Reflections

June is one of my favorite months of the year for a couple of reasons. First of all, to me, it represents the first month of summer. I remember as a young child relishing the end of the school year. I loved waking up excited for no homework and for freedom to be outside, playing, swimming, and staying up late. I still cherish the longer days this season brings, as well as being out in the sunshine (free from bundling up in coats, gloves, hats) and the slower pace that typically comes with summer.

Secondly, June is a favorite because it’s my birthday month. I love birthdays! I love acknowledging others’ birthdays (I think I talked about that in a previous blog) and I love celebrating mine. Not because of potential gifts; that’s not necessarily my “thing”. I don’t need pomp and circumstance from others (simple acknowledgments suffice for me), but I like knowing I’m progressing in my life, growing in wisdom and experience. I look forward to the days ahead knowing good things lie in wait (and also know challenges will come too). This year happens to be a milestone birthday for me. I start a new decade and am so excited about what the future holds.

Typically, the weeks leading up to my birthday are reflective for me. This year that has been even more of the case as there are circumstances impacting my immediate family and my extended family that provide even more fodder to ponder (oh?! I like those words together!?) During this time, I think about where I’ve been and where I’m going. What are lessons learned? Who and what are the influencers in my life?  I think this time of year can also be reflective for educators as they wind down a school year. It can be a great opportunity to consider what went well and where there are opportunities for growth. With each new year there are changes to be better versions of ourselves. Isn’t that exciting?!

I thought it may be beneficial to share some of the realizations I’ve been contemplating recently. Perhaps some of them with resonate with you. Here are some of my reflections.

  1. Relationships serve a purpose. Sometimes connections with others can be for just a season or a reason. Not all relationships are life-long and that’s ok. I am fortunate to have several life-long friendships, ones I have chosen to maintain. There is a history and comradery there that is invaluable. They bring stability, familiarity, and longevity (kind of like a base camp). There are other relationships that come and go. Perhaps they were temporary to teach a brief lesson or to bring reprieve or an awareness of a need and then they depart after they’ve done their job. And then of course there are relationships that fall in between and are on a continuum. Each of these contribute to who we are and who we become. Even if there is pain involved as they come to an end, it can all be for good. Acknowledge them, celebrate them, embrace the good in them, learn from them and keep on giving your heart.
  2. Pick your battles. As I get older, I’m becoming more discerning about how to spend my energy. In my younger years, especially as a social worker I wanted to fight every fight (maybe I should even say win every fight?)  I also inserted myself in situations around me even if it only involved me indirectly. I got into “everyone’s business”, invited or not. That can be welcomed by some, who perhaps are happy to defer to others to intercede (it can also be annoying too). But either way it was exhausting. I’m learning now to stay in my lane and let others handle their business (see previous blogs on that too).  I’m happy to help as needed and as I am able. I’m wondering if there are boundaries you can set too to save your energy. It’s hard to do at times, but the payoff is worth it.
  3. Kindness matters. Remember the saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” I’m seeing that over and over, in our society. Social media, media in general, conversations overheard in public places, things are negative. It can be demoralizing. I’m intentionally trying to find good in situations. Sending “thinking of you” texts when people cross my mind. Putting positive energy out into the world is needed now more than ever before. AND I am convinced it comes back to serve you/me when we do that. I’m also realizing that being nice pays off in the long run. Over the years I’ve been careful in many situations to not burn bridges and several recent interactions have benefited me professionally and personally as a result. Who can’t use that?

I look forward to celebrating life with friends and family in the coming weeks. Embarking on a new journey in a new decade with uncharted territory ahead. I hope, whether you celebrate a birthday in one of the best months (June) or not, that this is a time off away from school and all its pressures that you can also reflect on life’s lessons and all your future has to offer as well. Enjoy!

It’s Not Your Job

Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I was able to finally go and visit my father. It was great to talk with him in person vs behind a screen or window and to actually touch and hug him. It did my heart so good. He told me a story about a woman he’s befriended at the residence where he lives. This particular lady is currently in a wheelchair. My dad took it upon himself to help wheel her down to dinner over the last couple of weeks (now that they can leave their rooms and gather in the dining room in a scaled back manner). He said that he thought it was the nice thing to do, go to her room before dinner and help her make her way. He was going out of his way to be friendly and assist. However, he shared that he was told by the medical staff that although they appreciated his gesture, that his assistance was preventing the woman from building up her strength and ability to manage on her own. Her need for a wheelchair was intended to be temporary and they wanted her to push herself (literally and physically) to help her progress and get back on her feet. Dad said “I had no idea that my helping her was actually potentially hurting her. So, I’m walking with her but not pushing her.” His story resonated with me.

