After I retired from my district position, I was a little lost. It didn’t matter that I had made the choice to leave, there were pieces of leaving that made me feel like a failure. Like I didn’t finish something I was meant to finish. And I’m anything but a quitter. Quitting makes me crazy. In fact, I’m more likely to hang onto something for too long convincing myself that hard work makes everything OK than understand the value of letting it go. I knew I could consider doing all the things that kept me working long hours the last few years: consulting, EduMatch, writing, the Teachers Aid podcast, teaching at the university…and whatever else consistently found its way on my laundry list of to dos. I didn’t honestly know what my problem was.
I went to all my summer conferences feeling anxious and unsure. To top it off, for the first time in years I didn’t get a session accepted for ISTE (I mean, it didn’t stop me. I just made my own). I felt like the professional God’s were punishing me for quitting and taking their anger out on my ISTE submission list. What were people going to think of me? Were they going to think I was inept? Was I inept? My self-talk was horribly negative.
But I continued to do what I do relying heavily on the fake it til you make it strategy and I smiled and chatted with people about education and I struggled to get through my sessions talking about my own mental health knowing the sharp pinning of the road I was on was reeking havoc on me emotionally. I’ve spoken so many times on this blog about my mental health issues. Maybe some are tired of hearing it. I know I’m tired of feeling it.
I’ve spent a lot of my time since I have been speaking about mental health issues defending people who come out with their own stories and trying to give away some of my strength when others would come to me crying after a presentation. I felt like I was completely drained at this point questioning my very purpose and core beliefs that I have worked so hard to develop and live by.
Then something miraculous happened.
There was a person who reached out to me and said, “What can I do to help?” And then another with “What do you need?” And then from another “I got you. Tell me what to do.” And while some of these people were my best friends, some of them I had never met before in my life. Like seriously, never. I bet I heard a version of these words 100 times. Some would say, “I know we don’t know each other well, but I believe in what you do. If you need me, I’m there.”
And with each person’s support I felt like one was picking me up, one was dusting me off, one was getting me a glass of water, until I was able to finish on my own. If you want to know the power of a PLN, there it is.
Last week I was speaking to someone who was struggling with a tough situation and I said, “Tell me what I need to do to help you,” because when I needed it, complete strangers did it for me. Even if they did nothing else for me but just say those words with complete sincerity in their eyes, I will be forever loyal to these people. We can create kindness. We have the ability to ensure we have support systems that are empathetic and ready to pick us up when we need it. We are so much more than the situations that pull us down, and thank goodness for people who for no real reason say, “Tell me what I can do to help.”
One of my favorite Ted Talks of all time is titled Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator by Tim Urban. Being a master procrastinator myself, I appreciate his description of how my brain is different from a non-procrastinator. Please, take a moment to view the video if you haven’t already. This post will mean so much more if you do.
His sense of humor cracks me up but whenever I watch the video (which I’ve done multiple times) I find myself getting serious at the end when he describes the type of procrastination that happens when there’s no deadlines. Life goals and bucket list items that remain untouched because you never began. He surmises that for this reason we all have a bit of procrastinator in us.
And while I agree that some of it might be procrastination (I’ll go back to school when the kids are older, I’ll learn to fly when things settle down at my job, I’d love to advance but I just don’t have the time) I think a major part of that issue is fear. Fear that you may do something to throw your life so off course that you mess with what is “just fine.” Wherever you are is so much more comfortable than where you might be. There are very few things more powerful at stopping us in our tracks than the unknown, even if that unknown promises to be something amazing.
I’ve spoken randomly on this blog of my public speaking fear. I have a feeling that when I speak and admit the fear to people that they think I might be lying. After all, I’m literally standing right in front of them speaking with what seems to be “confidence”. But, if you watch me closely you’ll see all the tell tale signs of someone who is fighting through nervousness to the point of nausea. Over many years, multiple pieces of feedback, watching myself on video, learning breathing techniques, and taking hold of something that seems so uncontrollable, I have learned to control it. I put my hands behind my back or on my hips so I don’t ring my hands. I go into the bathroom before speaking to take a deep breath. That’s where I recognize my fear and put it in the corner. I know it’s there, I’ll just deal with it after.
This is a tactic that I started on my own without anyone telling me to do it. At first, I had to fake it until I made it. So, I’m writing this blog post to tell you that if you wait for your fear to go away, it probably never will. When people say, “Get over your fear so you can move on” this implies that there is a way to completely defeat fears. If you think you can’t do whatever it is until you move past your fear, you may never try what you were afraid of. And as much as I fear public speaking, I rejoice in just the chance that I may change the mindset or the thinking of someone in the audience which in turn creates a healthier piece of the education ecosystem I am so determined to support. I fight my fear for just the chance of creating a change. A new way of thinking. A new opportunity.
