Good stress vs. bad stress.

Consider this: a little bit of stress can be... awesome.

I know, I know.

"But Maggie, isn't your whole thing that you're helping teachers cope with stress? So it has to be the enemy, right?"

Well, pretty much. But bear with me for a sec.

Avoiding stress is impossible. Stressors come in all shapes and sizes, and will never completely go away, no matter how many times a day you meditate or how many self help books you read. But also, you wouldn't WANT stress to completely disappear, because some stressors are exactly what you need to grow, change, and learn.

Here's the difference.

Good stress:

  • Motivates you
  • Helps you accomplish more of what you need to do
  • Is relatively short-term
  • Might help you achieve a goal
  • Has a clear recovery period after it's over

Examples: deadlines, a new audacious project, doing a task just outside of your comfort zone

Bad stress:

  • Drains you
  • Stops you from doing what you need to do
  • Is chronic and persistent
  • Leaves you too fatigued, irritable, or depressed to achieve a goal
  • Has no recovery period because it just. keeps. going.

Examples: consistently crazy work demands, toxic relationships, the loss of a friend or family member

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So when you're experiencing stress, pay attention to:

The timeline. How long will this last?

The overall feelings. Am I excited about this, or am I depleted?

The afterglow. How do I feel about what just happened? Can I slow down and regroup for the next round of stressors, or am I still running on empty?

This kind of awareness is the first step toward beating back bad stress for good.

What kind of stress do you experience most often? How can you tell? Let me know in the comments.

All the best,

M.

Charging your inner battery.

This week's blog is a guest post from Daniela Falecki, the founder of Teacher Wellbeing. She specializes in using Positive Psychology to build teacher capacity and resilience. She has more than 20 years’ experience across all sectors of education. She's a Senior Associate for the Positivity Institute and lectures at Western Sydney University.

Did you know teachers can have up to 1,000 interpersonal contacts a day? So, if you feel like the world has emotionally vomited on you at the end of each day, it probably has. Given that teaching is all about relationships, being able to manage our own well-being is very important for connecting with students and helping them learn.

As a teacher for more than 20 years, I know all too well the ups and downs we experience on a day to day basis and the need for us to better support our own well-being. I know what it's like to have students demand your attention, parents demand your time and the system demand your paperwork. So, where is the time for us? And how can we better support our own well-being in simple and practical ways?

 

What is well-being?

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Well-being is complex and dynamic. It's not something you can hold, but is more like a sunset, where we see it, feel it, share it, and then it goes. It's understanding the natural ebb and flow of life and recognizing how we can move WITH it instead of feeling like things are being thrown AT us.

There are 5 domains to well-being:

1. Cognitive well-being – how we think 

2. Emotional well-being – how we cope

3. Social well-being – how we connect with others

4. Physical well-being – how we move, sleep and eat

5. Spiritual well-being – how we connect to our values and beliefs of meaning and purpose

 

A quick quiz.

Answer these 5 questions. For each "yes," give yourself one point.

In the last 24 hours have you:

1. Stopped to track the good things that happened in the day?

2. Taken 5-10 minutes to do something for yourself that you love?

3. Had a positive connection or felt connected in a positive way to another person?

4. Performed 30 min or more of exercise or eaten healthy food?

5. Reflected on the bigger purpose of why you do what you do or the legacy you leave each day?

Did you score 5 out of 5? Well done. You've charged your inner battery, so you're ready to be well in the world.

If you scored less than this (like most people), choose one domain and play with some actions steps that would strengthen this area. If we would hesitate to arrive at work without charging our phone or computer battery, then we also shouldn't arrive at work each morning without charging our inner battery.

 

Small changes can add up.

Start small and then repeat, repeat, repeat. For example, start a gratitude journal, download a mindfulness app (and use it), perform a random act of kindness, or share the positive feedback you just received with a colleague.