How many times do we see a need and jump right in to help meet it? I know I’m guilty of that. My daughter just said to me this week, “I don’t need you to try to fix the situation, mom. Just agree with me that it’s hard.” Friends, she was right. It is in my nature, especially with my children (who are adults) to want to find the solution and protect them. I think many of us can relate, especially those of us who are educators or work in some type of helping profession. We can establish a reputation that we are “on call” and at the ready to lend a helping hand, even if one isn’t needed or beneficial to the recipient.

Please hear me correctly, that I’m not saying we don’t ever volunteer to help someone in need, especially a younger someone who depends on us. I’m also not saying that we don’t offer a supportive shoulder or a listening ear. We can be there for others without taking on their circumstance. What I am saying is for us to be more deliberate and discerning before making that move. In my Living S.L.O.W. professional development sessions, I talk about being intentional in our offers to help others. I call it the Caregivers Curse and have blogged on that subject before. If we are too quick to jump in to rescue or save, we may be unintentionally preventing that person (or persons) the opportunity to learn and grow from their situation. I’ll use a simple example to illustrate this point. Consider, if I always did my children’s laundry as they matured, they would never learn to do it themselves. And then they would continue to depend on me to do it, and/or eventually their life partners, should they find them and/or find ones who are willing to do their laundry for them. Laundry is a necessary (but evil) reality of life. A skill they need to (and for the record, do) possess. Plus, if they do their own laundry, that means I don’t have to, and I can use that time doing something else. It saves me time and energy to focus elsewhere.

It can be the same thing with our students, or coworkers, or even our own friends and family. As hard as it may be to see those we care about struggling, sometimes, it is just what they may need to learn and grow to become their own best self. Reflect on your own experiences with difficult times. Think about ways they made you stronger, more resilient, more self-assured in the end. You came through those challenges, perhaps a little bruised and battered, but you are arguably better off. We should want to provide those same learning opportunities for others. Maybe we offer our lessons learned to help people avoid some of the same mistakes. And we can provide words of reassurance, comfort, or encouragement, but it’s impossible to protect everyone from every hurtful scenario. And it’s not our job. We each have our own responsibility to “fix”, care, and nurture ourselves. Use your energy to fill your cup, to ensure you are healthy and well. Walk along side of your friend but don’t push them, especially if they need to learn to walk on their own again. Give them the time and space to get back on their feet, while you work to stay on yours. In time, with kindness, patience and support we can all walk together again in strength.

You Are Not Alone

I struggled with what to write about for this month’s blog. I had several different ideas swarming around in my head, do I talk about the importance of taking things step by step and not getting too ahead of ourselves? Or perhaps I share about new beginnings considering the start of spring? I even had a zooming thought at one point that maybe I would just skip this month and claim a need for “self-care” and not write one, HA! BUT then I saw this quote on social media, “The cure for burnout isn’t and can’t be self-care. It has to be all of us caring for each other” by Emily and Amelia Nagoski and I knew what I was going to write about. Truthfully, at first pass I did not like the quote. And I’m not sure I completely agree with it, although I don’t know the context in which it was used, but in my opinion, I would modify it a little to say that “the cure for burnout isn’t and can’t ONLY be about self-care. It has to include all of us caring for each other”. In this last month, I’ve recognized even more the importance of “my village”. Not only has this past month reinforced my commitment to self-care it also highlighted that I can’t do it on my own. I need the love, involvement, assistance, and care of my support system.

I have begun to notice patterns of ebbs and flows with my work schedule over the last couple of years. October and March typically tend to be unusually busy months for me for whatever reason. Historically, I’ve traveled a lot in those months, presenting at conferences and conducting professional development sessions. This past month was no different, minus the travel. I zoomed presentations and trainings on mental health and self-care, facilitated meetings and even helped launch a statewide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) campaign, among other professional responsibilities. It was a busy month. And like I frequently say, “meanwhile back at the ranch” there were things brewing on the home front as well. Isn’t that often the case, when things pile up, they really pile up? You would like to think that if work life is busy then home life relaxes, and maybe that does happen periodically, but not this past March.

