I’ve worked in public education since graduating from Springfield College in 1993. For the past 14 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a school and building leader. One thing all schools have in common (besides the need to stay away from the break room around the holidays if you are on a diet) is how compassionate and devoted educators are to making a positive difference in childrens’ lives. Unfortunately, due to their compassion and drive to educate, another common thread for all educators is burn out. Too many educators are not as equipped for the social/emotional learning (SEL) demands of today’s classroom: high-stakes testing, mental illness, severe trauma and a constant “Go! Go! Go!” mentality. With many high-stress days, educators can feel discouraged, burnt-out, and ready to quit.
Throughout my career in education, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with many higher ed institutions on teacher preparation. Most teacher training programs focus primarily on content and pedagogy; they overlook the social, emotional, and cognitive demands of teaching. In an effort to draw awareness to the social/emotional needs of educators and promote calm, relaxed, and enlivened classroom environments that our children so desperately need in the 21st century, my one word for 2020 is PRESENT. Be PRESENT. Focus on the here and now to enjoy each moment and prioritize educator self-care.
I know educators are always thinking about homework, assessments, projects, grades, lesson plans, conferences, etc. They’re focused and driven by the day-to-day parts of the classroom and don’t often take a step back and consider whether or not they’re teaching effectively. PRESENT is a word that serves as a constant reminder for me to slow down and enjoy the moment. Here’s an example: The day I received my book, Modern Mentor, in the mail, I picked it up, and instead of celebrating the accomplishment, I thought, “Okay, what’s next?” I got lost in answering emails during the holiday show at work trying to determine what, in fact, was next. Being more present is something I am working on as well.
When I reflect, I learn best by sharing, and this post is to support other educators who may be experiencing this constant “What’s next?” feeling. Trying to be more PRESENT can be hard. Consider trying these things and see if you find yourself being more PRESENT:
Celebrate small wins.
It’s important to celebrate the small achievements. We often celebrate holidays, birthdays, or advancements in a career, but what about the regular accomplishments? Finally grading a stack of papers that have been sitting in your bag for a week, submitting your evaluation evidence after a year’s worth of collection, sending a parent email you’ve been dreading; all of these things are accomplishments and deserve to be celebrated too. We are always going so fast and always looking forward, that we tend to ignore these small accomplishments. But when that happens, we miss out on a lot of happiness in our lives. Small wins are opportunities to reflect on how much we’ve accomplished, which gives us the strength to stay inspired.
Identify the moment you are in.
Take a minute to reflect and identify the moment you’re currently in. Focus on your surroundings and your current state. Most of us are never fully present in our lives because we continually get distracted. Our focus may be on one thing for a few moments, but suddenly another idea, question, or task comes up, and we’re onto the next thing. Identify the moment you are in, minimize distractions, and make a conscious effort to make the most of the PRESENT.
Listen without intending to respond.
When you’re engaged in conversation, do you listen, or are you more focused on what to say next? Usually, we’re only half-listening to the other person because we’re always thinking about our own stories and what we can add to the dialogue. Instead, be more PRESENT in your conversations by merely listening with curiosity, rather than anticipation.
Be okay with not knowing all of the answers.
Part of the reason we get so caught up in the unknown is that we want all of the answers to our questions immediately. We feel inept for not knowing how to handle certain situations, which only leads to self-criticism and self-doubt. The less you try to attain the answers, the more likely they are to come to you.
Listen to your body.
It’s easy to start thinking that you need to eat a certain way or exercise for a certain amount of time because you see other people doing it on social media or in advertisements. One of the best ways that you can be PRESENT in your life is to listen to what your body is telling you.
Are you craving a particular food? Eat it.
Does a run sound fun? Go for one.
Do you want nothing more than to sit on the couch and watch a movie rather than go to the gym? Do it.
Your body will let you know when it wants to move and when it needs rest.
Get away from the digital world.
Spend time away from your phone and computer every day. Read, write, go for a walk, or eat your lunch without an electronic device nearby. Do something daily that doesn’t require a connection to the internet. Consider getting a watch to check the time so that when you go to do so on your phone, you are not compelled to check your messages. Furthermore, consider shutting off all but critical notifications on your device. The fear keeping us tied to our phone or email is that we’ll miss out on something important. The truth is that being attached to email means we’re missing out on something even more important — ourselves and the moment right in front of us.
Declutter your desk/office
Messiness affects us because it reminds us of unfinished business. The stacks of folders, papers, books, random wires in the closet, and old mail affect us more than we think and prevent us from being PRESENT. Even when we shove the mess in a drawer, we know the stuff is there, waiting for us. It’s hard to be PRESENT in a cluttered space.
I have a lot going on each day, from work, to writing, to promoting my book, to basketball games, to Twitter chats, and so on. My word and this blog are for me, and if my learning and sharing helps someone, then it’s a Win-Win. Here’s to an amazing 2020 and to being PRESENT and maximizing each day to the fullest.