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How to Manage Stress & Uncertainty: Social-Emotional Support for Teachers

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Show Notes:

Before we dive in, if you need to start this school year teaching online and you need some support, you might want to check out my new mini-course, Transition to Teaching Online.

A big part of this course is all about helping kiddos to feel connected to you and feeling supported socially and emotionally. In line with everything I do to support you as a new teacher, this mini-course is not the kind of PD that you will usually get from your school or your district.

This is PD from a teacher’s perspective – meaning, I talk about all of the behind-the-scenes stuff about teaching that you want to know about making the transition to teaching online, like how to make a great first impression with parents when you’re a new teacher and how to gain their respect.

I show you how to get organized and feel like you really know what you’re doing. I talk about how to get confident on video – especially when we all know that you’re going to have parents hanging out in the background and you’re probably feeling pretty insecure about having them watch you all of the time.

So, even if you’re getting some PD from your school about how to navigate online platforms and take assessments online, that’s not the kind of thing I teach you inside that mini-course. Just like the topic of today’s podcast/blog, I’m most interested in creating programs and PD opportunities that most support YOU – the human being who is now becoming a teacher, so you can become the teacher you’ve always dreamed of being. That isn’t just a tagline I like to use. It really means something.

I want to support YOU and give you all of the tools you need so you can become that inspirational force in children’s lives that is about so much more than common core and outcomes and assessments. Anyone can teach you that. I’m interested in supporting you. That’s why I do this podcast. That’s why I do everything I do in relation to teaching.

Over the last couple of weeks inside my Beginning Teacher Talk Facebook group, I’ve been asking questions about how teachers are doing, and it’s pretty clear to me that the stress of a new school year has only been amplified now that we are in the middle of COVID. As one new teacher put it, “Man, I picked a bad year to be a new teacher!”

I get it. Figuring out how to structure your first classroom is definitely hard enough without having the added stress of maintaining social distancing & making sure kids are washing their hands every 30 minutes inside the classroom, and then having to stream classes and create work packets for kids who are learning from home.

When I asked inside my Beginning Teacher Talk Facebook group how you are feeling about the school year, the majority of responses included words like "stressed, overwhelmed, unprepared, frustrated, and anxious."

So, if that’s how you’re feeling right now, please know that you are not alone – you are in excellent company.

There was only one teacher who said that she felt supported by her administration, and so I thought that it was time that we talk a little bit about how you can give yourself what nobody else seems to be giving you.

Because here’s the thing:

We are never going to be able to control the world around us. COVID is a huge reminder of that. If your school isn’t giving you what you need in terms of providing some social and emotional support for teachers, then that is something that you can take control of yourself.

The hardest part for many of us is the frustration tied to the LACK of control we all have over our environments, not only our teaching environment, but by all of the external controls that have been placed on our lives, from limiting how much and how often we are able to see and connect with our friends to restricting all manner of our social lives. 

So, what do I mean by, “Take control of our own social and emotional support?”

Let’s talk about 3 simple but extremely powerful steps you can take right now, in this very moment, to help manage uncertainty and stress during back to school with COVID in our lives:
 

  1. Let Yourself Feel (Overwhelm, Anxiety, Stress):

    So often as educators, we are the ones who need to put on a brave face for our kiddos. We are the ones who need to be the cheerleaders, to show up with a bright smile and a fun activity to help students learn.

    However, just because we are putting on a happy face for the world, that certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t feel deep emotions. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid or stressed or nervous. I think that in education we are so conditioned to be taking care of everyone else that we don’t give ourselves permission to truly and deeply feel all the things we are feeling.

    But, fear and anxiety and overwhelm are real. We actually need to give those emotions some space – we need to let ourselves feel that fear and that anxiety and that overwhelm.

    We need to acknowledge that it’s hard and that we are feeling this level of uncertainty.

    You might be thinking right now: “Duh, that’s actually my problem. That’s ALL I feel and it’s driving me crazy.”

    Right. It’s what we do with those big feelings that results into either spiraling into depression or lifting ourselves up out of it.

  2. Give Yourself Love:

    This is the part that seems so obvious once we talk about it, but can be so hard to get to on our own. I want you to imagine that one of your students – or a younger child who you love very much – has come to you and told you that they are feeling scared or anxious or very sad because of everything that’s going on.

    What would you do? Would you just say, “Oh, you’ll be fine, get back to work?”
    No way.

    You’d spend some time with that child, understanding what was making them feel that way.

You’d ask questions to find out what was at the heart of it, what was driving those feelings.

Then, you’d probably come up with a way to re-focus or re-direct those feelings into something more positive. Right?

And yet – why is it so hard for us to do this for ourselves?

When we are feeling sad or overwhelmed or anxious, we need to learn to give ourselves, that same insecure, younger, more vulnerable part of ourselves, the same kind of focused love and attention that we would give to any other child who came to us asking for help.

The wiser, more mature part of you knows how to do this. You do it all the time for younger people.

So, the next time that you’re experiencing big emotions, don’t push yourself through it and force yourself to just get back to work. Instead, give yourself the same gift of time and energy that you would give a child who came to you needing support.