Additionally, behind the scenes, my family experienced a traumatic situation, that I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say it took (is taking) a toll on us, emotionally and physically. Like the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.” We are continuing to work our way through the storm here, step by step, but it re-emphasized for me the importance of “my village.” As intentional as I was throughout the last several weeks to build in time for self-care (walks, naps, funny movies, a massage, time out with friends) I realized, like Emily and Amelia stated, that I also needed care from others. I had to humble myself and say “I need help. I can’t do this alone.” It was hard to admit that, as someone who by nature, likes to have everything under (my) control. But it was also freeing, to not feel the pressure to do it all by myself AND to have the reassurance that when I call in the cavalry, they come. They show up! How amazing is that! And ya know what, the opposite is also true. I would show up for them! (and have and will again in the future, I’m sure). That’s what we do for one another. We have each other’s backs. I imagine you can immediately think of a handful of folks that are in your village, who would do the same for you and vice versa. That my friends, is self-care. Knowing when you need the support, and then asking for it! That is taking care of you!

I have a couple self-care presentations on the horizon for April (and then some in May and June-the need is so great for these sessions, especially right now!) As I met with my clients to plan and prepare for these events, we talked about possible accommodations in light of doing them virtually. When I do these trainings in person (man do I miss those!) I do a “pair/share” activity where people practice saying what they need to their shoulder neighbor. One idea was to randomly pair attendees up and have them meet in a virtual breakout room to do that activity. Interestingly enough however, the feedback was that people would not feel comfortable with that set up. They would not be ok to just meet up with any random coworker/staff member from their building to share a personal need. I understand the hesitation to be vulnerable like that, so we scratched that plan. But it made me think, it shouldn’t be that way. Expressing your needs shouldn’t feel that vulnerable. We should feel safe to communicate that to anyone, it should be the norm. Self-care is about all of us doing our part to take care of ourselves AND one another.

Find those who are part of your village, who show up for you. Remember you are not alone!

Good For You

I recently attended a True Colors© workshop. I believe that was my third time hearing about True Colors©. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a workshop that looks at different personality types, based on colors. Similar to a Meyers Briggs. I love the conversations and realizations that come with figuring out “your color(s)”. It opens up dialogue and increases understanding about why you, or any particular person responds the way they do, based on their color scheme. Without going into it too much, there are four colors; Gold, Green, Blue and Orange. Each color represents how someone thinks and responds in certain situations. I am very clearly a Gold, especially at work. In short, Golds are structured. We like everything to be in order, notoriously make lists and are focused on checking things off those lists. As a Gold, I am drawn to other Golds. We find value in comparing notes on all of our accomplishments. It would go something like “I was able to get 8 of the 10 things checked off my list today, plus order groceries, start laundry, make dinner,….” To me, how much I’ve been able to do in a day has historically boosted my self-esteem and validated my self-worth. It has also historically made me exhausted, short-tempered, grumpy and no fun!

Recently, several of my co-workers (a couple of whom also happen to be Golds) experienced some challenging life situations (a COVID diagnosis along with their whole family, a negative reaction to the COVID vaccine, significant family health issues, etc). With each circumstance we were able to support one another. We covered for one another, stood in the work gap. We freely gave permission to miss meetings/extend deadlines so they could focus on family or their own well-being. We encouraged stepping away and reprioritizing. There was grace and flexibility. There was no judgment or condemnation or devaluing them as a person or colleague. It made me wonder then why I (we?) can be so quick to do that to ourselves. It seems so natural to give grace to others but then neglect to extend that same quality to ourselves.

The same can be said for taking time off work. I’ve noticed how congratulatory we are for others who go on vacation. We can be quick to say, “Good for you!” “You deserve that time away!” “Enjoy your break!” but then hesitate to allow ourselves a hard-earned reprieve. (Although in all fairness, it is difficult to take time away during the school year, with a shortage of substitutes and with some already established built-in breaks.) However, my point is we often show support and flexibility to others more than we give that to ourselves.