In my work with thousands of teachers across Australia, I have seen that with specific, evidence-based tools, well-being can be strengthened, teachers can flourish, and school communities can thrive. The application of Positive Psychology interventions in schools shows us that teacher burnout, stress and languishing can be prevented and even reversed.

For more details about how to strengthen each of the well-being domains for staff in schools, check out www.teacher-wellbeing.com.au.

All the best,

Daniela Falecki

12 reasons you need yoga.

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Does your body hurt at the end of the school day? When you finally slow down for a minute do you realize your shoulders are tense, your lower back is sore, and you're wiped out? Can you remember the last time you had the energy for a weeknight social engagement, or the mental space to let go of your work?

As much as I wish it did, Netflix and the couch won't cure what ails you. That's why I created Balanced Teachers' first free, no-nonsense, 12-minute audio yoga class [Already convinced that you love yoga? Download it now.]

Here are 12 powerful, school-specific reasons to get some yoga into your life and your classroom:

THE PHYSICAL

1. You'll have amazing posture.

Your patented teacher look will fall flat if it comes along with body language that says "I'm hunched over, exhausted, and unsure of myself." Remember when everyone was talking about power poses? How you carry yourself impacts both how you come across and how you feel. Yoga does major work on your core, back, shoulders, hips, and basically every body part that impacts your posture. When you're walking around like Wonder Woman, you and your students will all sit up a little straighter.

2. You'll slay all day.

When my mom came to visit my classroom, she couldn't believe I was still standing up at the end of the day. Most teachers' stamina is already superhuman, but yoga takes it to the next level. When your body is healthier and happier, making it to 3:00 pm (at least physically) will feel like a walk in the park instead of an epic physical challenge.

3. You'll protect yourself from injury.

We've all done it. Ignoring the ominous school safety video warnings, you stood on the chair to reach the projector, you moved something heavy, or you whipped around too fast when a student was no longer on a Voice Level 0. Minor teacher injuries are pretty common, but improving your strength and flexibility will make your body more resilient during normal and abnormal teacher tasks.

4. You'll run into fewer desks.

When you're more coordinated and aware of your own body, you run into less shit. You just do. 

 

THE MENTAL

5. You'll have better focus.

Yoga is the practice of staying in the present moment. When your mind wanders off, you learn to come back (and stay) with your movement, your breath, and what's happening in your body today. That's perfect brain training for focusing your attention on just one important thing at a time. That kind of focus is a skill set that will help you with virtually every part of teaching.

6. You'll enjoy more "aha" moments.

You know how you always come up with the best teaching ideas in the shower? Practicing yoga can be that way, too. When you're finally not thinking about the upcoming project, that's when the perfect rubric item will pop right into your brain.

 

THE SOCIAL

7. You'll have more energy for your social life.

On the weeks where I do yoga regularly, a Wednesday night dinner date seems less impossible. Maybe it's my lower blood pressure or the fact that I'm sleeping better (bonus physical benefits!) but I at least stand a chance of staying out until 8:00 pm.

8. You'll find a healthy network.

Yoga classes, groups, and training have all consistently introduced me to funny, driven, supportive, health-conscious folks who value their own personal growth. Friends who will come to yoga with me are definite keepers. More time with friends is a stress reliever all on its own, but you get extra credit if movement is involved.

9. You can exercise alone while being with other people.

Introverted teachers unite.

 

THE EMOTIONAL

10. You'll be the calm in the storm.

Teachers on my teams have always told me that I'm "so calm." ... But I don't always feel calm on the inside. I feel the same stressors as everyone around me, and I still think the same "AHHHHH!!!" kind of thoughts. I think what they're noticing is that doing yoga gives me some space to reflect and respond to situations calmly, at least on the outside.

11. You'll have perspective.

Sometimes seeing the world from a different angle helps you see your problems, challenges, and pressure from a different angle, too. It might also help you let some of them go.

12. You'll roll with the waves.

Yoga helps you remember that everything is temporary. If you hate this pose, another one is coming up. If you love this pose, another one is coming up. You'll experience lots of waves as a teacher, and yoga will help you roll with them.

