Restoring Our Practice in the New Year
By SEL in Action Community
This conversation is part of a series led by Innovation in SEL grantees from across the country. SEL in Action community gatherings invite educators to exchange promising SEL practices, co-create solutions to challenges, and tap into peer support. This summary reflects key themes and takeaways from the conversation. Special thanks to Diarra Imani for facilitating this conversation on restoring our practice in the new year.
As we step into a new year, and decade, strategies for restoring our teaching practice are top of mind for many of us:
- “How do I take a moment to pause and stay mindful when I’m teaching a class full of students?”
- “I’m craving fellowship.”
- “I’m feeling exhausted but also optimistic. How do I stay optimistic?”
- “Our staff need space to restore practice together, to connect, and to gain new ideas.”
Students are always the first priority, but teachers must find ways to restore their practice, regularly, in order to show up fully for their students. Educators from our community came together to discuss how to restore their practice and stay present in the classroom more regularly. We considered these questions:
What do you need to UNload in order to feel restored?
What do you need to UPload in order to feel restored?
This is a summary of the conversation.
Find An Accurate Location for How You’re Feeling
All humans experience emotion, but this is especially true for teachers who are constantly juggling their own emotional states amidst a classroom overflowing with students’ emotions. One of the issues that we encounter, when dealing with emotion, is that we don’t know how to accurately name what it is that we are experiencing. This makes it difficult to identify patterns of behavior that occur as a result of our inability to accurately locate and name emotions. Diarra Imani shared this word list with us to help us more accurately define the emotions that we are experiencing. Understanding, precisely, what it is that we are feeling, allows us to then move forward with strategies that effectively alleviate or address those emotions.
As participants shared why they were drawn to a conversation about restoration, several themes emerged.
- Needing to strike a better work-to-life balance. Teachers are too often in survival mode and trying to juggle too many things at the same time. This mode has a serious impact on home life, time spent with family, mental and even physical health.
- Balancing what students need vs. what teachers are expected to provide. Teachers want to be the best for their students, but it’s often hard to prioritize student needs given inordinate curricular expectations and limited time to focus on social and emotional needs.
- Letting others’ trauma pass through rather than have it linger. Teachers find it difficult letting go of community, staff, and especially youth trauma upon leaving the classroom. One teacher said “I need to not let trauma get into my bones so deeply”.
- Staying motivated once initiatives have taken root. It’s hard to move beyond creative mode into maintenance mode when initiatives or new curricula have taken root. Part of restoring practice is to figure out how to maintain “the thrill” in the classroom rather than get into a rut.
Once we UNloaded, and thought deeply about the accuracy of our emotions, we began to UPload. Participants reflected on the following questions:
- What might I do differently when these emotions come up?
- What will I remix, or try next, to restore my practice?
A Few Concrete Strategies for Restoring Practice
In order to connect the UNload and UPload components of our discussion, Diarra introduced a few strategies to help teachers UPload, more productively, on a daily basis. Participants were quite excited about immediately trying these simple, yet powerful, strategies in their classrooms. Stay tuned for some implementation stories as they emerge.
The WAIT cue can be used, at any point of the day, or lesson, to help us stay mindful and aware. The key WAIT questions are:
- Why Am I Talking? This may seem like an obvious question, but very often we talk to fill up space or to maintain power in a conversation or in our classroom. Teachers can self-reflect on this question, during a lesson or as they’re planning it, or they can pose this question to their students. This question can be used as an accountability tool for feedback.
- Why Am I Teaching? It’s easy to forget, when emotions get the best of us, why we got into the profession in the first place. After even a few years in the classroom, overwhelming expectations, survival mode, secondary trauma or even dull curricular expectations can make us forget why we are doing this in the first place. This question is a great mindfulness tool for self-regulation.
Take a few moments to meditate on what your students need: encouragement. Use some time to talk to your students about mindfulness. What encourages them? What will keep them accountable? How can we work as a team?
- Write the top three things that encourage your students on a sheet and glue/tape it to their desk, book-bag, class folder, etc.
- Keep a copy of everyone’s accountability statement so that you are able to support students in their focus.
Ball It Up
In the moments when you find yourself stressed out, overwhelmed, undervalued, or overworked—take a time out. This will give your mind a break, your body some stillness, and will help to restore your “why.”
- Why did you get into this profession? Why is this task adding stress? Why are you motivated to continue? Place the answers on a popsicle stick, keep them in a place that you’re around often.
- Rip a few pieces of paper and write about your stressors. Read it over once, and when you’ve made peace with it, ball it up and throw it away. (After the chat, Teacher Ciji Thurman gave this practice a try and gave us a peek at how her 2nd and 3rd grade scholars engaged in the activity.)
Where To Go From Here?
First please take just a moment to remind yourself:
There are days when my classroom/practice feels off-balance.
I notice the feeling, and consider why.
I am not alone.
With each new day, I take small steps forward.
Thank you to all who joined this online community gathering. We’ll keep the conversations going through a series of online chats throughout the school year. Please join us for the next gathering on student-led restorative practices on January 22, 2020.