One Step in Front of the Other: Navigating Self-Care in Uncertain Times

How are you? No, really. If you are an educator today, your life has completely turned upside down in a matter of weeks. Just a few weeks ago, most of us were getting ready (or returning) from a spring break, some of us were planning activities for St. Patrick’s Day, while others were grading projects for the end of the quarter.

We changed our clocks, we moved past yet another full moon, yet again a Friday the 13th…

…and then a pandemic hit.

We went from our regularly scheduled lesson plans to jump into Facebook groups titled “Teaching Digitally/Teaching During COVID-19.” From giving our students high-fives and hugs to waving goodbye for an indefinite time. Many of us are now full-on into learning how to flip lessons and how to record our face and voice, putting projects together with minimal supplies and planning for the next day, only to wake up and find out things have changed…again.

So I ask you again…how are you?

Self-care during uncertain times is absolutely essential. If you don’t create a habit of prioritizing your own Maslow’s needs, you will never get to the Bloom’s Taxonomy of teaching your students at school or the ones in your own home.

You may still be reporting to an empty classroom or setting up in front of a computer in your new makeshift home office. Regardless of location, developing a consistent routine in unstable times will help you maintain your sanity.

  • Miracle Morning. I get up every morning and engage in a Miracle Morning At 4:45 a.m., I make my coffee, sit in a chair, and quietly meditate for 1–2 minutes. I then do a devotional, read a chapter in a book, write in a gratitude journal, and then exercise for 20–30 minutes. While that might be early for some, that is the time I am completely alone with my thoughts, while my teenage boys and spouse are still sleeping.
  • Move around, a lot. After my first day of being a distance learning leader, I was exhausted, tired, and realized I hadn’t really ever left my chair! So many of us have taught and led on our feet all day. Switching to staying in the focus of our computer also means we have to take time to get up and move away from it. Set a timer for a specific time (30 or 45 minutes) and when it goes off, go for a walk, stretch, get something to drink, or go check on your family.
  • Office Hours. I learned quickly (thank you, Google) the difference between these two types of digital learning:
    • Synchronous digital learning happens live. This is when you can interact in real life, and model a lesson similar to teaching in a traditional classroom.
    • Asynchronous digital learning can occur at any time. Students can watch a link later or offline. They ask questions via discussion boards or emails to teachers.

As staff at Ellis Middle School, we are identifying one hour a day for synchronous learning. The other hours are devoted to lesson planning, grading, answering emails and questions, and attending a department/team meeting once per week.

Knowing when you have to be ‘on’ means you also know when you can be ‘off.’ Take time out of your workday to get some exercise in, eat a real lunch, and maybe even call a friend or family member to check in.

So again, if anyone asks, it is okay to tell them the truth. We are not fine. We are trying to figure out how to continue to give our students the very best while learning that this sprint is turning into a marathon. While we may not be fine today, we will be better because of these circumstances. My hope is that we become not only better educators, but also better about prioritizing our own self-care.

Please give yourself grace in this new environment. No one is perfect in a pandemic, so let it go, get up, and get away from your computer once in a while.

Jessica Cabeen is principal of Ellis Middle School in Austin, MN. She was awarded the NAESP/VINCI Digital Leader of Early Learning Award in 2016 and in 2017 was named the Minnesota National Distinguished Principal. Jessica is active on social media (@JessicaCabeen).

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