I feel blessed to be an educator. I have had the good fortune of working as an English teacher, an Assistant Principal, a Principal, and an Assistant Superintendent. I currently serve as the Assistant Superintendent of Burlington Public Schools (MA).
A while back I wrote a post titled For My Children, Seeing All Sides which talked about the importance of supporting students to be able to deal with the barrage of information coming at them through various forms of media so that they are able to weed out the endless disinformation that is being spread.
The fact of the matter is that it is our job is to teach kids to think critically not to teach them what to think. Attempts to limit the truth that we can share concerning the atrocities of our country’s past will only ensure that they continue.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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!
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…
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.