March 15, 2020
With an unprecedented number of schools closing, parents’ stress levels ramping up, and the news sharing scary statistics of pandemic and infectious disease, you must be feeling a little (or a lot) confused and frightened. As an adult, my feelings have ping-ponged among fear, worry, hope, humor, anxiety, optimism, doubt, excitement, and even gratitude. Everyone seems to be looking for a beacon of light to guide us through the unknown. 💫
And there’s the concern about what and how you’ll learn over these unprecedented days off. Many teachers were asked to get as many assignments together as they could in an attempt to keep your education going. Here’s the thing. It’s really difficult to mandate and monitor your learning while you’re home. It’s even tougher to give you feedback and encouragement, especially when you may not have internet access or even your own computer.
As I consider my hopes for you during this time away from school, I realize that while I certainly appreciate you learning more math, reading, and other content-area skills, I realize there are so many other unexpected learning opportunities that I’d like for you to pursue.
First of all, with all the scariness on the news, I’ve found that a great way to turn around fear is to be authentically grateful. You can start by viewing these days off as a gift of time. Maybe you catch up on sleep, read, spend time outdoors, chat with family, cuddle an animal, or ride your bike. You have time to sing, dance, tell jokes, practice an instrument, create, and even daydream. Gratitude restores hope. Try it out. Notice what happens when you find 100 things that you are truly grateful for.
You know what else? You are the only kids in modern history who have experienced these far reaching, lengthy school closings. You are helping to write our history. What if you recorded your experiences in a journal? Your journal ✍will become a piece of history. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What emotions are you experiencing?
- How do you spend your time?
- What really worries you?
- How do you stay hopeful?
- How are you brightening someone else’s day?
- What kind of adult do you want to become?
- What’s the best thing about these days off?
- What are you learning about yourself?
- What does the world need more of?
- How will this experience help you grow?
- What have you had time to think about?
- What are you noticing about the world around you?
- What do you want to accomplish over the next few weeks?
Next up, read. Read voraciously. Reading will keep your skills fresh, will introduce you to new vocabulary, and will help you learn more about yourself. Read everything! Read what interests you, read magazines, newspapers, old classics, and even texts that share new perspectives. What can you learn from the characters and authors?
Look out the window (or better yet, go outside). Write about everything you see, hear, feel, and smell. What’s the smallest thing you notice? What surprises you?
Spend time outdoors. Walk, bike, sit, listen, run, play, build, climb, breathe in the fresh air, soak up the sun, just be.
But there’s something else. While you’re out of school for the next few weeks, be on the lookout for goodness, for compassion, for calm in the midst of chaos, for examples of generosity and selflessness- because they exist, even in unpredictable, historic moments. 💗
The best way to learn about the world is to truly experience it. Be gentle with yourself and with others around you as we all try to make sense of what’s happening.
Can I offer some guidance around screen time? Screen time takes us (kids and adults!) away from experiencing the world. It prevents us from interacting with people, from finding creative ways to overcome boredom, from pursuing a hobby, and from appreciating stillness.
So, enjoy these moments of quiet. Be curious about your world. Ask questions. Think. Imagine. Wonder. Explore the outdoors. 🌤Find goodness. Learn about you.
I can’t wait to see you! To see how you’ve grown, how you were creative with your time, how you learned about the world, and how you navigated this historic moment.
Drink plenty of water, eat your veggies, and of course, wash your hands 🙌. 😊
**Educators, feel free to make a copy, edit, and share. We’re in this together. **
Jen Molitor, Ohio Educator
Does preparing for your evaluation take countless hours? You search for just the right lesson, one that matches your pacing guide for the unit on the day your administrator is scheduled to observe. You spend time writing an extensive three page lesson plan (just like you always do…), remember to incorporate some level of differentiation, include a few really great questions, and get all your copies and materials together. Sigh.
Oh wait, then you need to prepare for the pre-conference, so you answer all of those questions, which then prompts you to revise your lesson plans a bit. After all that planning, you’re now ready to give up your plan time to have a pre-conference and ﬁnally the day of the evaluation arrives. You’ve given your students a friendly reminder (some might use the word “threat”) to be on their best behavior, and as soon as the administrator walks in, your heart rate quickens, you notice your speech is slightly shaky, and you feel more nervous than you thought you would. You try not to notice as the administrator types away and peers over students’ shoulders. You pray that she questions the students who will give the best answers.
As soon as the admin leaves, you take a deep breath and become normal again. Over lunch, you ﬁnd yourself reﬂecting on the pacing of the lesson, and you already have three things you would change if you could do the lesson over again.
The next few days you carry a slight anxiety around as you contemplate the outcome of your observation. You’re not really worried about being ﬁred, but you want to be stellar. You want to be a shining star of a teacher. You want conﬁrmation that you’re an accomplished teacher, something to recognize all those long hours planning, grading, and communicating with parents.
The next step is planning the post-conference, during another plan time, to review your lesson and give you a ﬁnal score or rating. Nerves creep back, you’re armed with your reﬂection, and you’re feeling a little apprehensive. What if she didn’t like my lesson? What if she thought the pacing was too quick? What if she realizes my teaching isn’t that great? You wish the administrator could have seen how you wrapped up the lesson because students were sharing such great connections and ah-ha moments.
And somewhere, a hint of defensiveness slinks its way in.
The post-conference goes well, overall. There are a few areas of recommendation, which is a little disappointing considering all the time spent pouring ideas into the planning. You wanted a perfect score. You work hard and you know you’re a good teacher, it’s nice to have that validation. Instead, you feel criticized and you may even ﬁnd yourself slightly hating the administrator.
This adds up and contributes to a layer of stress that you don’t need.
So, how do we overcome the stress from teacher evaluations?
First, it’s important that you understand where this anxiety and defensiveness comes from. It turns out that we are hard-wired to seek out or look for threats. Tim Kight, of the Focus 3 Podcast, says that there’s such a thing as negativity bias; “It’s easy ﬁnd, ﬁxate and focus on things that are negative.” It’s our body’s way of managing risk, though in this day and age, our body is perceiving judgements and non-threatening comments as harmful. Brian Kight says, “You’re going to get triggered, biologically, by something that feels or looks like a threat, that really isn’t.” So a big part of our initial response is due to our body’s perception of a threat – a threat to our well-being, our job, our status.
Defensiveness, then, seems to stem from fear. With this understanding, we can pause when we feel ourselves bracing after criticism, regardless of how constructive it may be.
But what if we ask for feedback, from the most important connoisseurs of education- our students? This is a huge ﬁrst step in helping us shift our defensiveness to empowerment. This is a great time to check in with your students! Download the “midpoint check-in” and try it out with your students.