So whether you call it procrastination or fear, there is so much opportunity in moving beyond each of those blockades. Soon after watching the master procrastinator video, I fell upon a video of a 12-year-old little girl who was on America’s Got Talent. She was signing Aretha Franklin and to her utter dismay, Simon stops her in the middle and asks her to sing acapella, in front of the whole audience, which she clearly was not expecting. When you watch the video, her face goes through so many emotions in a short period of time, all of which you may have also felt if you have ever been challenged and scared. But, at 12-years-old, on television, in front of an audience, she takes a few deep breaths and belts out Think. And sometimes I think that when we are trying so hard to be great teachers to our students, there are so many life lessons, like taking control of a situation and addressing you fears, that they could be teaching us if we really paid attention.
As I’ve worked with more and more people and my PLN has grown, I’ve realized that I have knack for creating quick, deep relationships with people. I didn’t know I was doing it at first. People would tell me that they felt such a connection to me and I thought it was just because I was friendly. My closer friends would actually ask me how I do it. They didn’t understand why people would reach out to me that I really didn’t know very well and talk to me like we had been close-knit friends in another life. They wanted those kinds of relationships, too. “I’m super funny” I’d tell them. They’d vehemently disagree and want to know the real answer. As I’ve paid more attention to the things that I do both when I work with people in districts and my PLN, I’ve noticed that there are certain characteristics of relationship building that create deeper connections than just being friendly.
When we address the engagement of educators there will always be a piece of engagement that has to do with how people feel about the relationships around them. People stay in an organization for the people. Honestly, you can teach anywhere. You become loyal when the relationships with your colleagues are strong. When we discuss self-care or the need for additional support due to burnout or secondary traumatic stress, there is a need for caring, supportive relationships with people who understand our profession. These relationships need to be built before we need them so they are in place and a foundation of support.
What types of relationships are there? Your professional learning network are the people that you connect with, both inside your buildings and virtually, who support your goals and aspirations. Sarah Thomas coined the term PLF for Professional Learning Family which, to me, is a subset of PLN. Your professional learning family supports you both personally and professionally and you have tighter relationships with these people than you do your PLN. Beyond that, I also have a smaller group of friends that developed out of my PLN that are more like the family in conjunction with the professional. While we talk about professional topics, we are able to switch from professional to personal and back again easily without issue. They are like my sisters and brothers. I lean on them for support and while some days they might drive me crazy I would go to bat for them at any point for any reason without even being asked.
There are also different purposes for relationships and that’s okay. I have people I’m close to that I know I can have a serious conversation with. I have my go-to people that I need when I’m having an anxiety attack. There are a few people that make me smile just by hearing their voices. Sometimes I need people who can support me through a tough time and sometimes I need people to help me celebrate an accomplishment. They can be the same people, but sometimes they’re not. Different relationships have different purposes.
What does support mean? Dictionary.com has my favorite meaning of support: To bear the weight of something; hold up. Overall, this is what your PLN does for you. However, support can look a few different ways. It can be the need for someone to vent to when things get hard without needing advice. It can be collaborative in nature, maybe when a risk fails and you need someone to help you figure out where you went wrong before you try it again. It can also be when we have a celebration and just want someone to tell us “congratulations” and validate the hard work we are putting into our goals. It can also be holding someone up when adversity strikes and they don’t know how to get through and the feeling of giving up is the most attractive option.
Do I really need to love everyone? Education really is such a strange profession. In any other job, you may not be asked to create relationships where there is a great deal of emotion involved, however, in education everything we do is based on emotion: love of learning, love of kids, love of relationships. And while I’m definitely not suggesting you fall in love with your co-workers, there is a level of emotional stress that requires someone who understands how we feel. There is a type of connection that comes with that understanding that is unique.
I also don’t believe that you need to be best friends with all your co-workers, but instead in a caring professional relationship. Even if your personalities do not typically jive, the best cultures in a school are partially based on the educators understanding that they have each other’s backs. This includes administration as well going both ways. The teachers need to believe that the administrator has their back, but the administrator should feel the same from the staff.
5 Ways to Create Supportive Relationships
Be consistent The first time that consistency was brought to my attention was in the Simon Sinek video Do You Love Your Wife where he speaks of consistency in leadership as being similar to the consistency that one would show in a relationship. It’s not about the extravagant showings but rather of the consistent way you show someone you care that matters. Someone who shows consistency in a positive way is typically reliable and they do the things they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do them. As human beings who crave routine and reliability, a person who is consistent feels safe. Of course, I’m speaking of the ways we can be positively consistent. Someone can also be consistently late, consistently a complainer, or consistently do things that are hurtful. That is not the kind of consistency that breeds healthy, supportive relationships.