The unstated yet expected work culture across the country in many fields, including education, seems to be one of “don’t stop till you drop”. How many extra hours you stayed after school, or didn’t sleep, or worked on the weekend to grade papers and prepare for the next day’s lessons becomes a status symbol. There is almost a competitive edge to it. “I only slept 4 hours last night getting ready for this new math unit, what about you?” “I worked all weekend to get the finals graded, I couldn’t even spend time with my family.” The fact that this is accepted, celebrated (and in some cases required?!) is not ok. And like I shared above, I’ve been there myself.

My hope is that we can begin to shift our mindsets around our priorities, not just individually but within the educational system and perhaps even eventually as a culture, and learn to stick to our values,(which is the “S” is S.L.O.W.) In every self-care training I conduct (and I’ve been doing quite a few of them lately, for obvious reasons), we talk about values and without fail, every.single.time. “health” and “family” are some of the first ones shared. Granted for the Golds of the world, hard-work and the sense of accomplishment are also highly valued, but so are our health and family. If we could collectively attempt to start reinforcing decisions with one another and personally, to not stay late at work, to enjoy downtime over the weekend, to praise full nights of sleep, perhaps we can move towards genuine expressions of “Good for You” not just for others but for ourselves. (which is arguably more important).  

Shouldn’t Have To Be Like This

I was able to attend (read: stream) a two-day Teacher Self-Care conference in mid-January. Communications from the conference planner indicated that hundreds of educators had registered. In some of the breakout sessions I attended, there was representation from around the world, like India, Canada, Germany, and then of course others from all across the United States. The various presenters shared openly and honestly from their lives, offering their classroom experience over many years. It was inspiring to hear their stories of how they’ve overcome the stress and exhaustion associated with the education profession. Many of them have started blogs or podcasts to impart their “lessons learned” or “tips and tricks” to those like them. You could sense the camaraderie and desire to support themselves and one another, while also being dedicated to their chosen career of educating future generations.

However, throughout the presentations, I was acutely aware that as several speakers shared their stories there was a recurring theme. These few educators had to go through extremely challenging health complications before they began to really focus on their own self-care. Two of them mentioned being required to take doctor ordered medical leaves. A couple others talked about having no other choice but to leave the profession they LOVED, in order to protect their health and well-being.

As the conference concluded, I logged off feeling many different emotions. Besides feeling inspired and impressed by the focus on self-care, I was further motivated to continue my endeavor to support educators and their well-being. I walked away contemplative, thinking “Why does it have to be so hard? Why does being a teacher have to be so stressful? It shouldn’t be like this”. Someone shouldn’t have to have a near-death experience or require a leave of absence to feel the freedom to focus on their health. I can understand someone who is on a battlefield every day, but classrooms and schools shouldn’t be war zones. They should be safe havens, places of support, inclusion and positivity.

I am aware that these monthly blogs won’t change the education system (wouldn’t it be nice if that was all it took?!). I am clear that there is much work and reform to be done to ensure our learning environments are all they need to be for staff and students alike. But I have hope that my blogs and dedication to elevate this issue, along with many other peoples’ work around this topic too, can at least begin to create a small shift.

We have to realize our worth, not just what we contribute in a classroom or work setting but who we are as people. There may be occasions when those around us attempt to undermine our values, question our integrity, overstep our boundaries, and/or misinterpret our intentions. That can be painful and distracting from the good we seek to enact. Perhaps an administrator doesn’t recognize the extra effort required teaching virtually or in a hybrid setting. (I imagine that administrator is overworked as well). That weighs heavily. Furthermore, chances are high that you have some students who are not as engaged this school year and you worry about them. That weighs heavily too. Then, if you are anything like me, you may be holding yourself to an extremely high expectation of performance that is probably not realistic for our current circumstances (or even during “normal” times). That’s an extra burden! It is important to resist the negative effect any one or combination of those things can have, remembering who you are, that you matter, your health matters.

How can we continue to rise above the fray and prioritize ourselves? I think it’s three quick things; know your truth, stick to it and surround yourself with supporters. Remember who you are and what you stand for. Hold on to those values. Be empowered to protect and provide for yourself. Then identify who in your life are the truth tellers, but also your cheerleaders? These are the people that not only have your back, but they have your heart. They can be honest with you while also encouraging you simultaneously. We all need people who can offer us both things, opportunities to better ourselves along with the recognition of the good we bring to the world.  I’m not sure if the conference presenters had people in their lives asking them to step back, to take care of themselves and they just didn’t heed the warnings. But what I am sure about is I am asking that of you (and me). Let’s remember our value and take care of ourselves. Like a dear colleague of mine says, “We are doing our pandemic best”.

