Post #2 of 2021…Just Begin Again

What’s going to make you stronger, if the inner voice in your head is an enemy or an ally?

Dr. Kristen Neff

One of the things I got better at in 2020 was mindfulness and spending a little time meditating. The biggest takeaway from this practice has been to “just begin again” when things go off track. As someone who traditionally would spend a lot of time with self-loathing and being hard on myself when things would not go according to plan, I have finally realized that easing up a bit and showing myself a little compassion is much more productive than getting mired down in guilt.

The latest episode of the Happiness Lab Podcast with Dr. Laurie Santos, Dump Your Inner Drill Sergeant, really highlighted the importance of self-compassion. Dr. Santos was joined by Dr. Kristen Neff, an expert on the topic of self-compassion, who noted that many people are more supportive of their friends than they are to themselves. It seems ridiculous that we would be so amenable to alleviating the suffering of others, but unwilling to give ourselves a break. Neff recommended that we reframe our missteps and think about them the same way we would if one of our family members came to us after a mistake or failure.

The best part about booting your inner drill sergeant out of the equation is that you will actually have more compassion to show others. The quote below from Dr. Neff is the one that I am going to try to keep at the forefront of my mindfulness practice.

In 2021…I will do better than 18

“The most difficult thing in the world is to write…If you are going to do it, you should be told it is one of the most difficult things to do.”

Jerry Seinfeld on Episode #485 of the Tim Ferris podcast.

As I think about things I would like to do more of in 2021, writing is at the top of the list. Looking back on 2020, I only made 18 posts in this space. There are a number of reasons/excuses and I don’t think it will really be helpful to list them. What I do know is writing is something that fills my bucket, much like exercise. So, I am just going to begin…

In past years I have set lofty goals and then dealt with the guilt of coming up short. Fortunately, the bar has been that was set for writing in 2020 was a low one. I know I can beat 18!

A few other things I will do more of in 2021:

  • Show more gratitude
  • Watch my nutrition
  • Continue to grow as an antiracist human and leader

More to come…

What Do You Mean By “The Media”?

Someone told me today that “the media” is blowing things out of proportion. As I listened and asked a follow-up question, all I could think of was the contradiction taking place in this conversation and in so many these days. The fact of the matter was that this individual did not really have a problem “the media,” what they had a problem with was any media source that disagreed with their point of view.

By Sollok29 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

We need to be clear that media is everywhere and where you choose to get your information matters. Are we taking in factual information or someone’s hypothesis of a situation? Are we reading facts or opinions? Are we watching a news show or a talk show?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the importance of taking in all sides of a story or event. We cannot move forward constructively if we are not willing to look at other points of view and make informed decisions for ourselves. If we just cling to one source that maintains the narrative that we want to hear, then we will never really be well-informed.

For My Children, Seeing All Sides

There is a lot of misinformation floating around right now. I know we have talked recently about both misinformation and disinformation. Where do you go to find information that you feel is believable? Why do you think that these sources are reliable? Is it just because you tend to find things that support what you already thought?

It is more important than ever that we check our sources and spend a little time reading stories from multiple sources. With this in mind, I wanted to point out a site called All Sides. It will help you gain some perspective on the major news stories we are hearing about by providing articles from conservative sources (the right), liberal sources (the left), and more balanced sources (the center).

Check out the great chart below that helps illustrate what I am talking about. Make sure you are reading varied perspectives.

Permission to Feel, We Need This Book Now More Than Ever

One of the things that has been at the forefront of my mind in the past few weeks has been my heightened concern for the emotional well-being of the members of our school community. While many conversations center around grades and curriculum, I cannot stop wondering about the mental health of staff, students, and parents

Because of these concerns and my own heightened anxiety due to this pandemic, I am going to start a book discussion of Marc Brackett’s Permission to Feel beginning on Monday, May 4. As I have listened to the chapters of the book during my walks, I keep thinking this is the book that WE ALL need right now.

