It doesn’t matter if this is your first-year teaching or your 60th year in education, this year it’s all new to us. In order to survive in today’s teaching environments flexibility is key. Flexible is defined as: able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances or conditions. As teachers, we need to remind ourselves how to accomplish flexibility of all kinds: emotional, mental, social, and physical! To help achieve this flexibility we can think of control, social emotional well-being, and self care as our guides.
Some simple and wise words to remember are, “You can only control what you can control”. For example, you can control what you eat or where you buy your gas. Control in the classroom is similar. You can plan for every second of your class time, but you cannot plan for how students will react to an assignment or how long it takes them to complete it or what the impact of a pandemic will be on education. Your Internet may go down or your students may not have a working camera or sound on a given day. This is really where we need to be flexible. How you react to the ever changing situation helps your students learn to adapt to unexpected circumstances and situations. As adults we can influence our students’ reactions. If we are anxious, nervous, or have a negative attitude, our students react to this and, in turn, this can adversely affect the state of the class. One way to combat this is by changing the tone of your voice or changing the mood of the moment with laughter or music. Another strategy is to just be honest with the students about how you are feeling. Don’t shy away or sugar coat your own challenges. Showing human vulnerability is a good model for students of social emotional learning (SEL).
The atmosphere in the class starts with you, the teacher. The way you present yourself and the material impacts your students. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (casel.org), social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. In the Arts we regularly practice this approach to learning by the very nature of our teaching methodology. For example, we work in partnership with each other; students learn how to work together and collaborate by doing group projects that help establish and build a community and sense of belonging. In my visual arts class we do a four-step method to critique each other’s work:
- Describe – What do I see?
- Analyze – How is the work organized?
- Interpret – What message does this artwork communicate?
- Judge – Is this a successful work of art?
Through this critique process students are also working on the CASEL SEL model. Students learn to give and receive opinions as we take time critiquing each other’s work. During our critiques students are working on self-awareness, self-management and social awareness. Students get first hand practice at recognizing their emotions and thoughts and then using them to communicate an idea. They also learn how to listen to others’ perspectives and empathize with them for or against a piece of work. We learn how to celebrate each other by saying things we like and we learn how to say what we don’t like without being harsh.
As teachers, we already have countless roles and responsibilities in our jobs and now having to change how we present materials to students can be very difficult and stressful. Remaining flexible, having a positive and willing mindset can also be exhausting. With the changes that have happened this year it takes more energy to present concepts to students, communicate with students and parents, and assess and provide feedback to students. It is important to embrace change as a way to grow, to strengthen and improve our practice of teaching and it is as important to take time to unwind and turn it off. Teachers tend to have a hard time doing this. Trying a new app like CALM, taking a walk, or turning off your screens is encouraged and OK! In fact, these types of self-care are necessary in order to relieve the stress and strain of teaching right now. With all of the challenges in the changing environment it is so important that we focus on our own needs as much as we focus on the needs of our students. With this much needed self-care we will in turn be more refreshed, more alert, and more available for our students every day.
Using control, social emotional well-being, and self care as our guides to this changing educational landscape will help us remain flexible and be better teachers for our students and ourselves.Click here for a Printer friendly version of this article.