Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Finding Balance": 5 Challenges for Teachers During The Holidays

It's the Sunday before Thanksgiving week, and, like many teachers across our nation, I'm gearing up for the next few days.  I know that it will likely be nearly impossible to get much "academic" work done in the two days before Thanksgiving.  And when we return from break, the month of December seems to get lost in a flurry of growing excitement.

Now, being teachers, we are naturally driven to make the most of every moment that we have with our students.  Given the current state of affairs, many of us are feeling pressured to not lose these next few precious weeks so that we can still meet our deadlines, stay on track with our curriculums, and check the seemingly endless number of boxes that are required in our profession.  All of this gets further complicated by working with a population (kids) who are only going to get more distracted and excited as the next month ensues.

Beyond the classroom, there are countless other stresses.  For some reason, our culture in America seems to feel more stressed, anxious, and depressed during the holiday season.  When we should be taking a step back to reflect upon the past year and everything that we have to be grateful for, we are running ourselves ragged instead.  So I've created a short list of challenges for teachers in the hopes that each of us will take a moment to step away from the madness, and to embrace everything that is truly wonderful about the holiday season.

Get Outside the Classroom
Are the kids in your classroom "bouncing off the walls"?  Why not get rid of the walls, then?  As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it can be challenging to take the time to get your students outside of the classroom.  But this can also be the perfect remedy for kids with too much pent up energy.  Take some time outdoors to observe and experience the change of seasons.  Sure, you can work it into your ELA or science curriculums, or you could just blow off some steam and give the kids a chance to exercise.  We all know that their brains become more active when their active bodies lead the way.  Even a five minute "brain break" can help the kids check into their learning, and will help you maintain your sanity.

Design a Service-Learning Project
Remember when this time of year was about gratitude and giving?  The holidays present an incredible opportunity for service-learning projects in our communities.  Not only are there countless organizations who would benefit from the support and energy of school groups, but there is also a wonderful opportunity to tap into the creative hearts and minds of your students by allowing them to design a project that helps out someone else in your community.  Not sure where to start?  Contacting your local Senior Center, Homeless Shelter, or Food Shelf can get the process rolling.  But there really is no limit to how far these projects can go.  Have your students think about problems and challenges in your community, then allow them the space to "design" solutions to these problems.  You might just be amazed with the ideas that they come up with.

Have a Conversation with a Colleague, And Don't Talk About School

I know in most workplaces there is the water cooler, where people come together to talk about the news, last night's game, or just to take a break from work.  As teachers, most of us run around all day, never really stopping to have a "real" conversation with our friends and colleagues.  So, rather than rushing around, making copies, or tracking down that student who owes you a missing assignment, take a moment to appreciate the other people in your building.  Don't feel guilty, either.  One of the most important factors in workplace satisfaction is collegial relationships.  And let's face it, a happy teacher makes for happier students.

Sit Spot/Quiet Time
Ever want to escape from it all?  Well, this is your chance to do just that, if only for a few minutes each day.  Find a quiet place where there are no distractions.  Turn off your electronic devices and just sit.  I prefer doing this outside and I use this time to draw my awareness to the natural world around me.   I also use this practice with my students.  We are all living in a world where we are under a constant barrage of information.  How often do we just sit with our thoughts and draw our attention inward?  Maybe you want to meditate or journal instead. That's fine, but make sure you prioritize some quiet time.

What's Your '5-to-9'?
Everybody knows what a '9-to-5' is?  It's the workday of the average person in America.  As teachers, our days are often a little more like 7:30 to 3 with students. Then emails, paperwork and meetings from 3 until 4:30.  Later on in the evening, there's planning and grading.  Let's face it... we don't do a very good job of "leaving work at work".

So what's a '5-to-9'?  It's what you do with your time when you aren't working.  Your '5-to-9' represents your passions, interests, loves, and all of the "others" that we sometimes neglect as teachers.  This is an opportunity to find some balance and to remember all of those other things which help make you, you!  My '5-to-9s' include playing with my kids, having a glass of wine with my wife, running, reading, and getting outdoors.  What are yours? Let's all remember to take some time for ourselves and our families, lest we forget what this season is really all about!