Be vulnerable I am a person who naturally shares their vulnerability. I believe this comes from being extremely empathetic, almost to my own detriment sometimes. When I feel like someone is struggling I will share my own struggles. This does a few things. 1) It models that vulnerability is accepted between myself and the other person 2) It represents me extending trust to the other person and hoping for a safe space and 3) It communicates that not only am I not perfect but I know I’m not perfect. When I have shared vulnerabilities with others I have noticed the look of relief as the acknowledgement that they’re not alone spreads across their face. In one simple gesture, I have created a connection that will be remembered. While the moment may pass with the person not reciprocating the openness, I believe it plants a seed and the connection is there regardless.
Be available When I was a teacher, I was fortunate to have two principals who had a true open-door policy. The only time the door was closed was if there was a private conversation or a child was melting down. I would waltz in their office with needs that in the grand scheme of things could have been put in an email. If I was honest, it was more about the fact that I needed adult interaction after being with 10-year-olds all day and I was using them for that purpose. When I became a Tech Director, I tried to model this same availability and noticed right away how difficult it was to get back into what you were doing after you were interrupted. I reflected on my principals and how often I did it to them and marveled at how they never seem rattled when I walked in. If they ever had acted that way, I may have been turned off and not gone to them when it really mattered. Part of being available means that you make time even when it’s inconvenient. If you’re walking down the hall and you ask how someone is, you better be ready to stop and listen.
Be non-judgmental It is very difficult (but possible) to be non-judgmental all the time. Our judgments are based on our biases and assumptions and if we are not constantly checking them, they get in the way of our relationships. When you compound that with our desire for everyone to be doing the best jobs they can for students and that our profession entails giving feedback, it’s easy to slip into judging based only on the information we have.
When we are judgmental the perception is that we feel we are better than whoever we are judging. The fact is that the negativity really starts within us and we are spreading it like a disease to others. Instead, a better option is to seek to understand why someone is the way they are or why they do what they do. Even with this information you still may not understand it, however you can make a more informed decision as to if there is a way to help or how you can be more respectful of their decisions. I’ve found that as I’ve gotten better at this I’ve been able to let go of a lot of animosity and irritation about things that in the long run never really mattered.
Be the person you’d like to talk to Be open. Be kind. Say things like, “What can I do to help you” or “I’m so sorry that’s happening” or “That is incredible! I’m so happy for you!” Think about what you need when you’re celebrating or your struggling and be the person that you’d want to have next to you. You never know when you’re going to be the difference-maker for someone or if you’re the only person they have to go to. Always assume that they’ve come to you for a reason. One day, it’s possible you might need the favor returned.
There may be times you don’t get along with someone or you have disagreement (or 20) or you feel like all they do is complain and you can only take so much of their negativity, but it’s imperative for the sake of our professional engagement and modeling healthy relationships for our students that we make the effort to have caring professional relationships. Creating these kinds of relationships isn’t always easy. There are times where people reach out to me where it’s not convenient or maybe I’m having a bad day and I honestly don’t know if I can listen to someone else’s bad day. But, I do it anyway and I muster everything I’ve got to provide them with that support. And that is one of the major differences between people who create deeper relationships. The moment you choose to do it anyway means you’re invested. Some of my relationships don’t look the same. There are people I hear from once every six months. There are people I speak with several times a day. Sometimes I reach out to people randomly to tell them I’m thinking about them and wish them well. Sometimes I see someone once a year and we chat like we were never apart. The differences in these relationships don’t make them less deep or rich. They all serve their purpose. I wouldn’t go to all of them with my deepest fears and that’s okay. It’s about making sure that the people around us (both in person and virtually) feel supported and know that there is always someone there who has their back.
If you are a good teacher, you are grateful for your job and you live for the first day back.
If you really cared about your students, you wouldn’t be dreading going into your room to get it ready for the beginning of the year.
The best teachers know not to count down to a break – ever – even in their head. We should be treasuring every minute of every day with students so they understand how important we believe their learning to be.
When I was a teacher, and even as an administrator, I was a swirling mix of emotions this time of year. I was excited for the first day of school, as excited-nervous to meet my students as they may have been to meet me and I couldn’t wait to open all the new school supplies. I loved getting my room ready because I counted on the physical space to support the emotional connection that I was anxiously waiting to make with the students. I had a couch. The kids loved it. They always sat on it right away when they came in the room to visit.
So, that made me an amazing teacher, right?
I also dreaded going back to in-service. I disliked the sweaty mess I became after putting all the desks and furniture back because the air conditioning wasn’t turned on during work days. As excited-nervous as I was to meet my students, I was also nervous-nervous that I wasn’t the teacher they were hoping to have that year. I’d imagine their disappointed faces when they figured out I was their teacher and cringe. I knew I’d desperately miss spending time with my own kids during the summer and my days of trying to regroup after the previous year were prematurely over.
What did that just say about what kind of teacher I was? Nothing, actually. I believe it just proved I was human.
