I needed to get myself together.
I’ve always considered myself to be productive, efficient, and constantly seeking to achieve at high levels in new spaces. However, like everyone else, my world got turned upside down and I wasn’t able to do the things that I am accustomed to doing. Thinking positively, I had the naive thought that “Mr Get It Done” (me), would somehow be super productive and creative during this time. That turned out to not be true. I hadn’t shifted my thinking yet. As I often tell my social emotional learning (SEL) groups of boys, I needed to “stop and reset.” I ended up having to take some deep breaths and stabilize my mind around what identity, achievement, and being a SEL advocate looks like for me in these times.
I had to put my own oxygen mask on first.
For me, to reconnect with my identity in strange times, I went overboard in information seeking. I started watching videos and reading about the experiences of those whose situations are far worse. I learned about astronauts who are in space for months at a time as well as those who are incarcerated and have had to learn how to “do” time. Now, don’t get it wrong, I am not comparing my experience to be as significant as traveling to the moon. Nor, by any stretch of the imagination, am I considering myself to be a prisoner in my 5 bedroom home with loved ones, food, technology, and the ability to move around without question. However, for me, in acknowledgement to the strength of mind of those who live in abnormal conditions, their insights were valuable in understanding the power of self awareness, emotion management, and relationships that you can teach yourself in new normals.
With that, I began thinking about every instance in which I sought to teach children about social emotional learning. These are the three elements I chose to tap into.
Our mind requires stimulation in order for us to feel like we have any level of achievement. If one is only engaging in mind numbing activities you are not going to have any sense of dignity and accomplishment about your day. Now that teachers and students have started to reconnect (virtually), we should see increased productivity from both groups. In fact, I think we may reflect on this experience and have the potential to see some of the most innovative and creative instruction we have ever seen. Many teachers will be brilliant and many students will learn new ways to push their own thinking and talents to new heights. In the midst of literal or figurative survival, many will read, write, design, create, dream, and grow like never before. Finding just a little intellectual productivity per day will make you feel the level of achievement your brain desires.
I also recognized that my body responds similarly to the way my mind does. Every day I have to do something which causes my body to feel like I deserve rest and relaxation. Otherwise, I feel lethargic and out of sorts. Our bodies respond to physical activity and you also will find that your sleep patterns become more normalized with your productivity. Schedule a short walk or run. Ride a bike. Jump rope. Do jumping jacks, push ups, sit-ups, and other exercises individually or with a video group. Work on a new outdoor project. Or, just sit or stand outside and feel the sun or cool breeze. Your body appreciates the natural elements and will respond positively to the fresh air and activity of movement.
Lastly I learned that I have to engage human beings. In “real life” I’m not an extrovert or introvert, but I know I need to see, hear, and be around other people. Discussion, debate, and intellectual exercise with trusted friends is what I used to find some sense of normalcy. Whether through a zoom conversation with some friends or, even better, a physical phone call (not a text) where I engage someone else’s voice is a beneficial daily activity for me. Belonging is a human need and me connecting with others and hearing their stories, experiences, and coping mechanisms serves a purpose for both parties.
Now, that I’ve found some normalcy for myself in the midst of this crisis, I have the will and capacity to support others. Without school, many students have also lost the things that help define their identity, feel successful, as well as loved and connected. Our scholars, athletes, and social butterflies need us to help them process, for this moment, what it means to think, move, and engage. Students are depending on us to help them get just a little bit of that normalcy back. We need to encourage the youngsters in our sphere of influence to try and find these three elements in their lives. Helping others to get through this by sharing how you cope and “achieve” is something we all can do as educators.
Every educator has the personal and professional capacity to do this. However, this type of hero work requires us to stay healthy. No matter where you are, no matter how crowded your circumstance, no matter how bad of a slump you think you are in, these simple elements will help release the stress and anxiety in your body and encourage a positive mindset. Our kids are depending on us to help them regulate by tapping into social emotional learning. We don’t know what our kids have experienced during this time and we don’t know how long we still have to go, but in the meantime we have to pull out our best educator selves to help them where we can. These times aren’t normal but we can create new ways to educate/help others, just remember, be kind to yourself and put your own safety mask on first.