 

If you want to experience any of these 12 awesome benefits for yourself, I made something just for you.

It's a 12-minute audio yoga class. I recorded it live from my classroom, so I know firsthand that you can do it during your lunch break or planning time. There's no chanting, inspirational quotes, or flowery language. Just stretching, breathing, and a few corny math jokes. You won't be sweaty when the kids come back, but you WILL be much nicer.

Download it now.

Let me know what you think of the class in the comments below, and share how yoga has been working for you.

All the best,

M.

Tackling your to do list.

There's an old joke that I love.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Your teacher to do list is an elephant. It's the largest land animal in the world. Seemingly endless. The workload grows overnight and with every meeting, email, and phone call. Even in your "free time," the list is waiting for you, begging you to check off another pressing item.

Some well-meaning productivity experts recommend choosing just one big, vital, most important task from your to do list to do each day. As a teacher, that always makes milk come out of my nose.

One? So you'd like me to have one lesson plan ready this week? Only one math center should be created, huh? One of my student gets a report card this nine weeks, and seventy one of them are out of luck? 

One item per day, I've found, is impossible. But one item at a time? That I can do.

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What's that thing on your to do list that if you checked it off right now, your shoulders could finally stop hanging out by your ears? Do that one next. Break it down into the smallest possible step you can take. And then give your full attention to that task until it's complete.

Full attention means closing all the other tabs. Ignoring your number of unread emails. Waiting to text your friend back for the next ten minutes. Pretending the rest of the to do list isn't there. Just do that one.

Once you're done, enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, rinse, and repeat.

It's more efficient to work this way. Our brains aren't built to multi-task. Educators have to do many (many, MANY) things, but that doesn't mean they should all be done at once.

One bite at a time. It's the only way to go. Let me know how it's working for you in the comments.

All the best,

M.

The Sunday blues.

The Sunday blues is a well-documented phenomenon. Around 4:00pm on Sunday afternoon, everyone with a Monday through Friday job starts remembering that Monday morning exists, and we get sad. Some people-- up to 70% of people according to some polls-- get sad enough that it significantly impacts their day.

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I started writing this blog post as a list of things that teachers can do to shake off the Sunday blues. Scheduling time with friends, doing Sunday chores on Saturday, staying active, having a fun ritual, or finding moments of gratitude. All of those things help, and have helped me in the past, and there may be a future upbeat post in there somewhere.

But the tip I wanted to start with, and the thing that helps me the most week in and week out, is letting myself be sad.

What you resist tends to persist. Paradoxically, the more Sunday minutes I spend convincing myself that I'm not nervous or restless or grumpy, the more nervous, restless, and grumpy I become. Just ask my husband, or my cat.

So these days I pause, and I acknowledge that I'm feeling low. I lean into the discomfort, fear, or irritability. I swim around in it for a few minutes, preferably without technology nearby to distract me. Mindfulness meditation is great for this. So is yoga, or slowly drinking a cup of tea (or eating a bowl of ice cream), or going for a walk.

If I let myself feel the way I'm feeling for even five or ten minutes, then the Sunday blues usually loosen their grip. I hope this simple act helps you, too.

If you also have the Sunday blues today, leave me a comment. We're all there with you, or at least 70% of us are. It's okay to be not be okay.

All the best,

M.

Connection before correction.

My students are taking their standardized math test on Tuesday.

If you teach in a tested grade, that's all I really need to say for you to understand the type of week it's been. The students and I are anxious, edgy, cranky, and loud. Kids alternate between running around the room and begging for a nap. It feels like we're all one emotional match away from completely exploding.

It was the sort of the week where I needed to come back again and again to the best teaching advice anyone ever gave me.

Connect before you correct.

I don't remember the person's name or position. I don't know if it was a school-wide professional development session or a hallway conversation or a weepy phone call (there were lots of those my first year). But I'm a firm believer that the advice you need sticks in your brain, and this one has been Velcro.

