn today that will help me be a better teacher/counselor/administrator/partner/friend/colleague/leader?

    • One thing I appreciate is...

    • An emotion I experienced today was..., and I felt this way because…

    • One thing that inspired me today was…

    • What didn’t work today? What can I learn from that?

    • One thing I learned about myself today is…

    • A small win today was…

Your journal can be traditional text entries, but it can also be a physical or digital space that collects video entries, sketchnotes, photographs, audio entries, etc.

  • Join a Circulus Peer Support Community: Sea Change Mentoring’s Circulus Institute hosts a weekly meeting with teachers, counselors, administrators and other educators. These are small groups facilitated by one of our trained SEL experts. In these weekly sessions educators have the opportunity to share their experience through this crisis, use the time to reflect on their work, and present problems and solutions to the group. For more information contact info@seachagnementoring.com.

  • Weekly sessions with a buddy: Identify someone you trust who has a constructive point of view and a healthy emotional intelligence. Make a plan to meet (virtually or in person) once a week to discuss what this crisis is teaching you about yourself, your students, your colleagues, your profession, and your community.

6. Connect.

Isolation is one of the biggest challenges in this kind of crisis, and we have to be proactive in staying connected. Here are ways to do that:

  • Online communities: While sticking to the social media guidelines outlined above, find online communities that are sharing these experiences. There are groups on WeChat, Facebook and WhatsApp that are just for educators going through similarexperiences to yours. 

  • Colleague and Friend “Happy Hours”: Reconnecting with our friends and colleagues helps to boost our moods and will decrease our stress. Find that happiness once a week by scheduling a regular video call with your friends in the same situation. You can play pictionary, charades, or other group games, you can each make a meal around some sort of theme and then show it to each other and eat together no matter where you are. Whatever your style, create rituals together and don’t let the distance get in the way. 

  • Vent: There is a healthy way to complain and an unhealthy way. At the heart of it, we complain to express our emotions. That venting can often lead to bonding, a decrease in our stress levels, and the gaining of perspective. We may want to complain in order to get our feelings out, or we may want to complain in order to seek solutions. Both motivations are okay and even healthy. The key is to be aware of your motivation to complain each time and to be thoughtful about naming the feelings you are having.  Before you call a friend, take a few breaths and then ask yourself these two questions:

    • Do I really need to complain to my friend right now, or is there a better strategy I could use at this moment?

    • What do I hope to get out of this conversation? A solution? Understanding? (Make sure you tell your friend what you need when you speak with them).

7. Tell and seek stories of resilience.

Research has shown us that when families share stories of their ancestors and the challenges they overcame, we see children engage in more relient behavior. Let’s take this lesson and apply it to whatever our circumstances. You can write down the stories of the people that came before you; you can tell these stories to your friends or family. You can also reflect on times of your own resilience and identify the skills you used to get through challenges. You can ask your community to share stories of their resilience. You can ask your students for these stories and share with them what it feels like to be inspired. What we need right now are reminders that there are acts of resilience all around us, in our past and in our future. When we consider these stories we may feel our emotional and psychological reserves refill and strengthen us for the challenges we are facing.

8. Exercise.

It goes without saying how important it is for us to be physically healthy during this time. Schedule time for your exercise routine. You can use apps like YogaGlo or Nerd Fitness for online classes and coaching. You can have family dance parties which promote physical movement, family time, and fun. If you are someone who has a difficult time getting motivated, try small goals, like 15 minutes of walking or even the 6 minute workout from the New York Times. It helps create rituals around your exercise to help you forge a new pattern in your day. You can do this using the same music, using the same space, setting an intention, and rewarding yourself with something after, like a delicious smoothie or some downtime. Some of us find that working out with others helps us to be accountable to ourselves. Even if you are stuck inside away from colleagues, why not start a virtual fitness group to support each other and cheer each other on?

9. Plan for the future.

While we all know the importance of being in the moment, during times of crisis it can help us to plan for something positive in the future. It gives us a sense of hope and an understanding that if we are having a difficult time right now, it is only temporary. Plan for dinner at your favorite restaurant, a reunion for your dear friends or family, doing some spring cleaning when you get home, or visiting your favorite park with your family. 

10. Embrace the shared experience.

The last insight in this resource is a reminder that we are all in this together. Through the bad and the good, the surprises and the frustrations, this is an experience that we are sharing. Shared experiences, especially when we think intentionally about them, create culture and community. Let’s focus on how these events can unite us and how it will bond us together through the future. What kind of inspiring stories of our common humanity will you tell your friends once all of this has passed? Start writing that story now.

Resources we referenced or were inspired by: 


New York TImes 6 Minute Workout

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/18/well/move/in-6-minutes-you-can-be-done-with-your-workout.html

 

Restorative Community Concepts: https://www.restorativecommunityconcepts.com/biography.html

 

Nerd Fitness:

https://www.nerdfitness.com

 

YogaGlo:

https://www.glo.com

 

American Psychological Association’s Building Your Resilience

https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience

 

New York Time’s Go Ahead and Complain, It May Be Good For You

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/smarter-living/how-to-complain-.html

 

Calendly Scheduling Software

https://calendly.com

 

Moment, Screen Time Control App

https://inthemoment.io

 

The Family Dinner Project’s Building Resilient Kids, One Story at a Time

https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/food-for-thought/building-resilient-kids-one-story-at-a-time

 

The Consortium for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning 

https://casel.org

 

Sea Change Mentoring

For more ideas and support, visit our website at www.seachangementoring.com.
 

If your school is looking for more personalized support with maintaining a healthy school culture, teacher and student wellbeing or sustaining your advisory and mentoring programs, contact us at info@seachangementoring.com.

 

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