It’s TESTING TIME for Teachers and Students

If you are a teacher, you are probably already feeling the pressure of testing time, and it isn’t even April! I have started getting messages from teachers who are too busy to think about what they might want to do next year career-wise. They are in simple survival mode.

And I get it.

During my last 20 years of serving as a library media specialist at the elementary school level, I served two schools. The first school struggled for the first year or two after testing mania took hold in Virginia, but once we figured out what we needed to do and we actually had a curriculum to follow, we got accredited and it was fairly smooth sailing each year. Teachers were concerned, of course, and the spring drill began there just like it does most other places, but nobody was losing sleep worrying about whether the school would meet accreditation standards.

That changed when I changed schools in 2001. I moved from a fairly affluent suburban community to a Title I school with a majority minority population. The year I arrived was the year after the school had finally reached accreditation status after years of being on the state department’s list of “failing schools.”

The photo below sums up how most of my colleagues felt for half of the school year.Business man in office with burnout syndrome at desk

In fact, I recall the tension beginning to build as early as February…months before the tests were to be administered. The climate on our campus changed dramatically. You could feel the tension as though it were a palpable substance. Teachers worried…would they be able to get their kids through this year or would we go back to being blacklisted by the state?

I was there for eight years, and that anxiety from February through June never stopped. Each year, teachers and administrators brainstormed new ways of trying to drill the standards into the children so they would pass the standardized tests.

I wasn’t a classroom teacher, so during each spring testing season, I was called upon to proctor. It always made me sad. I watched the teachers fret and the children struggle. The students all knew on some level that the stakes were high. They tried very hard. And each year, from 2001 until I left in 2008, they managed to pass, but that never alleviated the concern that they might not.

This is the time when stress really ramps up for teachers. They begin to lose sleep, staying up late making lesson plans or grading papers, or brainstorming ways to get their kids to understand better what they need to know for the tests.

They begin to eat more because they are stressed out. They begin to forget about exercise. Who has time? They start to gain weight but are too busy to do anything about it.

They leave off getting together with friends for the same reason. They are just too busy and preoccupied to be very sociable.

I get it. I’ve lived it. But here is what I know for sure. Taking on the weight of the world during this season will maybe mean the difference of a point or two on a student’s test, but it could ultimately make you sick.

Stress gone unchecked can raise your blood pressure, cause early onset diabetes, bring on heart attacks, and gastrointestinal issues.

This is the time of year when you need to take better care of yourself. It is more important now than ever!

Download my FREE eBook, Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed:  a Guide to Managing Your Stress and Creating a Greater Sense of Work-Life Balance. 

I can’t guarantee that you will feel as stress-free as this woman:  

stressfreewoman

But I can guarantee that you will learn some strategies that may help you cope more effectively during these last few months of school.

I also invite you to attend a live, FREE workshop entitled, “Stress Management Tools for Teachers.” 

To register, click here.

During this 60-minute class, you will learn more about the seven specific strategies that I recommend for you in the book. These are strategies for you to practice not just during the spring testing season, but all year long. You need to take care of your health! If you wind up sick, what happens to how your students prep for their big tests that are coming up?

Don’t let the testing season bring you down! “Do your best and forget the rest” as Tony Horton says. You need to be present for your spouse and your own children, after all. Heck, your students will be negatively affected if you are stressed out and cranky because you feel overwhelmed with work responsibilities.

So what do you say? First download the free eBook here.  Report cover Final (1)

Then sign up for the workshop, “Stress Management Tools for Teachers” here or click the button below.

Big red sign up now button

Photos by Shutterstock.

Until next time.

 

 

 

Another Resource for Teachers Headed for Burnout (But Not There Yet)

I mentioned in my last post that I am always on the lookout for a new reimgressource for teachers who are feeling the pain and confusion of burnout. I found another one that you might find of interest. It is The Happy Teacher Habits:  11 Habits of the Happiest, Most Effective Teachers on Earthby Michael Linsin. I hadn’t heard for Mr. Linsin before, but I learned that he operates a web resource for teachers. He also offers personal coaching. His website is Smart Classroom Management, and if you check him out, you will find other books that he has written and other resources that he provides.

Here is what I said about this book in the review I just wrote for Amazon:

“As a Career Transition and Job Search Coach who specializes in helping teachers who are suffering from burnout, I am always on the lookout for resources that might help them. I might suggest this one to a more experienced teacher who hasn’t hit the wall of total burnout. I don’t think the suggestions are as practically useful to a new teacher, however. You can’t figure out how to narrow the focus of your lesson before you know what you are doing. And you don’t have the luxury of saying no to your new administrator when you are the new kid on the block. These are more useful suggestions to the veteran teacher who knows their subject matter well and for the teacher who has already earned the confidence to be able to set healthy boundaries and say “no” when asked to do something they don’t have time to take on. Having said that, as a veteran teacher who has now been out of the classroom for a while, I enjoyed the stories and anecdotes very much, and I get where the author is coming from and the value of some of his other suggestions. This book could be offered to anyone (not just teachers) who have gotten caught up in the vicious cycle of too little balance between work, home, and personal hobbies. Unfortunately, some of the first to five-year teachers have already hit the wall before they can get to the place that the author suggests…having the freedom to run their classroom more or less independently of anyone else’s interference. As a veteran teacher and one perceived to be a master teacher, no doubt, he has earned the flexibility that he seems to think any teacher can claim for themselves any time. I wish it were so easy. Perhaps if it were, the shortage that is looming in the nation’s classrooms would arrive later rather than sooner.”

