As a result of schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many educators are now working from home. Initially, sleeping in during your typical commute time and wearing pajama pants all day may have been a welcome shift away from your fast-paced routine. Although, by now, you may have realized working from home comes with it’s own unique set of challenges: finding it hard to focus, replying to dozens of messages a day from parents or students asking questions about tech or your instructional materials, and dealing with increased anxiety about the virus, your students’ well-being and your physical confinement. Sure, you love your family, but being in close proximity for weeks on end is challenging!
As an instructional coach who regularly works remotely, I am familiar with these challenges, and I’ve developed a few routines to address them
What does well-being entail?
The National Wellness Institute’s 6 dimensions of wellness are: physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and occupational. They state, “wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” This description provides us with a sense of control, which is particularly important in moments of crisis. We can take stock of our well-being in each dimension, identify the areas where we would like to invest more energy, and decide how we want to build up that dimension of wellness. Each person’s wellness priorities and specific well-being practices will vary, but let’s look at some examples of what well-being practices could look like.
As a teacher, I was used to moving my body all day, every day. The transition to largely sitting at a desk each day was challenging. I realized I am not at my best (physically or mentally) when I sit all day. So, I’ve tried to find a way to move my body everyday. I’m a runner, so I try to go for a run every other day. Other days, I’ll stay inside and do an indoor workout—this doesn’t need to cost money. I often do some body weight squats and push-ups (from my knees, no shame here!) or simply shake out my limbs for 10 seconds at a time. Some days, I just walk in circles around my very small apartment or walk up and down my apartment building’s stairwell as I try not to touch the railing. When I was teaching full time, I never hydrated well enough. That’s still true for me today, so I try to combine my movement breaks with my hydration efforts and regularly get up to refill my cup with water.
This is probably the most challenging dimension of well-being for me. I’m definitely an introvert, and I often say no to group hangs. Usually, I say this is because I want to practice self-care and conserve my energy. I’ve been invited to Zoom social hours, and so far, I’ve chosen not to go. At times like this, I feel like my preference to read a book by myself indicates there is something wrong with me. However, I have enjoyed work-related socializing like co-facilitating virtual workshops for teachers. This is solidly more in my comfort zone. I think it’s okay to combine a social well-being practice with another dimension like intellectual well-being. It doesn’t need to be co-facilitating or co-teaching either. It might be a virtual book club that meets via video chat. I have noticed seeing people’s faces and hearing people’s voices gives me a greater sense of connection than texting or commenting on social media posts, but, fellow introverts, we can choose whatever means of connection works for us!
I’m a very goal-oriented person, so each year, I set a goal for the number of books I want to read. Lately, my reading goal has kept me reading more than watching TV (which is so much easier to do!) I track my progress on the Goodreads app, as part of their annual reading challenge. I try to read each day, before bed and sometimes for just a few minutes in the morning to help my eyes and mind adjust to being awake. A colleague asked me what I learned about myself after completing my 100-book challenge in 2019, and it was fascinating to hear my own answer. I discovered I had a passion for reading the memoirs of female comedians. I learned a bunch of new words. Now, I feel like I’m designing a literature course just for myself as I pick my upcoming reads. One hiccup in my plan to read more during the corona virus quarantine is that my local library is closed. So, I rely on BookMooch, a site that lets you exchange books with other readers just for the cost of shipping. If and when I run out of books, I have found watching documentaries, doing online crossword puzzles, and watching old Jeopardy episodes on Hulu has kept my brain feeling nourished.
Spiritual may be religious, but it is also more broadly defined as one’s “sense of purpose” or “meaning in life,” (National Wellness Institute). I’m not religious, but I typically have a strong sense of purpose. Although, I have to admit, during this pandemic, when the parts of my job that include in-person teaching and facilitation have all been cancelled, I have had to do some soul searching about what it is I’m doing here. I’ve had to step back and ask myself why I’m in this line of work, what I can offer in this moment, and remind myself that the struggles I’m facing are strengthening my character. I often refer to VIA’s 24 values or “character strengths”, which I used to use with my high school students, to identify which value I’m being challenged to strengthen during this time. I try to talk to myself as if I were talking to a student, with empathy, but also with encouragement to adopt a lens of resilience or a growth mindset. I’m surviving. I’m strengthening parts of myself that haven’t been pushed in this way before.
I also teach myself to use the same self-regulation strategies or mindfulness techniques I have invited my students to use. Lately, my favorite breathing technique has been: smell the flower, blow the bubbles. When I’m having a serious bout of anxiety, I like to use Stop Think Breathe, which is an app that guides you through breathing exercises. (There’s an adult version, but I sometimes use the kid’s version because I love the simplicity, and it makes me feel like I’m in my own classroom again.) I try to monitor my emotions and energy level as I support my current college students in the transition to remote learning. I’ve decided to set boundaries around how and when I will respond to student questions. I find I’m most effective and empathetic to questions when I check my email only once a day, and offer the option to sign up for virtual 1:1 support during two, 1-hour blocks of time during the week.
As educators, we want to do a good job for our students, which can feel difficult in this time of school closures and potentially transitioning to online teaching. To support you in making this shift effectively, I’ve created a series of blog posts on adapting to school closures, which I’ve been posting for the last few weeks. I’ve used these posts as a way to synthesize my ideas, research, and experiences to help me plan how to support my current students during this challenging time.
The biggest thing I’ve learned throughout all of this, is I am most successful when I make it a routine. One of the hardest things for me to remember is to move and drink water, so I start the day with 6 bracelets on one wrist and gradually move them over to the other wrist as I finish a new glass of water. I also make colorful trackers with paper and markers to track my progress with my other goals. It feels really good to take note of my progress, no matter how small, each day!
Want an example of a well-being practices tracker? Click the button below for a free PDF.
Just as we create and put plans in place for our students to ensure they are well, we can do the same for ourselves as educators! Research indicates teacher burnout predicts student academic outcomes and is correlated with lower levels of student motivation and increased student stress (Lever, Mathis, & Mayworm, 2017). Taking care of our own well-being enables us to be more effective as we support our students.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.