How are teachers dealing with school closures? What can you do during this very stressful time to maintain a relationship with your students, stay calm, and take care of your family?
Undoubtedly, we are in a time where teachers need to be flexible. Last week teachers were preparing packets of work to go home. This week they are navigating distance learning and google classroom with their elementary students. Teachers were told to plan for 1-2 weeks without students and now they won’t be going back this school year.
How schools approach the closures is changing every week and every day. How we educate students is a now constantly moving target.
How do teachers respond to school closures and make the best of this ever-changing life we now have?
Navigate School Closures as a Teacher
Elementary teachers are in a unique place to take care of little people who are vulnerable and scared during this crisis. Teachers’ focus is on their students, both emotionally and academically. Here are some tips for responding professionally during this crisis.
Create a Schedule
Are you the type of teacher who likes to have things in order, know what’s coming next, and plans out detailed lessons? Creating a schedule, or really multiple schedules will help you feel calmer during this crisis. Of course, be sure that you allow for some flexibility within these schedules, too!
Create a schedule for yourself during the day
Set a routine. Know when it’s work time and family time. As teachers, we tend to work all of the time and have trouble turning off our teacher-brain. This is one season where I would consider being more intentional about work time and nonwork time, in order to decompress and have that time away from work.
Create a Schedule for Your Students
Create a schedule for your students so that they (and parents) know when to communicate with you. Consider setting office hours and only work with those hours, if possible. Since everything is online now, parents and students can now access the visual classroom and online learning 24 hours a day.
Create a Suggested Schedule for Parents
Like students and yourself, parents may benefit from a routine and schedule. This parent schedule is likely very different from a student schedule and includes more guidance about helping children with schoolwork, having downtime, and expected hours of worktime or downtime.
Make the schedule realistic. Some parents think that their children need to do 6 hours of work a day because that’s what students do at school. Or that they need to sit for an hour at a time. Help parents understand that school at home does not need to mirror school in the classroom.
Set Boundaries with Parents
To follow up on the schedule that you have created, consider setting boundaries with parents and clearly communicating when you are available to answer questions.
Parents are scared. Kids are frightened. Things are changing every day. Schools will likely be closed for quite a while. Parents will have A LOT of questions. Answer them, but also be honest when you can’t answer something.
Figure out your boundaries and what you’re willing to do and not willing to do before you’re in a situation that pushes up against those boundaries.
Are parents texting at 9PM? Is this outside of those boundaries? Do some parents want more work, less work, or no work?
An Exercise to Think Ahead About Your Boundaries
Before parents come to you, brainstorm situations you might encounter with parents and consider ways to respond to them. Doing this exercise will help you respond calmly to students.
- Sit down for 10-15 minutes.
- Divide a piece of paper in half.
- On the left, brainstorm all the different scenarios that could come up with parent.
- On the right, write down how you will respond in that scenario. Think about multiple ways to respond. Also think about ways to calm yourself down, if you’re in a situation that makes you uncomfortable or stressed out.
By thinking about situations and scenarios ahead of time, you prepare your mind and your heart for these difficult times. You will likely be the brunt of some negative words from parents. Parents are stressed and nervous. Knowing how to respond to their stress will allow you to deal with your stress.
Recognize when Home Situations are Out of Your Control
School may be the only safe place for some of your students. Not all families are equipped to have kids at home for long periods of time.
While we can recognize this, it is not something many teachers can directly influence. You may have to come to terms not being able to help some of your students in this crisis. Figure out how to show compassion, but not let students’ home situations overwhelm you.
An Exercise About Your Sphere of Influence
Are you ready for another exercise? This is a quick one. Taking about 15 minutes to do this exercise will help you prioritize how you spend your time over the next few weeks.
You’ve likely seen the concentric circles and the concept of your sphere of influence. Stephen Covey is the founder of this exercise.
On a piece of paper, draw two concentric circles. Label one Circle of Influence. Label the other Circle of Concern. Use another piece of paper as a brain dump or use sticky notes.
Alternatively, label the circles as the image below: I can directly influence, I can indirectly influence and out of my control. I sometimes find that while I don’t have complete control over something I can indirectly make a difference in some way.
Spend 10-15 minutes reflecting on the past week. On each sticky note, write something that happened that worried you. After reflecting on the week, think about the week ahead. What do you have coming up that may cause you to be stressed?
After you have a list of ideas or a stack of stick notes, start categorizing them. Place them in your circle of influence if you can directly control the situation. Place it in the circle of influence if you cannot directly control it.
Some things might be in between and with a little collaboration with other teachers or actions from your school district could move to the circle of influence. This can be placed in the “indirectly influence” circle.
The way we do life is changing every day and every week. Teachers are being asked to adjust and change with it. While you may create a schedule, set boundaries, and place certain things within your circle of influence, know that things will likely change. Create order, but also be flexible.
Personal Ways Teachers Can Navigate School Closures
Teachers are being called to a whole new way of teaching with distance learning and teaching from their homes. While in the past teachers were able to physically leave things at school (even if we emotionally took them home), the lines between home and school are not as clear.
Some of the above suggestions help you navigate your school life at home. Here are some suggestions to navigate your home and personal life so that you can be more present in your school life.
Be Intentional about Decompressing
Whatever you do to ease the stress from your life. Do it. In fact, find multiple ways to decompress.
Here are 30 ways to Destress. It was written for the beginning of the school year, but most of the tips are applicable at any time of the year.
Here are 95 ways teachers can stay fresh over the summer. I know it’s not summer, but some of the ideas still fit.
The main idea is that you need to be intentional about separating work and home time and be intentional about finding ways to reduce your stress.
Get Your Finances in Order
Financially these are uncertain times. Many people are out of work or fear to lose their jobs. Stock markets are down. We do not know what the future holds, but we can control our present.
There are many ways you can focus on your finances. In the past, we followed Dave Ramsey. Now we are a fan of Choose FI. I actively listen to the Choose FI podcast and they have recently changed their format to respond to this crisis. They are creating podcasts daily about how to respond to these current times.
The central idea of both resources above are to know where your money is going and reduce spending.
We have had to take a hard look at finances. We’ve figured out our necessities and the costs of food, utilities, mortgage, and insurance. From there it’s all negotiable and more or less in the want category. We’ve run a few scenarios about how much we need to have for 3 months, six months, eight months. We’ve figured out our income and whether we can meet our basic needs, then how much we have to put into the negotiable categories. These are hard times, but having a plan in place, having expectations for the next steps, and having the discussions help a ton.
Spend Intentional Time With Your Family
You’re stuck with them! Make the best of it!
But seriously. Use this time to re-establish family relationships. Play games, go for walks and do art projects. Organize and clean out the garage or your kids’ dressers.
Do what you can to engage your kids and your spouse in intentional, quality time. Build relationships that you don’t have time to build because you’re teaching.
More Resources for Distance Learning