15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: #1 Prioritize Myself

I bet some of you are reading this thinking I’ve lost my mind. Prioritize myself? But, we’re in a global pandemic! I’m a teacher! I must prioritize my my own children, my elderly parents, my students! Now is the time to take care of others! I’m fine. Well, I now have a different take on it.

Image: Huddart Park, Woodside, CA. Lyrics by Linda Creed, 1977, made famous by Whitney Houston, 1985

When we prioritize ourselves, we’re not only modeling self love and self respect to those around us, but we’re also better equipping and positioning ourselves to take care of our children, parents, students, and even other members of our community. When we don’t prioritize ourselves, we can potentially develop unhealthy stress, unhealthy habits, and even an unhealthy mental state. In March and April, I actually fell into a really difficult, painful, unfamiliar mental space, which I learned was a type of adjustment disorder. Because of this, I realized I was not fully capable of taking care of others, so I needed to make a big change. Indeed, learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. But, even though it sounds beautiful, it’s just not that simple. It’s not easy to get there and stay there- in fact, it is extremely difficult and often requires uncomfortable commitments and outside help, which eventually helped me. If it seems overwhelming or impossible, I urge you to seek help outside of yourself. It made a huge difference for me. In addition, perhaps reading about my mistakes from the spring may help a bit.

Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020

As soon as our shelter in place was called back on March 13th here in California, I jumped into what I thought was productivity mode. I sent my classroom families daily emails, spent hours trying to create perfect instructional videos, monitored my classroom discussion board at all hours, called my own parents to lecture them about staying home, and joined every single social Zoom to which I was invited.

I eventually learned those daily emails to classroom parents became more of a burden on them than a help, the videos I tried to perfect were actually more effective the simpler they were, my students were not using the discussion board at all hours so my constant monitoring was unnecessary, my parents were already making good choices for themselves- my frantic calls only frustrated them, and that I needed to pick and choose which Zoom events to join- Zoom fatigue is real!

I completely burnt out, and in doing so I left no space for self love and joy for myself, let alone for those around me. During the past couple months, I’ve been taking a new approach, and will continue that approach as the school year starts.

What I’ll Do Moving Forward As the School Year Begins

There are three simple steps I’ve adopted and will continue to apply to show love to myself as I officially start the school year on August 10th.

NUMBER 1: Start each day doing something I love and put a HARD STOP on the work day to fully engage in other aspects of life. For me, this means brewing a pot of coffee and going for a quick 15 minute walk or run in the neighborhood before I do anything else for the day. I find I am happier the more I move. I’ll be teaching full distance come August, so intentionally moving before sitting down at the computer each day is critical. Plus, walking into the house to the smell of fresh coffee after a short workout is just heavenly. Running, walking, and coffee is not for everybody. What brings you joy? What might something you love to start the day look like?

Also, working until after 8, 9, sometimes even 10pm did nobody any favors in the spring, including myself. So, I made the intentional choice to put a hard stop on my school work day at 3pm. My workday starts at 7am, so putting a stop to it at 8 hours is more than reasonable. Of course flexibility will be necessary to accommodate occasional meeting needs and other events, but for the majority of each week, my work day will stop at 3pm, and I’m not hiding it. Stopping the work day at 3pm will allow me to better take care of myself, enjoy my family and friends, and engage in the things I love outside of work. Plus, it will also keep me refreshed and allow me to be my best self for my students at the start of each new school day. Later in this series, I’m going to discuss time management and how I will actually make my 3pm hard stop a reality. Look for that post on Tuesday, August 4th.

NUMBER 2: Say no and own it. One of the most effective ways to practice self love is to embrace the act of saying no. For many teachers, myself included, saying no to a request is extremely difficult. The last thing we want to do is let anyone down. However, saying no to the things that may drain our energy or use up precious after-school time will only open up more possibilities for the things we value and love.

For the school year ahead, I have personally promised myself that I will say no to the the following in order to open up space for more things that I love.

I will say no to…
– Any requests to sit on a district-wide committee- after all, I have other smart colleagues who will gladly fill in.
-School work on the weekend- whatever it is can wait until Monday.
-Any social events that might be more of an energy drain than an uplifting renewal- I’m looking at you, Thursday afternoon Zoom happy hour.
-Any favors or extras for those not in one of my inner circles: family, close friends, trusted colleagues, etc. I know I cannot be all-things to all people, so I won’t even waste my precious energy trying.

Much of this may sound harsh or uncaring to some, but that’s ok. I’m trying to focus on loving myself so I can be the best teacher, daughter, friend, sister, colleague, and self that I can be. I’m ok with saying no, and the people who matter the most to me will be ok with it, too!

NUMBER 3: Name what brings me joy, what drains my energy, and act accordingly. The simple act of writing down the things that bring me joy and the things that drain my energy has been incredibly helpful. I placed my simple t-chart list in a space where I will see it often. I’m consciously making an effort to do more of the things that bring me joy and less of the things that drain my energy.