Save Yourself

We did it! We made it to 2021! I realize that turning the page to a new year does not necessarily mean a switch will be flipped and life will go back to “normal” and quite honestly in some ways I hope it doesn’t. As people have reflected on “lessons learned” from 2020, there are recurring themes; realization that we can get by with less (except for those folks who stocked up on toilet paper), the joy of spending more time at home and with family, a greater appreciation for educators and health care staff and other essential workers and a recognition that our “normal” life was good and yet could be improved. It will be interesting to see how things adapt and adjust as we transition from our current way of life to our new way of life. I hope we have learned to prioritize the right things, to live more healthily, physically, and emotionally. It’s a great way to start a new year!

I knew almost immediately what I was going to focus on for this month’s blog. I didn’t want to do the stereotypical “new year’s resolution” blog, although I think it’s beneficial to have a goal for the coming year. I like what some people do in picking a one word “resolution” (i.e. focus on being patient) or one commitment for the year (i.e. “the year of yes”). So, I encourage you to do what works for you. For me, I’m taking the idea of “self-preservation” into the new year. Ironically (or not) as soon as I shared this commitment with my mom, later the same day, “self-preservation” came up twice in two different conversations with two separate people. I just chuckled to myself and said “Ok, universe I get it. Self-preservation it is”.

January is the birth month of my first born. He was born prematurely (at 31 weeks) and weighed a beefy 3.2 lbs. He was in the NICU for 5 weeks until he was healthy enough to bring home. Those 5 weeks were challenging to say the least. It was very emotional to come home from the hospital without my son. But when he did come home, we were thrilled and terrified. Not only were we first time parents, which is unnerving on its own, but he was so little, just over 4 lbs. at that point. Everything about him was fragile, his actual size, his little legs, and hands, plus all his organs, which were still forming. We had to be SUPER cognizant about keeping him healthy. We sterilized everything (which first time parents tend to do anyway) and we didn’t let anyone around him if they had a sniffle or cough.  Our friends and family got used to us inquiring about their health status before allowing them to come over to visit. We were on vigilant “son-preservation” duty. By the way, he’s just ready to celebrate his 23rd birthday!

Sounds familiar to our current environment these days, doesn’t it? I’ve had my temperature checked more times in the last couple of months than I probably have my whole lifetime put together. We are all on high alert for anyone who coughs or sneezes or doesn’t feel well. Isolation, confinement, and separation are all commonplace for most of us. All of this done in hopes of preservation, either for ourselves, or others or both. We are going to great lengths to protect our own health and the health of those around us (loved ones and strangers alike). It’s admirable to realize our collective commitment to save one another from suffering, as much as we can. We have it in us, we do it automatically now (well almost, I still forget my mask in the car sometimes).

We go to extraordinary lengths to protect our physical health, why not our emotional health? Why can’t we make that same commitment to preserve our own emotional and mental well-being? I have started inserting self-preservation practices into my daily routine. It takes some forethought and sometimes a little maneuvering, but it pays off in the end. I’ve started taking “walking meetings”, if the weather is nice, I take my headphones and walk and talk (as long as I’m not needed in front of the screen). I try to schedule 15 minutes in between meetings so I can regroup, stretch, get a drink/snack, etc. I ensure I have time to do some type of physical activity (if I don’t walk) and I also include “down time” to unwind. My best friend and I (both Type A personalities) have learned if we schedule time for self-care it’s more likely to happen. Save time in your schedule for you, even if for just a few minutes. Think about what you need?

As professionals who work in the field of education (or any field for that matter), now more than ever, it’s vital that we prioritize our own self-care. It doesn’t have to take a lot, small acts of kindness you would naturally give to others, also turn and give to yourself! We need you; you need you. Save your time, save your energy, save your well-being, save yourself! Happy New Year!

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Here we are…heading into the end of the year (finally!?!) and launching into the gift giving season. I imagine, as with everything else this year, this holiday will look different. There may be less hustle and bustle as far as shopping in a mall or various stores. Not as much running around but more online perusal and purchasing. Regardless, of how it may play out, people will be looking for the perfect present for the loved ones on their lists.