There is so much power in being positive going into a new year. New year, new beginnings, new students who will become like family. But, the way we feel going into the year doesn’t dictate how good of a teacher we are. When we don’t recognize that some people struggle with the change while some relish in the day to day structure, some people are coming back to school sad after finding out a loved one is sick and some are coming back elated after a perfectly planned and executed summer, and some feel both grateful to be there yet exhausted still from the year before and all of this is okay it leaves people with the impression that they are wrong or defective. Our first inclination is to believe that all we should feel is positivity and gratitude and if we feel anything besides that then we should also feel guilty. But, there should always be a balance in everything we do and feel and a piece of self-care is understanding that feelings like this are normal and it certainly doesn’t make us bad at our jobs.
Awhile back my friend Amy Storer posted this image that really resonated with me:
We can feel all these things. We are educators but we are also still human. Our humanity is what makes us awesome and innovative and kind and nurturing and empathetic to our students. It is also sometimes what makes us yearn for the summer to stay and dread the inevitable get-to-know-you beginning-of-the-year activities. All of those things are okay. So, be excited to see your students. Also, be bummed that the summer is over. You are an amazing educator both ways.
This post may give you bit of reader’s whiplash, but I promise it comes back around. Just hold tight…
Recently, in a last-minute effort to add some extra fun with a friend of mine we decided to visit a psychic. Now I really have no idea what I believe as far as this kind of spirituality goes. However, regardless of what someone believes, I always find it fascinating to hear how people view the world around them even if it relies on a bit on theatrics.
I decided on a tarot card reading and the process was captivating. The cards were absolutely beautiful. The drawings on them were bright and intricate and really beautiful small squares of art. She told me things that were fun to think about. She relayed that I’d live a healthy life until 97 and that I was an old soul and in my former life I was a doctor. She told me one of my strengths attached my soul is healing. Considering that I have worked my way into the realm of mental health and teacher support, the thought that I’d be comforting to people was appealing to me. But as she talked to me about my work she turned to me and said while you have many gifts and you do great things for people, your spirit is broken. You have thrown yourself into your work to ignore other problems in your life and you have in turn damaged your spirit. However much you question the legitimacy of what someone is telling you, it’s still difficult to listen to anyone tell you your spirit is broken and not have it impact you on a deeper level.
I grew up with horses. My horse, Dakota, was a beautiful white Arabian Appaloosa who had been a trail horse after being a barrel racing horse. He was sweet and kind and I could tie nothing but a rope to his halter and ride him bareback with no issues whatsoever. But we had another horse that was a black Morgan and she was the most difficult horse we ever owned. She didn’t like people and she didn’t listen. She did whatever she wanted and would look at you with the most defiant eyes I’ve ever seen on an animal. When speaking to a friend about her she said that she never seemed to really be broke entirely. My horse was always compliant because he was well broke. And I think one could argue that when you break a horse in that you are essentially breaking their wild spirit to get them to do what humans want. Damaging the part of the horse that makes them a horse. Even though she was a rideable horse for an experienced rider that could manage her, she was difficult. But her spirit and relentlessness also caused us to make changes in the barn and the way we did things with the horses that ended up being better practices in the long run. Those things wouldn’t have happened if we would have completely broken her spirit because the complacent horses would have just kept doing things the way we had them.
Here I was, in a position of needing to do some reflection to see if anything that the woman told me was actually true. There’s a good possibility that she tells everybody that gets a tarot card reading the same thing. And honestly, with the state of our world today, I nearly wonder how many people have a broken spirit and she would be right even if she’s just guessing. But I do know that the possibility of me being more like the horse that’s been completely broken than the one that still has some of her spirit is not the place I want to be. And it feels like something that someone could go their whole life without really knowing why it feels like there’s a hole that they can never really fill.
When I look at the issues I speak about most often in education it is always around engagement and change. I have known ridiculously smart teachers who had intelligence that I could never hope to have who did not engage passionately in teaching. I’ve also known kind, sweet teachers who, while always nice, had lost their passion for the profession. I’ve met disengaged teachers who are apathetic to change and moving forward. When we talk about spirit and compliance and having the wherewithal to overcome obstacles and create change I feel like a broken spirit would only lend itself to apathy. If we are not working right, how can we help anyone else?
Ironically, a few weeks ago I wrote a blog post regarding the different types of self-care. One of the types I wrote about was spirituality. I’m going to spend some time doing deeper research on how to provide self care in my area beyond what I wrote in the post, but most importantly, I’m starting from within. Change always starts with deep reflection because change starts from within.
One of the consistent aspects of any positive climate and robust, supportive culture is the feeling of being valued. When you feel that you are valued there are other human-group feelings that accompany it: belonging, cooperation and collaboration, pride, all of which contribute back to the positive climate and culture of a building or organization.
The opposite is, of course, feeling dispensable or replaceable. This perception can be induced in a few ways:
Blatantly: “Do as instructed or we will find someone else who will.” Message: It doesn’t matter if you agree with us or not, there are plenty of others just as qualified that can do what you do. To change the narrative: “How can we help you be on board with what we are doing? What do you need from us?”
