5 Ways to Finish Strong

Today is the final day of our spring break.

I am cautiously optimistic about the upcoming quarter and the end of our school year. With regard to the pandemic, we may not be out of the woods yet, but it appears that we are on a path that will lead us there. Case numbers are declining and vaccinations are increasing. Hopefully we will be able to get things under control and return to some semblance of normal in the next several months.

Schools across the country are still grappling with how to safely and effectively return to in-person learning. Everyone’s situation is a bit different. Some who are reading this may be preparing for their first experience with in-person learning in over a year. Others may already have been there — dealing with the challenges of social distancing, student and staff quarantines, and some difficult combination of in-person and virtual learning. Regardless of the individual situation, this past year has been extremely challenging for educators, students, and families. A regular school year is capable of generating too much stress, let alone attempting to navigate the unknowns of a global pandemic while trying to maintain something that resembles what we call school.

Here I am, on the eve of the last quarter of the 2020-21 school year, thinking about how I will manage the day to day, deal with the challenges, and remain sane in the process. Allow me to “think aloud” for a few paragraphs and suggest a few things I think you (students, parents, or even family members) might be able to do in order to facilitate a strong finish to the school year without running yourself into the ground.

  1. Say this out loud, “I am not behind.” Repeat it. The current focus in education “chatter” revolves around making up for lost time, closing gaps, and addressing learning loss. I believe this is a false, and harmful narrative that creates division and unnecessary stress (see my previous post). Teachers, you are not behind. Students, you are not behind. Just like every other person in the world, we have been dealing with a global crisis. It has not been easy, convenient, or ideal, but it has been our reality. In my humble opinion, we should not be trying to cram more stuff into our day in order to “catch up,” but we should be encouraging good teaching and learning practices. Assess need. Start where we are, focus on making progress, and celebrate success. Have we covered all of our curriculum? It’s doubtful. Does that mean we haven’t learned? Of course not. You are not behind.
  2. You do not have to be perfect. Toss perfection to the side. It’s not healthy. Even though the pandemic appears to be subsiding, we still have challenging days ahead. Teachers and students should be given the latitude to make mistakes and move forward. Both need to show themselves grace. It is unfortunate, but our society tends to cast educators as either heroes, or goats — rarely anything in between. Don’t buy into this false dichotomy. If you keep the best interest of your students at the center of your decision making and you focus on giving your best each day, things will work out. It may not be perfect, but remember you don’t need to be.
  3. Every day, set yourself up for success. Consider beginning each day by writing down three things that will allow you to feel good about what you have accomplished. This might be offering words of encouragement to a student, or colleague. Giving feedback on one class set of papers. Connecting with a parent. It can be anything, just be sure your three items are specific and manageable. You may have other things to accomplish, but the idea is that if you complete these three tasks, you can feel good about your day. Write them on a post-it note, or note card and put them where you will see them throughout the day. Check them off as you go. Didn’t get them all done? Refer to number two…show yourself grace.
  4. Seek out small wins. As you go through your day, constantly monitor for little opportunities to celebrate. These small wins are stepping stones to greater success. You should do this on a personal level (i.e. what did I do well today?) and you should encourage it in your students (acknowledge their accomplishments and affirm and their efforts). You might even find it helpful to make note of your small wins for the week so that you can look back and see all that you have accomplished. It is easy to end a day feeling drained and unfulfilled. However, in most cases, if we reexamine things moment by moment we will be able to recognize enough successes to give us the courage to try again tomorrow.
  5. Unplug. Literally. The pandemic has certainly increased the amount of time we spend in front of a screen. We can be thankful that we have the ability to safely connect with friends and loved ones via cell phones and computers, but I fear that our increased reliance on technology is also taking a toll on our mental health. We are always on. Repeat after me: “I do not need to check my e-mail on evenings and weekends.” You don’t. It can wait. Take time daily to step away from your device. Your phone will be okay without you. Read a book with real pages (I have a Kindle, but sometimes a physical book is just better). Go for a walk — without your phone. Practice a new hobby (I’m trying out vermiculture and hoping to start experimenting with brewing my own Kombucha). Go fishing. Knit. Play frisbee golf. Take pictures. Just do something every day that gives you a break from your screen(s).

Don’t worry, you will be able to weather the storms.

Just remember that you are not behind. Being an educator (or a student) does not require a cape or super powers — cut yourself some slack. Figure out three things that you can accomplish that will make you feel good about each day and make them a priority. Be constantly on the lookout for reasons to celebrate. Keep in mind that even in during difficult times, we all have reasons to be grateful. Take the time to acknowledge the good in your days. And, don’t forget to step away from your screen(s) — leaving your work behind and investing in something that renews your energy.

Best wishes to all of my fellow educators, to our students, and to our families as we head into the final quarter of the school year.

You’ve got this.

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