If you are anything like me, you enjoy giving other people gifts. Some of my favorite people have birthdays right around the holidays. Which provides additional opportunities to shower them with love, through celebration and gifts. I pride myself on trying to give meaningful presents. I spend time thinking about what each person’s interests are or what is going on in their life that I can support. Two of my closest friends have birthdays within the same week and right before Thanksgiving. This year, I had so much fun (even with a mask on) going to several stores to piece together their gifts. I like contemplating what they would want or need, what would bring them joy. I love wrapping the item(s), writing out the card and getting it ready to give, again thinking about each person and the value of their friendship. But out of all of that, my favorite part is when I offer it to them, and watch their reaction, especially if I got it “right”. That brings me so much joy, it fills me up too.

I have another friend who loves to cook and bake. Each year as her children were growing up, for their birthdays she would make them a cake from scratch (maybe she still does?). She shares that she wouldn’t let anyone else in the kitchen so she could intentionally think about the person for whom she was baking. She wanted to be able to reflect on how much she loved them while putting in the flour, mixing in the eggs or vanilla. Stirring all the ingredients together with love in her heart while making their cake. Isn’t that a lovely gesture!?! (She also does that for her friends. It’s easy to see why her food tastes so delicious.)

In these blogs, I frequently talk about being intentional. I highlight the need to SLOW down, to be self-aware, and in tune with your own needs. Instead of operating on autopilot, I encourage you to take (or make) time to think about yourself for a change. What do you need right now in this moment?

Perhaps those close to you have been asking you for gift ideas, curious about what is on your wish list. Maybe you need a new sweater, new slippers, or jewelry (who can’t use those things). But also think about giving yourself the perfect present. Getting “present” and giving yourself love, care, time, attention, affirmation, and positivity. Unwrap peace, patience, and grace. Allow yourself to feel, whatever that may be, whether that is to cry or laugh, rest, or get active. What is it that you want and need? That is the gift that keeps on giving. 

One year for Mother’s Day when my children were little, I asked for an overnight in a hotel room BY MYSELF. I needed some time away to catch up with myself, watch whatever I wanted to on TV without interruption. I took myself to dinner and ate my meal in peace without any refereeing. I slept soundly through the night and was able to connect with myself. I journaled and read a book. It was delightful. It actually prompted my commitment to self-care.

In my family we have an inside joke. Sometimes we may purchase a gift for ourselves during the holidays, something we see on sale that we think is too good of a deal to pass up. We will wrap it and put it under the tree with a label, “To: Me From: Me”. Those are gifts that are guaranteed to please, the ones you pick out for yourself. Perhaps you should try that this year. Is there something you really want? Maybe it’s something you purchase, a massage, a book, a hotel room. My best friend said to tell you “Don’t feel guilty about spending money on yourself. You work hard and deserve it!” Or possibly it is something that doesn’t have a physical price-tag but can be invaluable to your own self-care. Allowing you to refuel so you can be happy, healthy, and whole to meet the needs of those around you. Those are my favorite gifts, the ones that keep on giving! Happy Holidays!

Thanks Getting

It’s that time of year when we begin to shift our focus to the upcoming holidays. I imagine they will look different this year from the traditional holiday settings of which we are accustom. We are becoming experts at adjusting and modifying our “normal” way of life. (not to say we like it or aren’t feeling the fatigue of making those adjustments, I think we are just getting more used to it).

Arguably, not all of the shifts we’ve made in these last several months have been negative. Perhaps through this time we have found some “new and improved” ways of life. More time at home to engage with family or friends has been nice. I am definitely not traveling, or shopping or eating out like I used to, which is a cost-savings. Being able to focus on hobbies and health is a blessing as well.

With Thanksgiving approaching, we typically reflect on all we have to be grateful for, which may also look different this year. Perhaps our perspectives and priorities have changed in some ways. Maybe we are grateful we still have our health or a roof over our heads or jobs. In uncertain times, the things that matter most rise to the surface. If you follow my work or blogs you know I am a huge proponent of taking time to reflect, pay attention to and appreciate the good happening around you. That is one of the reasons I like Thanksgiving. It’s a reminder to SLOW down and give thanks.

