Stay Balanced as the School Year Intensifies

 A MiddleWeb Blog

two_teachers-nobord-210It’s the time of year when our teaching responsibilities are mounted high. We may find ourselves feeling stretched thin by the hectic pace of things we must do and things we should do. If we’re lucky we get to do some things we want to do.

But it isn’t easy. We continue with our regular routines of lesson planning, co-planning (if we’re lucky!), faculty meetings, parent communications, professional development opportunities. IEP’s must be reviewed and new IEP’s must be written. We can add the testing season, which far too often brings unnecessary stress.

And of course there’s our actual “in the moment” teaching and learning time with our students. We take care to be there for our students who come to our classrooms with their own emotional and academic strengths and needs.

Oh, and right, we also have a personal life outside of all of this that is both exciting and at times exhausting. We are very busy! And it’s time to take a deep breath.

You may be reluctant to even take that breath, but trust me – this is a high priority task. You need to recalibrate your focus on your instructional practices, routines, materials, professional mindset and personal time.

A Meaningful Instructional-Learning Process

  1. Zoom in on your instructional decisions

teacher-comfortable-01In our high-stakes, data-driven world, it is crucial to keep your attention zoomed in closely on what you can control. We may feel forced to keep up with our state or district pacing guides, standards, or expectations. But we can control what happens inside of our classrooms.

We have important instructional decisions to make in terms of HOW we teach. It is also up to us to decide the kind of connections we will have with our students. We must remember that a positive, risk-free learning environment begins with creating a comfortable setting. It is up to us to guide students to connect to their relationship to learning.

  1. Stay focused on your students

Keep the instructional personalized and meaningful, so that any test will be a natural product rather than the key focus. We all know that when the test is the focus, the instruction may morph into a contrived, product driven nightmare. Keep it real. Focus on the process. Keep your connections alive and well with your students—they learn to be learners (not mere temporary memorizers!) from you.

  1. Keep the instructional process flowing

tchr-class-hands-upRemember it is all about the process. All grades, all subjects, all classrooms. No exceptions. Our instructional decisions should create a process of learning that engages all learners in the room. Here are some great links to revive your differentiation instruction needs.

These six differentiated instruction strategies are effective for new and veteran co-teachers to stay in the co-teaching groove.

► Here’s a piece from Edutopia that will also get some juices flowing and provide some ways to differentiate through technology—some great ideas are just one click away!

Text sets are another effective way to differentiate as we strive to deepen and expand our students’ reading skills and experiences.

► And if you’re interested in creating cross curricular text sets for middle grades, here’s a tremendously helpful link.

As we put so much of our energies into doing what is right for students, we must remember that we need to take care of ourselves. A little pampering can go a long way! You know what I mean—when we feel rejuvenated within ourselves—we can do so much more for our students. So take care of YOU!

A Few Tips to Stay Balanced

  1. Choose ONE – Think of ONE

We all know what happens. We get busy…we think of others…and we put our needs off to the side for some future, mythical free moment. But we know that doesn’t always happen. So do not wait! Choose one exercise, one park to visit, one time for meditation, one article to read, one friend to visit, one SOMETHING that you do simply because you want to do it for you. It will feel great! And then think about another something that you will choose to do within the next week or so. This could get you in the groove for balancing your daily habits of mind.

  1. Take Daily Deep Breaths

tchr-surrounded-msIt is so important to stay in the present moment. When we are in the present moments we are able to meaningfully connect with our colleagues, students, and ourselves. But too often we catch ourselves literally holding our breath. Breathe! It is such a relaxing way to reconnect to the present.

Try this: Here’s a quick anywhere kind of breathing technique to zap any stress out of any moment. And if you feel like watching a video about staying in the present moment—check this Huffington Post clip. And here’s a bonus link for 10 Mindfulness tips to stay in the present.

The world is always happening in the present. That’s where we want to be!

Let’s get a conversation going—what does this post leave you connecting to and thinking about?

Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth Stein has more than 20 years teaching experience spanning grades K-8, specializing in universal design for learning and special education. She’s currently a special education/UDL instructional coach and new-teacher mentor in Long Island NY’s Smithtown Central School District. Elizabeth is National Board Certified in Literacy, and a contributor to Education Week and other publications. Her books include Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5) (Scholastic, 2013), Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL (CAST, 2016) and Two Teachers in the Room: Strategies for Co-Teaching Success (Routledge, 2017). Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein and #coteachat

7 Responses

  1. Christopher says:

    This is a good article that can make teachers have their work life balance. It provides them a guide to go through this and still stay calm throughout the whole hectic time.

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      That’s the hope! Thanks, Christopher. And even when we’re not feeling so calm–we have to know that’s fine–it’s just part of the process, and we have to do what we can to get back on track. Thrilled to hear that you think these strategies will guide teachers along the process. All the best!

  2. Elizabeth Stein Cartlidge says:

    Your name caught my eye, since I share yours with you. Thank you for your well timed article. This time of year tends to get hectic for all of us in education. You have reminded me that I should not wait for those mythical free moments, because they never seem to come. I will make some plans to catch some breaths and do something to regenerate! We can be more effective educators if we take care of ourselves.

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Hi, Elizabeth! Yes, the timing always seems right for meaningful mindful breathing and taking care of ourselves kind of thinking! Thanks for sharing your connection and all the best working on creating those mindful free moments!

  3. I love your advice to “choose one.” When this time of the year hits, I think even the goal to create balance and carve out time for oneself can overwhelm! Just focusing on one thing, one choice, could make the goal much more approachable.

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Hi, Tricia, your thoughts remind us all to take those baby steps! One step can turn into a natural part of an individual wellness routine over time. Many thanks and all the best!

  4. April Gordon says:

    I am looking to do a short interview with teachers who are co teaching in their classroom, will only take about 15 minutes. I need this for my grad program. Please let me know if you are able to do this through email!

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