Implicitly: Ignoring individual strengths. Message: By not recognizing what each individual brings to the table, we are implying that everyone brings the same thing and can be replaced with anyone else at any time. To change the narrative: “I would like to support you in understanding your own individual value, and as a group, utilizing our individual strengths so we can be better as a whole. Our team would not have the same strengths without each individual that’s in this room.”
In the way we hire: “Offer them (the least amount that we can/change the benefits/adjust a benefit that we told them would be true). If they won’t take it we will just go on to find a candidate that will.” Message: The devaluation of an individual in the hiring practices I’ve seen is a whole blog post in itself. From the moment a position is posted how you post that position, go through the hiring process, and offer the position says a great deal about how the organization runs and how it treats its people. If you devalue an employee from the get-go, they will likely not go into the position on a positive note. The same can be said for when an individual leaves. If a good person who resigns isn’t given the courtesy of being wished well and thanked for their hard work on their way out the door, regardless of the fact that they’re resigning, it says more about the organization than it does about the person leaving. To change the narrative: Treat a new hire as though they are exactly the person you wanted for that position. Be excited that they are coming on board and spend more time celebrating their acceptance than calculating their cost.
I truly believe that we don’t get into the habit of devaluing people on purpose. I think that in running an organization (whether it’s at a district, school, or classroom level) we get so bogged down in the policy and procedure that we forget we are working with people who are human and have emotional needs. Regardless of if one believes that there should be so much emotion in the business of education, it’s difficult to ask educators at any level to go to work and care and love their students and then turn all emotion off when it comes to their own well-being and feeling valued. One of the strengths that educators as a whole bring to the table is the compassion and attention they pour into their jobs and asking them to turn that off causes a disconnect.
Yet, there’s a personal responsibility as well
When it comes to climate and culture we all have a role in the way it looks in our organizations. Administration is not the only driver of climate and culture. Another aspect of being valued is understanding your value and exercising that knowledge. You can’t expect other people to value you if you do not embrace your value and presume that people will treat you with respect. Understanding your value is not boastful or conceited. You can understand what you bring to the table and still be humble and kind because people who have a good understanding of their strengths don’t need to be boastful, they just show their awesome in their actions, relentlessness, and accomplishments.
There many ways of understanding your value. There are strengths you bring in what you know and what you’ve learned. Content knowledge is helpful when expertise is needed on a topic in order to give a new initiative or project a deeper understanding. Having a deep understanding on a topic is definitely a value. And being in education, we all should get that knowledge is valuable.
There is another kind of strength that is valuable as well but takes time and deep reflection to develop, and that is the value you bring in the knowledge of yourself. Developing core beliefs, for example, is one way to understand what drives you and moderates your behavior. Discovering how you work within a team and the benefits you bring that other people might struggle with is another value. For example, I have discovered through working in teams that I excel at putting thoughts into action. Procedures, tasks, get it done attitude…that’s me. I am not and probably will never be the big idea person. That is why I work best when I collaborate. I can help others put their big ideas into action. Knowing this means that I am valuable to people when they don’t know how to move forward. Also, the ability to articulate my value to others in a way that is socially acceptable means that if I am in a situation where someone doesn’t know my strengths, they will be able to recognize them after we have worked together and I’m not expecting them to read my mind.
The feeling of being valued and the connected feelings of belonging and pride are not only ways to enhance climate and culture but also to keep educators engaged and supported. Being more intentional about the messages we send can change the way that educators feel regarding the organization and what they bring to the table. However, we all need to reflect and recognize our own value and know that we deserve the place at the table that we have earned.
One of the topics I speak about in my sessions and workshops on educator mental health is the effect that social media can have on the way we feel about ourselves. It’s not much different than what we tell our students: images on social media are the best versions of someone on that day coupled with filters and editing. “You shouldn’t compare your every day to their best day,” we say. Then the students walk away and we go back to scrolling through Twitter or Facebook and throw our own advice right out the window.
I would read through Twitter and feel like what I was doing paled in comparison to what everyone else was doing but I felt like I was working so hard. That person was putting out a new book. I haven’t put out a new book in a few months. That person just recorded a podcast. We haven’t recorded a podcast in awhile. I really want to write more articles like that person. Why am I not sitting down and writing more articles? Social media was becoming more and more of a burden to me instead of the place for growth that it had been for me a few years prior. However, my negative attitude flare-ups were happening because I was allowing it.