However, since we are doing things a bit differently this year, I propose in addition to giving thanks, that we consider ways to get thanks. That may feel weird or awkward or even selfish to think about how to do something like that. But this is a weird and awkward year and I am here to tell you it is not selfish to prioritize your own needs. Just stick with me here…I don’t necessarily mean to look for others to acknowledge or appreciate you (although that is also a plus). What I intend here is for us to look for ways to acknowledge and appreciate ourselves. How can you pat yourself on the back? What are you thankful for in and of yourself? How can you give yourself gratitude? What are you doing well? What are your strengths? Think about your positive attributes and accept your greatness.

This idea became more crystalized for me through a recent dream. I dreamt that I was in a white bathrobe walking through “my” house, which happened to be a large house with many rooms (so clearly NOT my current place of residence). I was trying to get upstairs to the bathroom to take a shower and people kept following me around the house. Some people looked familiar, others did not. One group of about 3 or 4 people were even in a golf cart chasing me right up to the bathroom door. I was frantically running around the house (in my robe remember) shooing people as I closed and locked them out of windows and open doors. There were groups of people eating and listening to music on the back patio. (I shooed them away too although not sure why that mattered since they were outside?) I woke up taken aback and a little out of breath, but then realized I did a good job of setting boundaries and staying focused on my needs. I was proud of myself and grateful for the lessons I’m learning to take care of me. I didn’t let all the people (crawling through the windows and following me down long halls) with their demands stop me from doing what I needed to do. I was kind but assertive, “I can’t help you right now. I need a shower”.

It doesn’t take a dream interpreter to point out the meaning of that dream. How many of us feel that? We can feel like we are constantly being pulled on or interrupted by what seems like hundreds of people, when we need the space, time (and privacy?) to do the simplest task.

Those of us in the field of education, but really in any position of caregiving, are frequently pouring our energy, time, heart, and mind into others around us. That is the nature of our work, giving. But for this particular time of year (although it doesn’t have to just be relegated to Thanksgiving), how would it be if you also thought about getting. Can you get some time to read a book for fun or watch a movie or take a nap or a walk? Can you get away for some alone “me time” to recharge? Can you get together with people who restore your spirit? It’s not just about pouring out and giving to others, it’s also about bringing in and filling yourself up. Get those needs met and then give thanks!

Pace Yourself

In my opinion there is no better place than Michigan…in the summer! Well and actually spring is ALWAYS a welcomed season and fall is a beautiful one too. Since “perfect” weather days can be rare and don’t last long in this midwestern state, Michiganders are good at maximizing them when we get them. On those days it seems like everyone heads outdoors. They golf, spend time at one of the numerous lakes, tinker in their yard or on a car in the garage. People are out, running, biking, or walking their dogs, kids, or both. Summer in Michigan is my FAVORITE time of year! I love being outside. I love the fresh air, the sounds of nature, the colors around me and especially the warmth of the sun.

During this pandemic, walks outside have been a lifesaver for me. Depending on my mood, I have a regular route I take and other times, I’ve enjoyed exploring new neighborhoods. I’m usually on my own, quietly collecting my thoughts or just zoning out. Often, I’ll take my headphones and lose myself in the memories the songs conjure up for me. And on occasion I’ve gone with a friend, or one of my children may join me. There are days I am on a good clip, making my way up and down side streets, while avoiding other people whose paths I may cross. Then there are days my pace is slower, more of a stroll. Sometimes I go 2 miles and some days I may go 5. It differs based on my energy level and what I feel like I need that day. I tune into my body and allow it to guide my steps. Earlier on this season, I was tempted to feel guilty if I “only” walked 2 miles. But now, regardless of how far or fast I walk, I acknowledge that I was taking care of myself that day. It has been a balm for my soul.

Not to state the obvious, but our world is in an upheaval right now, including (and especially?!?) in the field of education. Everyone is aware of the current dilemma surrounding “school”. How will students be educated right now? How can we keep everyone in the building safe? Do we even go into the building? How can we support students who are anxious, traumatized or need additional learning supports? What about all the teachers who are also needing extra support? So many questions, so few answers (and truthfully there seem to be no right answers). We are all in such a difficult time.

I talk to educators every day. The person on the other end of the phone line (or zoom camera) may be different but the conversations are the same. Educators are worried, stressed, exasperated, exhausted, and yet determined to do the right thing for their students. They are diligently making lemonade out of lemons. Working hard to adjust and be responsive. Looking for help and inundated with resources and emails but have no time to sift through them for answers. This pace is not sustainable. The pace BEFORE the pandemic was not sustainable.