Even before we left school during the second week of March, there were troubling signs about the mental health of students, staff, and the world at large.

Brackett highlights statistics the following in the Prologue of Permission to Feel:

  • From 2016-2017, more than one in three students across 196 U.S. college campuses reported diagnosed mental health conditions. Some campuses have reported a 30 percent increase in mental health problems per year.
  • Anxiety orders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 25 percent of children between thirteen and eighteen years old.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Closer to home, we have very similar statistics. Our most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found the following for MA students :

Nearly a third of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks in a row, inhibiting them from performing usual activities and twelve percent considered suicide. Our numbers in Burlington and the Middlesex League high schools are right on the state average.

This is a Critical Time

While we have this brief hiatus from our schools and classrooms, we all spend our days wondering what life will be like when we get back. One thing that is sure is that we will enter buildings and classrooms where every member of our school community has experienced some level of trauma. Those of us who are able to have a better understanding of our emotions and the emotions of those around us will have a smoother transition back. The tools in this book and the ensuing conversations will help us achieve this goal.

How You Can Participate

I have started a Facebook Page where I will post discussion questions each Monday. The discussion on the Facebook Page will be asynchronous, so you can share your thoughts any time.

The Schedule

Week of May 4 – Part 1 (Prologue and Chapters 1-3)

Week of May 11 – Part 2 (Chapters 4-8)

Week of May 18 – Part 3 (Chapters 9-11)

Week of May 25 – Creating an Emotion Revolution – Concrete Actions you will take based on the book

Please join me!

Video Killed The School Administrator

My morning routine has been pretty consistent during our school closure. I get up and shower and put on a clean outfit like I would on a normal work day. I go downstairs and make coffee and try to fit in a short mindfulness exercise before online meetings. After a couple of online meetings, I have been feeling wiped out and I can’t figure out why.

A colleague shared this article today by Steven Hickman about online exhaustion caused by meetings held on video platforms and I am thinking that it could be the reason. While I love the ability to connect virtually with colleagues to problem-solve and continue to revise our routines during this “current normal,” the end of these calls has been leaving me drained in a way that I never felt from in-person meetings. The following line from article summed up my feelings perfectly:

“I’ve been so busy lately that I thought perhaps I was just fatigued. But the more it happens, the more I realize that I end up feeling both connected but disconnected to these people.”

The article referenced a tweet from management professor Gianpiero Petriglieri  that quantified the reason for the feelings of exhaustion:

“It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.” So beautifully and eloquently perceptive!

Today I started practicing a few of the six ways highlighted in the article to help find a better sense of balance during these many online meetings and I definitely noticed a difference. The most useful of the practices for me was to “Choose “speaker view” and not try to stay attentive to all of the attendees simultaneously like I normally would try to do if we were in the same physical space.

There are so many nuances to take into consideration as we deal with physical distancing from our colleagues (and students) while using available technology to maintain interpersonal connections. I can’t imagine doing this without some of these tools, but it is not the same and we all need to acknowledge this and realize it is normal to feel disconnected while we are connecting.

There is no balance – Take care of YOU!

As we head into our fourth full week of the school closure, I am reminded of a section from chapter 4 of Culturize by Jimmy Casas where Jimmy discussed the importance of educators balancing their passion for education with their commitment to themselves and their family. Never has this been more important than it is right now.

It is hard to find balance, when you are finding your way in such a unique experience. While I know is an oversimplification, the focus has to be on you first. If you are not doing what you need to keep your own mind in a good place, then there is no way you will be able to support the people who are relying on you. Take care of yourself, take care of your family, and support your students…They all need you more than ever!

Adrenaline Will Only Get Us So Far…

As a big fan of Brené Brown, I have added her new podcast to my podcast subscription list. Her episode from last Friday is really a must-listen for all of us. The title is Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball.