When we were first ordered to stay at home, I spent way too much time on the things listed here than drained my energy. Not only that, but I allowed myself to feel guilty when I indulged in the things that brought me joy. As soon as I decided that guilt had no place in my life, I started feeling much better. Now, I have no issues with sitting in the backyard for hours at a time reading, binge watching The Walking Dead (there’s something about a zombie apocalypse that oddly makes me feel better about our current situation), or going for a hike with my phone turned off. Creating my joy and energy drain list really changed things for me. I highly recommend making a list of your own- and, I’d love to see it!

My joy/energy drain list. I’d love to see your list as well!

As the school year is quickly approaching, it is more important than ever to to completely love yourself by not working obscene hours, embracing the gift of saying no, and naming/acting upon what brings you joy and drains your energy. After all, learning to love yourself, indeed, is the greatest love of all (cheesy, I know, but it’s true!). As soon as we can embrace loving ourselves, we will have so much more to offer the other people in our lives as well- our family, our friends, our colleagues, and our students.

Further Resources

Post #2 is coming up tomorrow! Tomorrow’s writing will explore the mistakes I made in the relationships with my students this past spring and what I plan to do to build positive relationships with my students once the new school year starts in just a few weeks’ time.

All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!

15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: A Blog Series

Photo taken while on a run on Half Moon Bay’s Coastal Trail, July 2020. All photos in this series are my own

All of my good friends, family, and anybody who has ever spent more than 20 minutes in conversation with me knows I am a huge Pearl Jam fan. The words seen here are from the song Release off 1991’s Ten album. I found myself humming, singing, and listening to these lyrics over and over again the past few months, “I’ll ride the wave, where it takes me…” Never have flexibility, understanding, and patience played such a role in my world. I venture to guess in your world as well. What a wave it has been the past few months. Ups, downs, sickness, health, fear, relief, loss, love, and still complete uncertainty.

Our role as teachers has never been so important and has also never been so undefined. I don’t know where the wave will take us in the coming months. I don’t think any of us know, but I have a few lessons to offer and ideas to share to potentially help us all ride the wave together.

I am not an expert in online learning. In fact, I struggled with it this past spring. Like many of you, I am a classroom teacher who spent the spring of 2020 trying it, reflecting on it, noticing successes and complete misses, and listening to feedback from colleagues, my students, and my students’ caregivers. I rode the wave, and I’m about to dive in again. We all are. So, I decided to share some of the lessons I’ve learned to help my fellow classroom teachers as you join me in riding another wave of uncertainty: the 2020-21 school year.

The 15 lessons that I’ll share in the coming days and weeks are born of the mistakes I made, successes I had, and the many conversations I’ve had and books I’ve read over the past few months. The posts will include helpful resources, recommended books, and maybe even a video or two. This blog series is meant to offer ideas, support, and a little camaraderie as the 2020-21 school year approaches.

How This Series is Organized

  • Posts 1-5, July 20th-24th- the human aspect of teaching: our relationships.
  • Posts 6-10, July 27th-August 4th- establishing care and trust: those critical first days of school
  • Posts 11-15, August 6th-13th- striving for a productive year for all: big overarching ideas

Each post will be short by design and will only take a few minutes to read. In the comments section each day, I’d love to hear about the lessons you’ve learned as well. Teachers freely and openly sharing with each other is more important than ever.

Subscribe to the blog by clicking on the Follow this Blog link to get each post delivered to your inbox or check back here. The 15 lessons learned will be posted over the next three weeks between July 20th and August 12th.

We have to support and lift each other up right now. I’m here for you. And, I just might ask you to be there for me, too. Let’s ride this wave together.

-Christina

Posts in the Series Will be Added Here as They’re Published

Even Our Youngest Writers Are Making Strategic Decisions

In our work together, Kari Yates and I often share with teachers our belief that all readers are constantly making strategic decisions. It is our job as teachers to let students in on the secret. Many times, students are using skills and strategies and aren’t even aware they are doing so. When we recognize and name what our readers are doing, it is very likely they will do it again. Thus, they will continue to grow as readers.

Our work as teachers is to celebrate the effort, approximations, and new strategic work that our students are continually doing. Kari and I often talk about this with readers, but the same goes for our student writers.

During conferences and small groups with students, when we recognize, name, and point out the strategic moves they are making, we are intentionally offering teaching that will support them in using these skills and strategies again and again.

I am so excited to share this idea tomorrow with elementary teachers in Los Gatos, CA! In our three professional development sessions around writing workshop, we are going to practice recognizing, naming, and pointing out the strategic moves that student writers are making, and then thinking about possible next steps to help them grow. Can you name some of the strategic decisions these writers made?

As teaching colleagues, one of the most powerful things we can do to refine our practice and grow ourselves is to analyze student work together. I can’t think of a better way to spend a staff meeting, grade level collaboration session, or professional development day. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

So, I took a risk…

This school year, I took a risk (which is so unlike me) by taking a slightly reduced teaching contract so I could open up more days to bring my deep love of literacy education to teachers in other schools and districts across the Bay Area and other parts of the West. I love teaching kids, but I equally love teaching teachers- I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to do both. My schedule is already completely full for the year. Day one of working with teachers is this Monday! I am so excited for the opportunity to work with the teachers at Laurel School in Menlo Park… I’m looking forward to sharing these great books and discussing different ways to kick off and make the most of reading workshop for all students. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.  And, I’m now booking for the summer of 2020 and the 2020-21 school year!