I know now that this person probably used Positive Discipline. It is a program and model that I encourage you to check out. The essence of this tenet of PD is that kids learn best when they feel connected, and that is hard for them to be positive influenced if they don't.

My worst school days are the ones where I realize that I've been giving corrections all day long. Eyes up here. Sit down. Write this. Hands to yourself. Listen. Stop. Start. ... Sigh.

When a student's off task and I realize I've been bombarding him / her with commands all day, here are a few ways I try to connect in the next available moment:

  • Smile. In addition to disarming grouchy kids, it biologically helps you feel warmer feelings toward the person you're smiling at.
  • Get quiet. Make it a private conversation instead of a call out in front of the whole class, and use a soft voice. It will immediately feel less terrible.
  • Ask W questions (who, what, when, where, why) about their life, or about the situation at hand. "What did you do this weekend?" "Where is your favorite place in the world?" "Why do you think that happened?"
  • Be random. With no segue, ask for a repeat performance of the joke he / she told you last week. Stop and sing a silly song. See if he / she remembers that funny thing that another student did the other day. The more off topic, the better.
  • Take it less seriously. That doesn't mean a behavior doesn't matter, or doesn't need to be addressed. But making everything SUPER SERIOUS is the pathway to disconnection and ultimately to burnout.

What do you do to connect with students in the moment? Leave a comment letting us know.

All the best,

M.

Pay attention.

My favorite definition of mindfulness is this one by the pioneer (in the field of mindfulness, not on the Oregon Trail) Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Reading that quote helped me realize that I could be more mindful all the time, not just in the 10 minutes I was meditating in the car in the morning. [Yes, in the dark, and yes, multiple adults and kids did regularly think I was asleep.]

As my yoga teacher Baron Baptiste likes to say, "either you are now here, or you're nowhere." I wondered what would happen if I brought myself back to the task at hand as much as possible. So I started paying attention to how I was paying attention.

I realized pretty much right away that I was (almost) never fully in the present moment in my classroom. My mind was on a data spreadsheet, a student behavior from the day before, an interaction with another teacher, a parent call, or the next standard I was set to teach, instead of the one I was currently teaching.

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It's so easy to be nowhere. It's baked into our profession, as multi-tasking and having too many things to do is the norm.

Is it productive? No.

Did I make any major progress on any of those problems during my division lesson? No.

Was it distracting and/or exhausting? Yes.

So I put sticky notes on my computer, my desk, and my computer cart that just say "Pay attention." Every time I see one I notice where my thoughts have gone, and I come back to the lesson, topic, or student right in front of me.

A few benefits I consistently get from paying attention:

  1. My students feel heard. It is really obvious to kids whether you're really listening or not. When I'm fully engaged in their words and actions, they notice, our relationship stays strong, and they're often better listeners in return.
  2. I have superpowers. When I am fully in the room vs. not, I feel like I have superpowers. My spidey sense picks up so much more about students' response to the lesson, their work, and their misconceptions. I can also read minds, or at least tell a whole lot more about how students are feeling [and in the second semester of 5th grade, they're feeling ALL THE FEELINGS. #hormones].
  3. My room is cleaner. When my brain is in outer space for a class period, I look down at the end and find at least 95 pencils on the floor. If I'm here, now, I can remind students to gather them throughout class, and then there will only be 46 pencils on the floor.
  4. I remember how the day went. You know the phenomenon where you've driven from your house to somewhere familiar and you can't recall any part of the drive? That happens to me less and less in my classroom now, and I know that taking myself off autopilot is definitely better for my teaching and for my students.

What do your reminder sticky notes need to say? Have you been paying attention? Let me know in the comments.

All the best,

M.

How to define "balance."

"We have to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter. But work is third." -Leslie Knope

I want you to be crystal clear about what the Balanced Teachers community is helping you build toward. What do we mean by "balance"?