My major takeaway were surrounding her comments about what is coming in the days ahead. One of the things that is helping so many of us stay productive at this point is the adrenaline surge that we get at the beginning of a crisis, but the problem is that we cannot run on this adrenaline indefinitely and this crisis is not ending soon. With this in mind, We need to prepare for the wall that we are running towards so we can all cushion the impact.

We need a plan for the days ahead

I know this may be oversimplified for some, but we need to make sure that we sleep well, eat well, and move our bodies every day. The second part of the plan is empathy and we need to start with ourselves. Brown emphasized the importance of allowing ourselves to feel and not to compare our suffering to others. If we push aside our own feelings they will just increase and become larger. In addition to leaning into our own feelings, we need to allow our children to see us feel so that they will be comfortable sharing theirs as well.

Anyway, just some thoughts I am trying to keep at the forefront in the days ahead…

Sharing Has Never Been More Important

As we head into our second full week of school closures in Massachusetts, I have great gratitude for the collaboration going on behind the scenes with school leaders. There has never been a more important time for us to collaborate and share resources. Our main focus is clearly reaching out to students and families putting the social emotional needs of our school community first. The connections and relationships that our teachers build with students within their classrooms is something that simply cannot be replicated virtually.

With this in mind, we need to find ways to free teachers from too much planning and allow them to continue to connect with students as much as possible during this time where are students and their families are feeling more anxious and isolated. Share across schools, across districts, and across states so teachers can spend their time connecting.

Along these lines, I am trying to share this common experience that we are going through in our district with a daily series of check-ins with different teachers. I think this will be helpful for students and families to hear from teachers and how they are adapting. What are the routines that people are putting in place as our previous routines have been turned upside Sharing our common struggles and successes is more important than ever.

Helping Children Through This Crisis

A Letter from Maria Trozzi – Author, Talking with Children About Loss, Co-Founder – Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center , Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, Program Director – Joanna’s Place, Psychotherapist/Grief and Resilience Specialist 

Dear Parents, Guardians and Childcare-givers, 

As I sit in ‘self-imposed isolation’ at my laptop and feel on my skin what many Americans may be feeling during this challenging time, perhaps I can be helpful, drawing from nearly thirty years of experience guiding parents when their families face difficult times. 

I have always believed that in a crisis lies opportunities for strengthening families, amplifying children’s coping skills and promoting resilience.  

I hope that by sharing with you some strategies that have helped children and families cope with crises, acute and chronic, you may be more fortified to cope with uncertainties ahead and will gain some measure of inner peace and community perspective-  both will inform our ways going forward.

First, let’s remember – coping with change is hard for most people.  Not being able to plan for next week or even next month is uniquely hard. When we are required to face the unknown, not be in control, it’s normal for all of us, adults and children, to feel out of sync, hard to settle- psychological term is  ‘emotional dis-regulation’.

Here’s what I have learned helps us and our families feel more calm, less irritable, as we learn incrementally how to live with the change of feeling  isolated and ‘too together’ all at once.

1.Your children are actively paying attention to how you feel, talk and behave.

Even very young children look to you first to know whether they should worry or not.  They listen to your words, your tone, watch your actions, react to your moods. They eavesdrop on your communications with others and come to their own (often mistaken) conclusions.  

That said, it’s pretty safe to assume that this pandemic is unique to all our experiences. It’s normal that as information is updated hourly, and recommendations change daily, adults may feel that our world is upside down and inside out- our anxiety is normal. 

What CAN you do about it?

Talking with another caring adult about your feelings is helpful (out of the children’s earshot); reminding yourself of other times in your life when you have felt anxious and uncertain about the future can be reassuring; creating a plan for your family just for today and tomorrow may be productive and doable-   looking further down the road may not be possible and lead you to feel more out of control.   

2. Create a routine for the day.

Even a schedule, for example, when we will play together, and time to play independently.  (Of course, this will depend on your child’s age and capacity to play alone. A timer works well here).  Time for family mealtimes, clean up, predictable bedtimes, nap times (for both kids and grown ups), some form of exercise, indoors or if possible, in your backyard.

