Sunday, August 23, 2020
Hello, I’m Dr. Dale Atkins, and I’m happy to be with you. I’d like to talk a bit about teachers returning to school and I just want to start by saying that many of us are feeling overwhelmed and frightened as we think about returning to school. When we are in that state, it’s very hard for us to take in information and to hold on to it. So today, I have a simple message. I’m asking you to think for a moment and identify what you think is most important in this moment for your particular group of students.
For some of you, I suspect most, it’s establishing or re-establishing a sense of connection and safety for your students. Depending on the age of your children, what might that involve?
For young children, a simple lesson plan that involves fun and a clear objective. “Look what we accomplished today!” We now know how to do whatever it was you taught them to do. We need to give kids lots of encouragement and express joy of being together, whether in person or digitally.
With older students, recognize how challenging it is to keep a safe distance, but despite physical distance, how much we can gain from each other, really paying attention and also listening to our different perspectives. Create realistic expectations, reflect on where your children are emotionally. Some of them may be doing really well and others may be very fragile at this time. Plan your teaching with this in mind. Given your specific students, what’s most important to establish?
Build a support team around yourself. With whom can you share your concerns and your fears? Who can help you come up with creative ideas for addressing the unusual moment that we’re in now? If you have two or three people, whether other teachers at school or friends from outside of school who are good resources, make a plan to connect with them regularly. This is not a time to go it alone! In addition to paying close attention to how your children are doing, pay close attention to your own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual state. This is a time to practice self-compassion. That’s compassion towards ourselves.
Which leads me to self care. Many of you are experiencing the demands of school in addition to caring for the needs of your families. Given all of the demands that you face, what can you do, what specifically can you do to help yourself be well and have energy, physically? You may need to let some things slide in order to get more sleep. Sleep is essential to sustaining your health. Please don’t wait until you get sick in order to take a rest.
What soothes your mind and emotions? Taking a walk in nature? Spending time with a pet? Soaking in a warm bath with a candle and relaxing music? Singing or dancing to your favorite music? What are the things that come to mind for you? Take a moment and write them down. When we are busy and stressed, we can push ourselves way too hard. But research shows us that we will think more clearly and creatively if we take periodic breaks and release some of the stress from our bodies and our minds.
A five minute dance or laughter break may help you think through a challenging situation that you have to deal with in the classroom tomorrow in a very creative way. Whether we like it or not, we are all being forced to face the reality of living with uncertainty. It does not help us to resist it and dwell on the frustration and anger that we may feel. It will not help us to dwell on what may happen next month or even next week. What do we face today? What do you face today? What do you need to do today to plan for tomorrow? Keep your focus on what’s happening now at this moment in time. A choice you made last month regarding where you go or who you see and how you would adhere to or bend your own rules about personal safety may not be the choice that you make today. Others may have an opinion about your choice and they may be very vocal about expressing their opinion.
But I’m asking you to listen to your own inner voice and use that voice as your guide. That voice is grounded in your own values and will help you to modulate various levels of comfort. Everything changes and it changes day by day. So keep your finger on your own pulse and listen to that voice. In the midst of all the difficulties and disappointments, and challenges, what is happening at home, in your neighborhood, at your school that you are grateful for?
Look for the things that are happening and savor them. You know, we can make changes to our brain, by the way. We think our brain actually does change when we think positive thoughts and when we think negative thoughts. And it only requires 15 seconds to release endorphins that reduce stress chemicals. We are built biologically to note danger for survival purposes. But, there is so much that is good and beautiful and it may pass us without our even noticing it.
We have to give it more than a glance. A wise practice, especially now, would be to make a point of looking for that which is positive, that which is uplifting, and to do it every day. It might be the beauty of a tree or a bird, the light playing on a soap bubble in the sink, or a child who helped another child at school. Be attentive to anything that is good, uplifting, beautiful. It will help us balance the stress that uncertainty creates.
We will hear and see much that is negative and unsettling. Let’s commit to actively seeking the good that is also here. It will strengthen us physically, mentally and emotionally if we do this regularly. It may not be easy at first because we need to train ourselves to do this. But, we can make it a habit and it will help us every day.
This moment that we’re in requires courage – courage to recognize our fear and anxiety, and to find healthy ways to live with both of them. It requires courage to learn and incorporate technology in ways that we did not need before COVID.
Hopefully, as we learn, we will be kind to ourselves and flexible in the process. And hopefully, too, we will take time to breathe, to breathe in and out slowly so we can ground ourselves and we can appreciate where we are at this moment. Thank you so much. I wish you all the best.