First of all, "balance" can be a loaded concept. A lot of teachers I know (myself included) have spent years working toward a healthy division between work and everything else. We "fail" at balance, again and again and again. Grading at 9pm. Skipping lunch for parent meetings. Early morning alarm clocks to set up that day's review game before students arrive.

My (completely lovely, well-intentioned) friends like to tell me to just work less (or even better, to care less), but I don't see them volunteering to tell my principal about email boundaries or coming to drag me out of the school building before dinner time when awards assembly certificates aren't done. Unlike my hero Leslie Knope, work doesn't always come third.

So what is balance NOT? As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart once said about obscenity, "I know it when I see it." When you're far out of balance, you know it. You feel drained, overwhelmed, and worn down. You haven't slept well, or seen your best friend in a while, or kissed your significant other enough. You're snapping at students, or other teachers, or your pet. You've lost weight, or gained it, and you didn't mean to. You can't remember the last blog you read or podcast you listened to or yoga class you went to.

Balance, to me, is when your energy is aligned with the things that matter most to you. That doesn't necessarily mean your life follows a perfect pie chart every day - 40% school, 40% life, 30% sleep (come on, you know most teachers give 110%). But it's worth examining whether, overall, the distribution of your energy (time, attention, emotional power) reflects the things you know are most important to you.

If you spend 12 hours at school one day working on a badass project, and you are LIT UP when you leave, then I think you're probably still in balance. You can feel that. However, if you do that four days in a row and then have to grab fast food a bunch of times, skip your favorite workout class, and play a movie for third period on Friday because you're asleep in the corner? Maybe not so balanced.

Balance is not a finite destination. It's different from person to person, and from day to day within the same person.

As for the "ideal" we're all supposed to be working toward, where you feel like you're in perfect harmony all the time? Well, I have no problem telling you, that straight up doesn't exist. [OR, if it does, hit me up, because we want to talk to you on the podcast.]

BUT. But but but. There ARE proven practices you can adopt to feel MORE balanced MORE of the time, and that's where the Balanced Teachers community is here to help.

Leave a comment below sharing what a balanced day looks like for you. Does it include any pie? Or pie charts?

All the best,

M.

The origin story.

"Are you stressed out?" ... "Ugh, I'm so stressed." ... "Today was SO stressful."

The S word. I hear it all over the hallway, the break room, the dismissal line - basically anywhere that two teachers are colliding. It's March, and the beginning of THE TESTS. So we hurl funny memes and inspiring quotes and any chocolate we can find at our colleagues' flagging morale, keeping our tired eyes on the number of days until the school year is over. Just a few days ago a teacher told me that she got a flat tire on the way to school, and she was overjoyed that it happened, because she had a quiet hour to herself.

... How did we get here?

Survey after survey shows that teaching is a brutifally (brutally / beautifully) rewarding profession - mentally, physically, and emotionally. It's not hard (or fun) to list the reasons why teachers are struggling. The hard part is figuring out what to do about it.

I burned out during my third year of teaching. I found myself throwing up in the student bathroom most mornings and most afternoons, confused why my body was suddenly not a fan of math or reading instruction. I couldn't make it stop, and I ultimately had to leave my position. It was gut wrenching. Luckily, my gut recovered.

In the aftermath I found myself talking to dozens of other educators who, instead of being even remotely surprised by my story, started recounting their eerily similar private health battles. The list of ailments is a testament to the havoc that stress can wreak: panic attacks, depression, daily headaches, autoimmune diseases, chronic back pain... not to mention any of the acute illnesses caused by the classroom germ factory.

I returned to teaching. Some things got easier, and also the stress didn't magically disappear. What helped me, and continues to help me, are mindfulness and yoga. These are the practices I'm committed to sharing with as many other educators as I can.

I'm creating the Balanced Teachers community to give teachers the tools they need to light up, instead of burning out.

If you're with me on this journey, leave a comment. Share something that helps you relieve stress, including but not limited to hilarious student stories (which are my favorite thing on the planet). I would love to hear from you. 

All the best,

M.