Last week, I posted this picture on Facebook:
I took two photos to get this one and I added a filter that hid some of my wrinkles around my eyes. And the responses I got from my sweet, kind, loving friends were these:
This post happens to be a picture but it could represent any kind of post where someone is celebrating or showing something off. It could be a gorgeous sunset over the beach that shows their on vacation. It could be the last ground-breaking podcast that they recorded. It could be that they just wrote a book, read an amazing book near the pool on a glorious summer day, wrote a blog post, spoke at some massive venue, got a new job that they’re excited about, or an image of their sporty new car. It could be all of the amazing things that happen every day to people that they post on social media that we idolize and wish we could be/do/have that. Then we feel bad because we don’t do all those things and we haven’t taken pictures like that lately. But, there is typically so much more going on behind the scenes that we don’t see. For example, behind this photo:
You probably don’t know that I try to take pictures from the shoulders up because I’m so embarrassed of my weight and I hate the way my arms look if the picture gets too low. I struggle with my weight every single day. With every comment that said I looked pretty, I countered it in my head with reasons why they’re mistaken.
You may not be able to see that I’m in my bedroom and it’s a complete disaster. It’s my catch-all room and there is never enough space. If you only saw that room, you’d swear I was a hoarder.
You might not know that I’m an hour away from bringing my eldest son for a major surgery on his knee that just ended his college football season before it began and I’m dealing with the physical and emotional strain that it’s causing on him. My hair is curled and my makeup is done because I was up early worrying and I didn’t know what else to do with myself.
It may not be evident to you that I am still reeling over an argument with my youngest daughter a few days before or that my younger son is leaving for college soon and I’m struggling with the change or that my decision to leave my job is affecting us financially and I have major guilt over it.
I didn’t listen to any podcasts last week. I scheduled to watch three webinars and missed all of them. And the worst of them all: I made promises that I didn’t keep.
Do you feel differently about the photo I posted now? There is so much more behind a post than just the post.
Remembering that each of us have a story that goes along with each social media post makes each of us more human in what seems like a very inhuman way to interact. The issues I am dealing with on an every day basis are hidden from all my friends replying to the photo I shared. For every person who posts that they read a new book or listened to a new podcast and you think, “Ugh, I haven’t had time to do those things” remember that it may have been the only thing they were able to fit in that entire week.
You are not less because of what someone else has accomplished.
I’ve heard people talk about getting off social media because they are tired of the filtered images, the celebrations, and the bragging, but I am a firm believer that people should be able to celebrate their accomplishments no matter how small they may seem to anyone else. That may be the biggest thing they’ve accomplished lately and we all need to celebrate that with them. If it makes us feel anything but pride and support, that is more about the way we are allowing social media to make us feel than it is about what the celebratory post is actually saying.
We have control over the way that social media makes us feel. Someone else celebrating an accomplishment shouldn’t make us feel guilty or inept. If we feel that way, that’s on us. When I started to understand that there are always stories behind every post and that I had control over the way that I allowed social media to make me feel, it was a game changer in how I felt about myself in relation to the posts I was reading. It wasn’t that everyone else was doing things that I needed to be doing more of, it was that the combination of all the posts that I read and saw were little goals that I may want to set for myself (or maybe not…we can’t do it all). We may not be able to control what others put on social media but we can certainly change the way we think and feel about it, and being able to guide our emotions in healthier directions is one of the best ways we can move forward in the way we think and the way we interact with both ourselves and with others.
Self-care is becoming as much of a buzzword as social-emotional learning, yet we are really in the beginning stages of this new “initiative” where we use the buzzwords but really don’t have a good grasp on what they mean or how to put them into practice. So currently, we look at each other in staff meetings and when we find someone who is particularly exhausted we ask them what they are doing to practice self-care. Inevitably, they look at us with exhausted eyes and mentally scan their days for proof of anything that may resemble their ability to take care of themselves. When they come up empty they make a joke about drinking wine or emphatically say, “I DO practice self-care” *cue guilty look* probably trying to convince themselves as much as anyone else.
There are a few aspects of self-care that make it difficult to practice. First, self-care can’t be done for you and when you’re most exhausted you’d do just about anything for someone else to be able to help. Unfortunately, self-care at its core is about bringing you back to feeling like you and you are the only one who can do that. It’s that fleeting feeling you get when you’ve settled into a moment and it feels like home. Nobody can do that for you. Second, it’s difficult working in a profession where our entire efficacy is wrapped up in how someone else is doing yet we need to move from focusing on them to focusing on us. Third, we don’t know what to do. This is especially the case if it has been a significant amount of time since we have taken time for ourselves. We forget. Literally, we have no idea what to do.
Self-care needs a proactive approach. Figuring out what works for you and practicing those activities will keep you healthy on a daily basis. Knowing what works before a very stressful time will help you fall into these routines when it may seem like too much work to think about self-care. Also, understanding the different kinds of self-care can help to create a holistic self-care routine that hits multiple areas. Below are the four areas that I’ve identified:
Emotional Emotional self-care includes things that help you feel balanced. This can be seeing a counselor (which is appropriate even when you’re not struggling), keeping a journal, spending time with friends who build you up and make you laugh, meditation, or focusing on the little things that bring you joy. It can also be practical activities like improving your organizational or budgeting skills which can help reduce stress. For this type of self-care, it’s important to reflect on what makes you happy. Sometimes we fall back on what other people tell us will make us happy instead of reflecting on what actually does.
