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According to UC Davis Health, research has been done to document actual stages to what is called disaster stress. Kaye Hermanson, UC Davis Health psychologist in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, notes that it’s helpful to understand these stages, and I would suggest that this is true not only for our own mental health, but so we can talk about it with our students and help them to navigate their way through it as well.
When quoting the research that “defines the stages of stress on communities from disasters,” Hermanson acknowledges that, if it makes us feel any better, we are actually right on target as a society.
The first stage after a disaster is for communities to pull together. People come together and support each other, and the news is flooded with stories of genuine and heart-felt efforts within communities to help each other.
However, as Hermanson notes, “eventually, that heroic spirit wears thin as the difficulties and stress build up. That’s when we hit the disillusionment phase.”
In this phase of our response to disaster, we are less optimistic and anger starts to build up because we realize how tired we actually are from having to cope with the changes that this has brought into our lives.
We start to demand answers. We want to know how this is going to be fixed, and most importantly, we want to know how long this is going to last. And this stage is where we are now as a society.
As Hermanson says, “Many people are exhausted by it all... some are saying they don’t care if they get COVID-19. They’d rather risk getting sick than stay home or be careful. Others have simply stopped listening to health leaders and science.”
And, she states that research indicates that we could remain in this phase for up to a year, because COVID is still an ongoing concern.
Now, as bad as this sounds, it gives me a bit of a sense of relief to know that as out of control we often feel when it comes to COVID, we are not in entirely uncharted waters. Of course, Covid is new, but knowing that research has been done on community disaster response makes me feel like we have some kind of knowing in terms of where we’re headed.
And if you’re wondering, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, following the Disillusionment phase is the Reconstruction Phase, which is “characterized by an overall feeling of recovery.” This is when we finally are able to rebuild our lives and adjust to a new normal yet once again, while continuing to grieve our losses.
Because we are in this complex phase of disillusionment, of trying to figure out how to navigate our world and our reality, let’s talk about how to most successfully navigate and LIVE within this disillusionment phase.
So for us, we decided to book a little getaway to the Smokey Mountains. We rented a little cabin on Air B&B, we brought our wipes and our Lysol, and the moment we got there, we cleaned all of the surfaces. We brought all of our food so we didn’t have to shop there, we brought our own pillows – and yeah, it’s a little crazy to think that we would do all of that – but because we did, we were able to get away for 5 days to the beautiful Smokey Mountains.
We were able to hike, order in from some different restaurants, and even do a little social distancing outlet mall shopping. The point is, it gave us something amazing to look forward to. Just knowing that we were getting away, that we would get to BE somewhere different, wake up somewhere different, and see different scenery and be in new places was enough to rejuvenate us.
We loved it so much that we’ve booked a second getaway for the end of October so we can hike those gorgeous trails when all of the leaves are changing – and the best part of it just might be all of those moments leading up to that trip in these weeks ahead that we get to look forward to something different. And now, we’re even planning and thinking creatively about how we might go to Florida in January, and that just lights me up like you wouldn’t believe.
I think the most important part for me in all of this is that I refuse to let us live our lives in fear and worry. And, that leads me to the fourth thing I’d love to share with you today, and that’s that we get to choose the way we think about this entire experience.
Or, we can say, “Okay, so what CAN we do online that we could never do in the classroom? How CAN we have some fun and create some experiences to look forward to within these new boundaries we find ourselves in?”
It just requires us to get a little more creative, to think outside the box, and to rise to this challenge. Last week, I told you about a new resource I just created inside my TpT store of 20 online jokes and riddles for Halloween.
That’s a great example of how I took something that I knew worked with kids in the classroom – I knew, from having used this strategy for years, that having my students start their day with a Halloween joke or riddle set the tone for the day. It got us laughing and having fun, and the kids loved having a growing list of jokes that they could then tell their friends at recess.
So, now that many teachers are teaching online, I thought, “How could I take that same concept and create a digital experience for my students? How could I translate what I know works with kids, get a little creative, and create an online experience for my students that would accomplish the same goal?”
I just created this adorable resource of 20 Google slides where kids can actually manipulate and move the letters they need to solve the riddle. I used some super cute backgrounds and I added speech bubbles for the characters, so we have a pumpkin who’s afraid of the dark and a bat who’s afraid of getting stuck into someone’s hair, and a jack-o-lantern who likes to sing Christmas carols.
Now, I have a super fun and improved resource that I can not only use this year for teaching online, but that I can also use when we go back to in-person teaching next year to amp up the engagement for my kiddos because they’re a lot cuter than just printing the joke on the board, right?
It’s just a shift in perspective, but I’m a whole lot happier because of it, because I’m making the choice to see the possibilities in how we can create a fun and positive online experience for students.
And this doesn’t just benefit me, of course. It benefits my students because if I’m having fun and if I love the resources and tools I’m using, and if I’m excited to connect with my kids using these kinds of resources, they feel that energy and will be much more engaged as well.
A lot of my students inside my R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy have been feeling like they don’t know how to motivate or engage their students when they’re teaching online. However, I encourage you to examine that feeling of not knowing how to engage students online, because the reality is that so many of the same things that work in the classroom work when you’re teaching online.
The better question is a problem-solving question of:
“How can I translate what I already know about teaching in the classroom to teaching online?”
What works with kids in the classroom? One of the things that ALWAYS works with kids and that works with us as adults as well is, as we’ve already talked about, having something to look forward to.
So, whatever kind of a motivator you would use in the classroom to track students’ progress towards reaching a class goal is what you need to translate into teaching online. I’ve created a few of these that you can use with your students, like a visual of an ice-cream sundae where you can move the scoops over to indicate that your class has earned their reward.
Or, maybe you would love this one - a super hero scene where kids “free the super heroes” to be released into the skyline of New York City:
Or, maybe you want to try the Halloween Mystery Motivator that I talked about last week:
Whatever you decide to use or want to make up to use for your kids, this digital version of the Caught Ya Being Good Jar, or the special motivator I teach you about inside my R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, psychologically gives kids that something special to work towards, especially when we all need something positive that we feel like we have some control over.
All right my friends, there you have it. I hope that this was helpful for you in helping you to understand why we are all feeling so tired: What the research says about disaster stress & what we can do about it to cope with more peace and positivity.
Until next time, remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.
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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