Other planned time for reading, screen time, family movie time, game time.

If children are old enough, and you have enough bandwith, opportunities to help with meal preparation, clean up.

3. Limit your own access to media coverage.

Information, when delivered calmly and by a trustworthy source, typically helps us feel more in control.    It’s necessary to be informed so that we can keep up with the changes and required adjustments. That said, a steady diet of news, 24/7,  creates its own layer of stress. Decide when and how often you will get your information from media sources. Choose from a host of other more soothing ‘background electronic wallpapers’  that may even entertain, inspire, educate. It is said that music ‘calms the savage beast within’….. I have my music faves playing on Spotify as I write this.

4. Talk with your children about changes only as they affect your family’s day-to -day living.

Children by nature are egocentric.; for instance, “How will this affect me?” Knowing the new rules of the road for this unique family experience is important. Simple explanations are best. Letting children ask questions as they arise, rather than prompting them, or assuming their feelings, is helpful. Try not to anticipate how their lives may be affected weeks or months from now.  It’s about today.

5. Development matters.

How your child understands and reacts to new information from you will vary but their age and stage will help guide you to understand their reaction(s): 

*Very young children, 3-6 years old, require only the simplest of explanations about what’s happening today as it affects them… Remember that routines are reassuring to everyone, especially toddlers and preschoolers. “Mommy is working at home today,” is enough for many children.

*Early elementary age children may have more questions and concerns about the pandemic than their younger siblings. Let them lead you with their questions; answer simply and clearly, always reminding them that it’s your job to keep the family safe. Although the virus is unlikely to affect your family, you may make decisions to protect others in your community.  (great lesson)

Words like ‘contagious, social distancing, quarantines’, may be unfamiliar to them.  It’s important to speak in a reassuring way that is clear and simple.; for example, “Staying home from school and work keeps the virus from spreading so we will be doing that. It just makes sense.”  

Or, “I need to work from home and you have school work as well. Let’s talk about a plan for the rest of the day.”

*Late elementary/middle school children may worry about their older and extended family members, or threatening financial situations. They may feel it’s ‘unfair’ if their friends are allowed to gather in small groups but you have said no.   Remind them that your rules are for their health and the health of others who may be more impacted; each family makes their own decisions for their own family’s well being. 

*Adolescents are able to understand the unlikely but possible negative health and financial impact that the Corona virus may have on their family, their community, both local and national.   

That said, cancelled school may sound terrific at first but it  carries with it cancelled sport seasons, plays and concerts they have rehearsed for months, anticipated school vacation trips.  Without school and after school activities, they may feel depressed and anxious, isolated from their friends and routines. We know that adolescents fantasize about their ‘immortality’; be sure to concretize the risks of ‘not physically distancing’ and that they need to trust you to make the rules that will keep them safe from harm. Expect them to express their understandable disappointment, anger, confusion, worry, etc.   (More) moodiness is pretty normal.

When you acknowledge their feelings and not attempt to minimize them, they may be able to sit with them, and even surprise you – by problem-solving ways to adapt?  Isn’t that what we want for our adolescents?  

6. Consider the marathon, not the sprint

Drawing from my experience post-Katrina, Columbine, and 9/11, the first days and weeks of the crisis summon up enormous amounts of energy (albeit it anxious) in all of us. We listen and react to our leaders, both local and national, health care providers, educators and community helpers as they develop emergency plans, roll out procedures and problem-solve.  

If history informs, I expect that very shortly, we will collectively feel as though we have hit a ‘wall of exhaustion’ as we sort out how to sustain difficult, if not, seemingly impossible changes in our families’ lives, no matter how long these changes last. We grieve our lives before  and yearn for them.  

Taking care for ourselves now seems prudent. Today. You know how…. practice healthy sleep hygiene, mindful breathing (five minutes a day is all it takes!), move our bodies, rest our minds, use technology to connect with others, discover ways to laugh, find meaning in sacrifice.

Maria Trozzi, M.Ed