Physical Physical self-care is anything you do to support the way your body functions. The most common recommendations I hear for self-care are yoga or running. Exercise is so important and if you’ve never tried yoga or running, I highly recommend finding out if that is something that would work for you. However, there are so many other types of exercise and physical activities for self-care like walking the dog, dancing, swimming, horseback riding, gardening, hiking or water skiing for example. What type of activity you’re doing is less important than the way it makes you feel. I enjoy mowing the lawn with the push mower. It makes me feel accomplished and I enjoy the sound of the mower. While mowing the lawn might be work for others, for me the peace I have while I’m mowing is a type of self-care.
Physical self-care can also be taking care of your body in ways besides moving. Attending to dental needs, staying hydrated, eating healthy, and getting regular physicals are practical ways to attend to self-care.
Intellectual If physical self-care is supporting your body and the way it functions, intellectual self-care is doing the same for your brain and thought processes. Examples of intellectual self-care are playing board games, reading a newspaper or the news online, doing a crossword, participating in a stimulating conversation with another person about something you find fascinating, or learning something new. When you feel like your mind is expanding and you are thinking deeper about a topic that you enjoy, that activity would probably fall under intellectual self-care.
Spiritual I often think of spiritual self-care as the things I do that help me feel like I’m striving to be a better person. Usually, these are activities that center me and allow me reflection time to see my growth in any area over a period of time. I also think that self-care in this area can remind us of our purpose or guide us down the path to finding it. Some people may practice their religion as a part of spiritual self-care, but doing activities like taking a moment to feel gratitude, communing with nature, or volunteering for a cause you love can also fill your spiritual cup.
It helps to make lists of what definitely works for you and anything new you would like to try. When you’re feeling good try something new to see if you can add the activity to the “works for me” column. When you’re stressed, you’ll have the list of activities that you know will provide the self-care you need to get back on track. Some activities hit multiple areas of self-care. For example, if you’ve never been kayaking and you try it, you are supporting the way your body functions (physical), learning a new skill (intellectual), and if it makes you happy (emotional) it fulfills three types of self-care.
When we understand how to provide ourselves with what we need to be ourselves, we are more likely to do those things. Yet, there still has to be a high amount of intentionality to ensure we are fulfilling all areas. Creating lists and being prepared will help us continue the self-care when adversity strikes and we’re not sure how we’re going to fit it in. We must promise ourselves that we will take care of us, and it can no longer be acceptable that we are the first ones that we break our promises to. In any profession where other people are the focus, like education, we must be strong in order to provide the best care for the ones we work with.
As a Tech Director, vendors and edtech companies drove me crazy. I’m not going to lie. The 50 emails I received a day for mailing lists that I never signed up for that began with, “I’ve left you several messages…” would nearly put me over the edge. As if I wasn’t trying to keep an entire technology ecosystem going, help raise students digitally, and be a good boss and only had time to satisfy their cold call or sales quota. Drove me crazy and forced me to turn my name tag around to hide my Director of Innovation and Technology title at any conference while walking through the expo hall. Can I scan you? No. No you may not.
Compounding this issue was the fact that so many edtech companies are started by people who never worked in education. Most people in EDU can pick out these people in less than a five minute conversation. It’s not to say these companies can’t be successful, but when they screw their face up into confusion and tell me that pedagogy sounds like a made up word it concerns me getting involved with people who have taken such little time to get to know their consumer base. If not for the business side then just because they should also care about kids.
Today I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was invited to a media session with the CEO of Instructure, the company who developed the Canvas LMS. I have been a huge fan of the platform for many years and have steered educators in that direction whenever they are looking for a more robust system than Google Classroom as I believe their software is second to none. Although I respect the platform they’ve built, because of my past history with edtech companies I was beyond skeptical about going into this meeting. I had not previously met Dan and I had my haunches up immediately expecting him to speak to investing and data and how they can drive revenue and oh yea, support learning, too. While the media asked him questions about investors and data, he consistently brought the conversation back around to learning…using words like competencies and standards and engagement and pedagogy in the correct context. He answered the business questions, but what lit him up was when he spoke about students and their learning. He smiled when he was asked a question that made him think through how their platform supported student learning in this way or that, and visibly became more excited discussing personalization and individualization. I was floored. And in the past where I had loved the tech, I realized that at InstructureCon this year, I adored the people behind the product. They ooze passion for education and both the CEO Dan and the rest of the crew has absolutely challenged every assumption I’ve been making about edtech companies. The Instructure people…they are our people. And I realized that there are so many more people standing just on the outside of education who are just as passionate as we are. There are more of us and we don’t need to navigate this alone.
