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Slow Down and Reflect Deeply

This has been a year like no other, and this summer teachers need to first take care of themselves and then prepare for next year. This is the second of a series of posts about how to plan for SEL and PBL as we hopefully return to face-to-face learning next year. Last week we talked about the need for rest to recover from the trauma of the school year. Now let’s reflect on our year.

As we discussed previously, this past year brought many challenges. One of the things that I am struck by is the variety of experiences for students. I taught in a virtual school where students never set foot in a building. My daughter spent most of the year attending school in person, wearing a mask, and attempting to social distance. She was only virtual for a few weeks as mandated by our governor. (She also was sent home for 10 days twice due to contact tracing but never had Covid herself). I know many districts shifted back and forth from virtual to hybrid to face-to-face. Even for students living in the same community, the school year was disparate.

Examining further, the online experience was vastly different too. Some schools (mine) had canned curriculum that students worked through at their own pace with limited teacher guidance. Others tried to replicate “class” and had daily video calls and interactive lessons in breakout rooms. Many teachers and students used technology in new ways to connect and extend their learning.

So while we can pull some patterns from this past year, it is important to recognize that almost everyone’s reality was distinct depending on variables such as your district and state Covid guidelines, student and parent choices, fear or skepticism of the pandemic, and financial resources. This is why it is vital for each educator to personally reflect on what their year was like for their students and themselves.

Your Reality

First of all, you rested right? After some downtime, think back on the past year and consider the positives that you can build upon and the areas of struggle that you can change. Not everything is under our control. Focus on things where you have the decision-making power. Try writing a page or two of your thoughts or even turning it into a blog post. Here’s some questions to get you started:

  • How did you build classroom community?
  • What was your best classroom moment of the year?
  • What new skills did you develop?
  • What structures will be the same/different about next year? (Back to face-to-face or still virtual?)
  • What pedagogical practices from this past year do you want to maintain?
  • What practices do you never want to use again?
  • How did you maintain your physical and mental health? (exercise, food intake, meditation, etc.)
  • How did you balance your work/family obligations?
  • What responsibilities or commitments do you need to give up?

Student Experience

It is crucial to move beyond reflecting through your own lens and to consider what your students experienced. We want to do this from an asset based viewpoint. Rather than focusing on “learning loss” (whatever that means), take a personalized approach and consider the strengths that your students gained. It may be some of the technology skills that they never would have learned if they were face-to-face all year. Your students may have taken on new roles and responsibilities in their families. Or it may be some content-related skills that they developed.

Digging deeper, consider SEL skills that students practiced. With the large amounts of time trapped inside, did students discover more about themselves (Self-Awareness) through their own reflections? Did they gain empathy for others (Social Awareness) who are struggling with trauma and loss due to Covid? Perhaps students improved their Self-Management as they regulated their time and tasks in a virtual space. Maybe they flexed their Relationship Skills by standing up for others through BLM or other protests? Students lived Responsible Decision-Making by wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing to protect themselves, their families, and communities.

Next year, how might you build on the SEL gains in your classroom?

Action Going Forward

The purpose of reflection is for personal growth. Celebrate victories, mourn losses, but ultimately reflection should lead to future progress. I like the Cheer, Challenge, Change Protocol as a simple reflection to consider what happened and most importantly, how you can use it to propel forward based on the experience.

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Interested in how you can create a positive culture by developing SEL skills integrated in your classroom? Check out my virtual workshop this summer! I am also booking workshops with schools across the country on PBL and SEL.

Time to Chill

This has been a year like no other, and this summer teachers need to first take care of themselves and then prepare for next year. This is the first of a series of posts about how to plan for SEL and PBL as we hopefully return to face-to-face learning next year. We will begin with the immediate pressing need-take a break!

Rest

Most teachers in the United States are on summer break. Some of you have been out of school for a month or longer. For me, the school year ended a week ago but I have been busy with workshops so this feels like my first chance to catch my breath.

First let me say congratulations on this past year! You made it through Covid! Whether that meant social distancing, hybrid, virtual, or most likely a combination of all of them, you survived. You tried projects, connected with kids, and focused on SEL. I am sure there were many moments when you doubted yourself and your value as a teacher but you gave it your all so give yourself a pat on the back.

Now it’s time for some downtime to recharge. I blog a ton about SEL, but Social and Emotional Learning starts with the teacher. If you want to be your best in the fall then you need to take care of your own SEL needs now. Taking a break means different things to different people. For me, I like to be active physically but free from mental stress of deadlines. I have been spending time with family, enjoying the outdoors, exercising, landscaping my yard, reading fiction, watching baseball and doing puzzles. Please take the time to find whatever relaxes you whether it is a hobby, playing games, movies, house projects, travel, or cooking. It’s also a great time to just sleep. Don’t do anything. Lay in the sun. Relax by a campfire. Hang out with friends and family. There is no wrong way to rest as long as it works for you.

Mental Break

Early in my teaching career I needed supplemental income to pay my bills. Before I became a teacher I worked in concrete construction so it was a natural fit to grab my trowel every summer. My main motivation was extra money, but I soon realized a side benefit. Working construction actually helped me detox any stress from the school year. Finishing concrete is not relaxing. It can be back-breaking physical labor. But the change of pace was therapeutic: hard labor for my body, but free of the mental stress of teaching.

I would compare running a trowel machine to mowing the lawn (my favorite chore). You are busy, working in a pattern, but your mind is free to wander. There is something restorative about working your body while clearing your mind. By the end of the summer, I was physically tired, but mentally fresh and ready to engage a new group of students. This reminds me that I spent too much time sitting in Zoom this year and need to be more active. Now is a great time to start healthy habits.

For some of us, rest may not be adequate. I like the continuum that John Spencer created. Do you need rest, recovery, restoration, or rehabilitation? Rest may not be adequate for the trauma you experienced this year. Honestly evaluate if you need more serious mental help this summer. Intentionally take care of yourself.

If you need to rest all summer and never make it to the next steps in this blog series then that’s what you need to do.

There should be no shame or guilt if you take the entire summer to recuperate with your family. You are not being paid for this time, and you are under no obligation to plan for next year. Everyone of us needs to determine for ourselves what we need this summer and do it. No excuses or apologies needed.

So quit reading education blogs and take some time off! Next week we will talk about reflection…

Interested in how you can create a positive culture by developing SEL skills integrated in your classroom? Check out my virtual workshops this summer! I am also booking workshops with schools across the country on PBL and SEL.