Just as you would do with a child, spend a little bit of time getting quiet, and go inside and ask yourself these 3 questions:

What am I really feeling right now? 

Why am I feeling that way?

What do I need to know? (This is the magic. Trust yourself and stay quiet, and you will be amazed by the answer.)

Here's the thing: 

Even if you’re feeling fear, you are not your fear.

Even if you are feeling overwhelm, you are not your overwhelm.

And, even if you are feeling anxiety, you are so much bigger than your anxiety. 

Who you really are knows this. I’m not going to get into discussions of God or the universe because whoever you are and whatever you believe - whether you connect with God in those moments or with your inner being, or with Buddha or with the universe…. It doesn’t matter.

What I do know is that even though as human beings, we feel emotions, we are not our emotions. We are so much bigger than this. Whenever I am feeling sad or overwhelmed, this is what I do. I go inside and I ask myself these three questions.

I find that the better I can listen, the more gentle I am with myself, the more compassion I can feel for myself, and the kinder I can be to myself, the easier it is for me to hear the answer and know how to move forward. 

What you often need when you’re feeling that kind of overwhelm is just how to get a little bit of relief. If you can take that baby step towards a little bit of relief by letting yourself get quiet and go inside and ask for the help you need, you will likely come out of it on the other side with a huge smile and a knowing of what you need to do next – just the next step – to give you some relief from whatever negative emotion you’re feeling.

When I’ve done this lately, the answer I get is that I really need to exercise more. My body craves exercise. I used to be a runner, and then after my knee injury, I started walking for at least 45 minutes every day. I don’t like the way I feel when I don’t give myself permission to take work breaks to move and strengthen. I’ve always gone to the gym and so COVID has really impacted me in that I just haven’t transitioned to a schedule that works for me now that I’m home so much.

So, we’ve decided to invest in a treadmill, and we are transitioning another space in our house to be more of a workout space with weights and yoga mats, and it’s kind of geeky how excited I am by this transition – but it’s what I need. That excitement that I’m feeling about this really is the indication that I’m on the right track... that I’m paying attention to what I need and I’m giving myself that.

I don’t know what it will be for you. Even as I’ve talked about what I’m doing to give myself relief from feelings of stress, you’re having some kind of a reaction.

Maybe you’re feeling like, “Man she’s crazy, there’s no way that would help me! That would stress me out more!” or maybe it’s really resonating with you and you just know that you need that, too.

Getting still, going inside, and asking yourself that question – and really listening for the answer - is the first step towards giving yourself the relief that you need.

 

  1. Act On It:

    Now, this third step might seem super obvious, but it’s amazing how many of us don’t follow through once we know what we need to do to give us some relief from strong emotions. But think about what that’s doing to yourself.

    So, let's assume that you’ve taken the step of asking yourself those questions.

You’ve listened, and deep in your bones, you know what you need

Next, make a date with yourself to start giving yourself more of what you now know you need.

We started this conversation with acknowledging that your school or your district is not giving you the social or emotional support you need, and so my goal here today, even though it might feel like it has nothing to do with teaching, is to give you a very simple and practical tool you can use to first understand what it is that you do need, and then a path forward towards taking action on it.

Because here’s the thing: Once you’ve taken the time to get clear about why you’re feeling the way you are and once you’ve asked yourself what you really need (and you’ve actually listened to the answer), the next step in honoring yourself in this process is to actually DO something to give yourself some relief.

Why is this so important?

Let’s go back to that example of a child who has come to you with these big feelings for a moment.

You’ve had this conversation with that child.

You understand how they’re feeling, and you have talked about why they’re feeling that way.

And, you’ve talked about what they can do to move themselves towards feeling some relief.

Maybe that child is feeling stress because they don’t get to see their friends. But then maybe you figure out that they can go to the park and play tennis with their friends because they are outdoors and are able to socially distance.

And then you never actually schedule a day or time to do this.

That wouldn’t make any sense, right?

You’d know, immediately, that just talking about what they need is not going to give them much benefit and relief unless you actually do something to follow up, right?

But here’s the thing:

You can’t rely on anyone else to give you relief from what’s bothering you.

You can’t ask for anyone else to remove your stress or overwhelm or anxiety.

You have the power and the tools to do that yourself. You always have.

You just might not be doing what you know you need to in order to give yourself the relief that you crave.

It seems so simple, but it’s so empowering once you realize that you’ve actually had control all along, because you get to control your response to any situation.

 

So there you have it. I hope that this was helpful for you. I know that what I’m suggesting here is simple, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy.

It’s a practice, and I have faith that you’ll get better and better at it the more that you practice. On a related note, I wanted to share a special freebie with you that I created last year when I first started this podcast. In Episode #2, I talked about how to Reduce Overwhelm In Less Than 10 Minutes

As part of that episode, I created something called The Ultimate 5-Minute Field Trip for Teachers, and it’s basically a short meditation that I would do during my lunch hours when I needed a break and to reduce the overwhelm when I was in the classroom. If you’d like to download that freebie, go ahead and click the pic below now!

I hope you have a wonderful week, and until next time, remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one!

πŸ’› Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.

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