I speak so often about assumptions and bias and how to overcome the ones you make and have, but sometimes I still need to gut check myself and make sure I’m practicing what I preach. I’ve grown. I can see the potential missed opportunities I may have had in the past from shunning the partners that we may have had in education. Partners like Instructure.
Althought this post was directly related to attending and participating in InstructureCon, I cannot mention educationally engaged companies without mentioning Classlink.
The CEO of Classlink, Berj Akian, is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. His employees will tell you, as I’ve been told by them multiple times, that the level of his philanthropy and giving back to his own employees is second to none. I have been told by an employee, “I would follow him anywhere”. Classlink’s product is amazing, but I believe what makes it one of the fastest growing edtech companies is the founder’s principals and commitment to students and their learning, and the same belief system is passed down, no expected, to be the foundation for the employees as well. Not only is the company an example of fantastic customer service and support, but the goals are clear: how can we do better for students and teachers.
I’ve written many blog posts about my core beliefs and how I’ve developed them. The core beliefs I hold, the values of education in which I hold sacred, are one of the most transformational gifts I’ve given myself. Developing them took work and patience and I couldn’t have sat down and written them prior to really living them out and determining what they were through reflection. All of this hard work means I love and cherish my values. I know what I stand for.
However, if you work hard and you align your core beliefs to your actions and you are constantly double-checking and reflecting that they are still in tact, there will inevitably be someone who comes along and challenges them. It may be because their core beliefs and my core beliefs are just different. Or, it may be that they have not taken the time to develop them so they are flying by the seat of their pants. Either way, I can’t control their beliefs anymore than they can control mine.
Some challenge to your belief system is good. It forces you to take a step back and evaluate what you are doing and believing. I’ve had to ask myself:
Am I fighting this battle for the right reasons? Is it about the impact of this decision or is it about the person with whom the challenge is with?
Am I making this personal?
Are my beliefs really what I think they are? Do they need an adjustment? Am I fighting against this only because I am upholding my beliefs or am I listening to the issue and recognizing that possibly the right decision goes against my beliefs? After all, I am not the be all and end all of deciding what’s right and wrong.
Any time I’m forced into deep reflection is valuable even if the reason it’s done (adversity/challenge) is uncomfortable. However, I’ve also been in situations where the challenge and adversity was too great. Where the situation was so against my core beliefs that I needed to make a decision to either walk away or go against my beliefs. And if you really have taken the time to develop your beliefs and you hold them as some of what makes you you, it feels like ripping a piece of who you are out and handing it over to someone else. It’s seriously gut wrenching. And at that point, you have a choice. You change your beliefs – you go against your beliefs – or you leave. George Couros wrote a post about it awhile back that sums up how I feel about the latter situation: When it’s time to leave.
There can be a lasting impact on a person when the adversity is so great and your beliefs are heavily challenged. Because education’s backbone is relationships it makes the work inherently emotional. We need to love and nurture other people’s children. It’s incredibly difficult but rewarding work. And because we have so much emotion tied up in the work if there is adversity surrounding what we are trying to do, it can cause an internal struggle that is unlike many other professions. If there is a teacher who is just coming to work, doing their job, and going home, we call them disengaged. We wouldn’t say that same thing about a postal worker, for example. It’s difficult to not take adversity personal because the job itself is so personal. So, when adversity strikes, I’ve found it can have lasting effects on us in many ways. For example:
Demoralization: In the book Demoralized: Why teachers leave the profession they love and how can they stay, Santoro described demoralization as the outcome from conflict between the moral obligation that a teacher feels to make the world a better place for students when they enter the profession and anything that goes against that moral code. It could be school-based or decisions by the administration but it could also be politically driven. When it happens repeatedly and the feeling of morality in regards to the students is threatened, it can challenge the very reason that a teacher went into the profession to begin with. When I speak or do workshops on disengaged teachers, I partially define that as someone who forgot why they began teaching to begin with. Some of our disengaged teachers could fall into this category.
Imposter Syndrome: Psychology Today defines Imposter Syndrome as, “…a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” When the beliefs that you’ve worked so hard to live are constantly challenged you begin to wonder if they were right to begin with. Eventually, the wonder turns into a conviction that you just know the right words to say but nothing you believe really works in real life with the real people that are constantly challenging you. Therefore, what you believe, what you say, and what you stand for feels fraudulent.
However, I’ve also learned that standing up for what you believe and sometimes even walking away when it’s really, really scary to do so can bring on its own kind of strength. And that, really, is the power of developing core beliefs to begin with. When everything is going well, they guide your decisions and action and help you understand that you are on the path you most believe is right. When adversity strikes they allow for the same guidance, but the strength needed to continue to live by those beliefs can be taxing. Sometimes, it would be so much easier just to cave to those around you. However, in the reflection of any situation, there is a calming confidence that happens when you realize you can look back and say, “I never did anything that I didn’t wholeheartedly believe was right.” And in the face of real adversity, it’s at that point where you begin to heal and move forward.