The coronavirus pandemic has created unique and unprecedented challenges for people of all professions around the country. For educators, this is an especially challenging time, fraught with daunting expectations to manage instruction, assessment and new emotional challenges from a virtual environment. This virtual environment includes your home, family, and all of the stresses of quarantining and social distancing thrown in for a bonus. I won’t be the first one to say it: “this is crazy, right?!”
All of this may feel impossible, and it may actually be impossible in many respects. There has never been a more important time for self-care and attention to wellness for you and those with whom you share your home. Here are some habits and practices that I have found to be helpful and that have been recommended widely by friends and others who think seriously about wellness.
A Teacher’s Wellness Checklist for making it through the “new normal”
Choose a Work Area
One of the best ways to stay motivated with working remotely is to choose a work area you enjoy being in. This may be your couch, your kitchen table, your home office, or wherever you feel comfortable sitting and working. This Time article suggests finding a spot where you can block out distractions and reduce annoying interruptions. For some of us, that may have been your public library or coffee shop. Since those are no longer an option, find a cozy spot in your house to do this simulate this as best as possible.
Figure out a way to stay connected to your fellow teachers. They may become your best ally in the cause of staying sane. They can also be a tremendous help in figuring out how to best use different tools to connect with your students. As an example, they may be already using Google Classroom or Seesaw with their classes… but maybe you haven’t set this up yet. Aside from reading online tutorials for how to do that, they may have better tips and suggestions for you, specific to your school and district. Keep in mind that simply mastering a technology will not magically make everything beautiful all of a sudden. You will need to seek feedback from each other to figure out what is working and what is not for students at your grade level. Who knows, some of the best solutions may be low-tech.
Another reason to stay connected is that they are going through this too. Who better to understand your frustrations and fears than a fellow educator? Remember to be patient with yourself. This scenario has never before played out in the U.S. so there is no playbook to go by. You are literally writing the rules as you go. Take comfort in the fact that everyone is in the same situation and you are not alone.
Have a Plan
You’re a teacher, so you already excel at this. When you are working remotely, this is even more crucial and a bit more challenging. Create a plan and set goals for each day. Shifting to virtual home instruction and adding in the distractions of your home environment can throw you off your game. For all spheres of your life, (home, family, work) set realistic, attainable goals. These goals can anchor you, and give you some much-needed satisfaction when you accomplish them.
Communicate with Your Students
It’s really hard to communicate with all students in the way that feels most comfortable for each one of them AND works for you. But you will feel better and they will feel better when it happens consistently. There’s no one, right way. Don’t make yourself feel guilty for being on the “wrong” side of the digital divide: you have enough stress to deal with already. If you haven’t found your sweet spot yet, there are many different ways to stay connected with your students during the pandemic. A few of the best communication tools are Zoom, Google Hangouts, Canvas, and Loom. These tools are all similar but with unique qualities that make some better than others, depending on what you hope to do with them.
If you wanted to see all of your students at once and have them login at a certain time each day, Zoom is the way to go. If you want to record yourself teaching a lesson or share your screen, Loom is a favorite choice. Maybe you have a struggling student and you just need to get on a video/voice/or screen share with them. For this situation, the best option may be Google Hangouts. For more ideas on teaching tools to work remotely, read our article 19 Online Educational Resources for Virtual Home Instruction.
Create a New Routine
Routines are vital in keeping many of us sane while being quarantined at home. You don’t have to have a super rigid routine, but it is recommended to create a schedule that you can stick with. Don’t allow yourself to stay in bed too long. That can leave you feeling completely unproductive, which is demotivating and can make for a very long, dreary stretch of working from home.
Limit Media Exposure
The news and social media platforms have a tendency to suck you in and not let you go. You may feel the need to check for updates constantly, since everything seems to change and evolve day-by-day and hour-by-hour. But that can be a trap that leads to depression, more anxiety, and less actual work taking place. Limit yourself to only a few checks per day at specified times (once in the morning, and once after dinner, for instance). This is good practice in general, and especially during a national crisis.
Take Care of Yourself
Lastly, build in time to take care of yourself. Your students and your loved ones need you to stay healthy and sane, so remember to set aside time to read a book, exercise, make a healthy snack, meal plan, or whatever past time you find enjoyable. Even though you are stuck in your home, you can still (depending on where you live) go for a walk around your neighborhood, use your at-home gym equipment, or watch a yoga video on YouTube. If none of those ideas sounds interesting, here are 7 exercise videos you can try at home – with little to no equipment needed.
Remember to make this time one you will not regret (in a good way). Find the little joys in life, send a message to a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and take the time to care for yourself. Who knows, you may find out something new about yourself, or start a new healthy habit.
Be well and stay safe.
- Jenna Garvin is a regular contributing writer to the Plymouth Rock Teachers’ Lounge.