As I write this, it is early Saturday morning. I’m wrapped in a quilt pieced with pirates and bright fabric that my mom made just for me. Sweet coffee is in a favorite mug. I am writing today. But there is more. In the still-quiet morning as words march across the page and coffee courses through my veins, my soul begins to be restored.
Although this may seem insignificant, these things are crucial. When the fresh start of a new school year is beginning to wear off, we are left feeling tired and overwhelmed. Sometimes it almost feels impossible to complete all the tasks on my plate.
Here’s the deal, though. I’m an instructional coach, so the most pressing task on my plate is to support and encourage teachers. How can I do that if I’m overwhelmed and tired? Teachers’ most pressing task is to support and encourage student learning. How can they do that if they are overwhelmed and tired?
Learning and growth happen in environments where people feel they have time and space to learn. If the pressure we feel as teachers and coaches isn’t holstered, then the learning environment is hampered. How can we combat the inevitable stress that comes with the school year?
The answer, I believe, lies in nourishment for our souls. Rather than magic or myth, the sustenance of nourishment comes from encouraging and supporting others. When we place our focus on others, our stress melts away. Here are some ways to nourish your spirit to continue being an effective educator.
Jot a Note
Open your eyes and notice the remarkable work happening around you. What teacher has shifted her practice? What student has taken a risk with conventions in writing? Write a small note telling the person you’ve noticed the things they are trying, and leave it to be found. Stick it between the keys of a teacher’s keyboard; tuck it in a student’s take-home folder.
I keep a basket of notecards on my desk to remind myself to be on the lookout for opportunities to send a handwritten note. It doesn’t take long to write a few lines on a notecard, and yet, the effect is huge. First, I’m noticing the remarkable things going on around me and am reenergized. In addition, the receiver of the note is encouraged to continue learning and growing.
Read a Funny Book
Laughter reduces stress. By taking 10 minutes to read aloud to a class, we give everyone a break to relax and refocus. Unfortunately, I’m not privy to many opportunities to read aloud in classrooms. However, I read a ton of books I can imagine reading aloud in classrooms. Recently I’ve been sharing these books with teachers. I’ll jot a sticky note and slap it on the cover, and then give the book to the teacher. This simple act gives teachers permission to take the time to read aloud in their classrooms. In addition, it often opens doors to discussing possible ways to use mentor texts in writing workshop.
As a coach, I’m always on the lookout for small anecdotes to tuck into teachers’ mailboxes or under their doors before I go home. Sometimes I share links to blog posts or YouTube videos via email. When I shift my thinking to others while I’m skimming my Twitter feed, I’m amazed at the number of links I find to share with teachers. As I’m reading through blogs, I’m surprised at the number of teachers who come to mind with whom to share a post. I used to ignore these inklings, somehow convincing myself they weren’t important. Now I tune in to thinking about people to share links, quotes, and poems with. These things restore our resolve and reduce stress.
Indulge in Small Pleasures
In times of stress, it’s important to realize that small things bring joy. For me, this means picking up a colored Flair pen to make a notebook entry. I pack a container of blueberries and red raspberries in my lunch. I collect quotes about writing on a whiteboard in my office. These are seemingly meaningless choices. However, they make a big difference in the chaos of my day.
How about you? What small pleasure can you incorporate into your day? Choose one seemingly meaningless addition to your day and prepare to be impressed with how it adds to your enjoyment.
When we are feeling pressure, it is easy to think the worst about people and decisions. If we adjust our paradigms to believe the best in situations, our entire days will be shifted. Most people want to do the right thing. This is true for teachers and students. By believing the best about people and situations, we usurp stress before it has a chance to take hold and become an extra weight to carry through the day.
Charles Swindoll writes, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.” He describes the many things we face each day that are out of our control. We cannot control the way a teacher responds to working with an instructional coach. We cannot control the things that happen within a child’s home that make it difficult for him to collaborate with others. However, the way we respond to these things, our attitude, is one thing we can control.
When we take the time to choose our responses to people and decisions, rather than react, we often gain a needed perspective on situations. Then we can make choices to nourish our souls rather than add the weight of stress, stress, and more stress.
Why not begin right now? Print the attached PDF on cardstock and cut the messages apart. You can use them as notecards for colleagues. They will also fit inside most 4-by-6 frames. This way you will have a reminder to find the small joys throughout the day that will protect you from big stress.