What is the answer? How can those of us in this arena pace ourselves? I believe it’s possible, albeit not easy. There has to be a shift in priorities. Ideally, our education system as a whole would make this priority adjustment, but realistically even a commitment to shift at an individual level can be an effective place to start. Recognizing your worth and establishing boundaries that are feasible to maintain is a step in the right direction. Your mental health and wellness are essential to your ability to meet your students’ needs. They need you to be at peace, happy and whole. They look to you as a touch point and a role model. Ensuring you have what you need to be able to show up for them is important.

Think ahead about the coming week or month. Is there a way you can pace yourself? Educators are good at helping students’ scaffold and chunk out their work.  Can you do that for yourself? What are viable expectations? What do you have the energy to do, today? Is this a “short route” day or do you have a little more to give? Do you need to go SLOW and quiet or can you juice it up some and push a little harder? Regardless, just know that whatever you have to give is sufficient. That fact that you continue to show up is significant. Listen to your body, let it inform and guide you. All you can do is what you can do. This is your journey; you get to determine your steps. Go at your pace.

You Might as Well

From my experience, having reached a certain age, my body allowing me to sleep through the night uninterrupted is a rarity. Either my bladder needs attention, or my temperature can’t regulate, or my arm, neck, or leg gets stiff, tingles, cramps or I can’t shut off my mind.  Sometimes it can be all of the above!  Maybe some of you can relate? After nights like that I don’t typically feel very rested and ready to face the day ahead. Subsequently on the nights that I do get full rest, the next day I feel like a new woman!

As I write this blog, I am coming off one of those nights. I slept 8.5 hours straight through. I’m not even sure I moved at all. That’s when you know you are tired.  In talking with educators and colleagues who work with educators, that is the reoccurring theme. Everyone is tired! (truth is it isn’t just people in the education field, almost everyone I talk to, regardless of their profession, is exhausted). I keep thinking “why?”  How is it that the majority of us now stuck at home, not running around from meeting to meeting or managing 30+ students in a classroom, or traveling from conference to conference, are still dragging? How can things feel busier now when we were at the breaking point before? Why is it so draining to sit in front of a computer on zoom?

I’ve been asking those questions in the last few weeks and many of us just speculate. But what keeps coming up in those discussions is the emotional toll this time in our lives is taking on us. It’s the calibration of a new way of working; the shift from our typical routine to a new approach. That is compounded by the strain of an ongoing (no clear end in sight) pandemic, and social unrest coupled with political and economic tensions, and oh yeah let’s not forget, Mother Nature is having her say too. It’s a lot to shoulder. For any of us just one of those issues would be a lot to manage.

This past week I co-presented with a professor from Louisiana State University (fortunately Hurricane Laura didn’t impede his ability to join in) to a group of school and district administrators on the need to prioritize their own self-care. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people attended and by the level of engagement (which is much more challenging via zoom). But to me, it just re-emphasized how much people need these reminders. It was great to process with them, validate the things they are already doing to take care of themselves. We brainstormed new ideas of ways to integrate self-care into their busy days. We gave them permission and support to recommit to their own well-being. I think all of us were re-energized after that session.

What’s become clearer to me during these various conversations about self-care is that it takes energy. I’ve noticed that as I purposefully establish boundaries, either in relationships or work expectations, it can feel tiring. Trying to protect myself, my own well-being can be hard sometimes. I worry about letting others down, hurting or burdening someone else. I fret about making sure I’m saying just the right thing or sometimes I may simply have the fear of missing out, although as I get older, I feel that less and less. It takes deliberate intention, consciousness, and awareness to prioritize your own needs, and that takes energy.  I have to be courageous, stand my ground with strength and determination. It can feel awkward and weird but in the end it feels right.

How I see it is, if we are going to spend our energy regardless, we might as well spend it on ourselves. When we put our needs first, we are then healthy and whole enough to in turn help support those around us. We cannot pour from an empty cup. It’s simply not possible. But when we fill our cup, we are then able to share with others from our supply. The end result has been worth it, every time. Staying true to my needs, regardless how hard it may have been to get to that point, has been worth it. There is freedom on the other side (and perhaps a full night of uninterrupted sleep as well, doesn’t THAT sound good?!)