While, as I said above, I hadn’t heard of Mr. Linsin before reading this book, and this is the only one of his books that I have read, I appreciated his clear understanding of the problems teachers are facing. I understood many of his recommendations, but as mentioned in the review, I just don’t know how practical they are for the new, inexperienced teacher who is still trying to find his or her sea legs.

What I really liked about this book was its easy readability and the fact that he uses many anecdotes and little-known stories to illustrate the main point in each chapter. One of his main points is that teachers might learn a long-held principle that is referred to as the 80/20 rule. In its simplest form, the 80/20 rule states that 20 percent of results come from 80 percent of the causes. Linsin uses this rule to illustrate that it is possible to streamline curriculum and to narrow the focus of any particular lesson to one or two key points. This would eliminate extra, unnecessary planning. He also offers that teachers might cut down on some of their work at home if they streamline the assignments they give.

While these may be fine strategies for that experienced teacher that I mention in my Amazon review, I don’t think it is useful to the new teacher who hasn’t gained enough experience yet to discern what is okay to keep and what is okay to leave out. That kind of judgment only comes with experience.

I am also not certain that the suggestion that a teacher declines a lot of extra-curricular activity is practical for the newer teacher. Most administrators frown upon members of their faculties ignoring direct requests for help or assistance with after-school programs or evening meetings that members of the faculty are expected to attend. Again, this may be a fine strategy for the teacher who has reached a level of job security that stretches beyond the first few years, but a teacher on probation chooses to use this type of discretion at their own risk.

With all of that said, I enjoyed the book and the anecdotes, so I was entertained while I was also being offered some food for thought.

If you are already at the point of burnout, this book won’t help a lot, but then, there are not many books that can help once you have hit the point of no return. I am talking to more and more teachers who are just not having any fun and are grappling with what to do next professionally.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching message I have received lately is the one left on my website as a comment:

“Hi Kitty,

I’m literally sitting in my school parking lot dreading the day…waiting for the last possible second to go in. I’ve been teaching for 17 years, and I’m trying to make it to 20. I asked one of my now retired principals as what to do. She said go to the doc and get some anxiety meds to get you through. I don’t want to take meds to get me through work. I feel stuck. I make decent pay and love the summers off, but there has to be something out there where I don’t have to deal with all this that is comparable…Help!”

The troubling thing is that I know many teachers who are on anxiety medication to make it through their day. What does that say about the state of our profession?

If you are feeling that kind of pain and anxiety, your health is at risk. That is the bottom line. Stress can and will make you sick, so at the very least, if you are struggling with the symptoms of burnout, you should learn what you need to do to take better care of yourself. Teachers are expected to give, and give, and give to the point of exhaustion or the sacrifice of their own well-being and family life. This is not a fair or viable expectation.

If you aren’t sure if your stress level is dangerously high yet, take advantage of a free stress assessment that I offer in my stress management workshops.

Answer each question honestly without analyzing. Just go with your first reaction to the question. If you wind up with 10 or more “yes” answers, you need to get help somewhere.

Life is simply too short to spend it wasted in any endeavor that doesn’t make you happy. Don’t wait until you are like the person who wrote me yesterday. By then, it is getting too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing Healthy Habits for 2016

 

healthy habits

My mom used to say that if you had your health, you had everything you needed. She was a nurse, and she had seen people lose their health and subsequently lose jobs, families, and even their lives. She was a great proponent of preventative health care. She urged me to keep regular check ups with my doctors and my dentist. She also urged me to get vaccinations when recommended. To this day, with few exceptions, I follow her advice because I recognize the soundness of it.

Health is result of good genes to some degree, and as we get older, this is a factor, for sure. Another factor in health, however, is dependent upon whether or not you practice good health habits. Good health habits include eating for good nutrition, drinking recommended amounts of water, getting adequate and appropriate exercise, and so on.

During this time of year, with the Christmas holidays just behind us and the New Year just ahead of us, it is the time when we start to think in terms of fresh starts and New Year’s resolutions. Many of the most common resolutions are centered around health and fitness. I am certain that every fitness club on the planet is braced for an onslaught of new memberships that people will likely abandon almost as quickly as they sign up for them. That is a not a disaparagement…just a fact. Take a look at the graphic below to see why I make such a statement.

habits

Note that “85% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the first week.”

We don’t need to be resigned to bad health, however, just because creating new healthy habits is challenging. We just need to heed the two tips above, “Start slowly; Be consistent.”

I am starting a new program next week which I am calling “7 Months to 7 Healthier Habits for 2016.”  Click on the link for more information.

Are you as healthy as you would like to be? Consider:

  • Are you at your ideal weight?
  • Is your BMI (Body Mass Index) what you would like it to be?
  • Do you practice healthy eating habits regularly?
  • Do you drink the recommended amount of water most days?
  • Are you getting the exercise you need in order to be fit for your age and your current physical condition?

These are extremely important questions at any time of the year, but especially at this time. While everyone is thinking about making a “new start” in the New Year, why not think about how you might make 2016 a healthier year than last year?

If you have questions about the “7 Months to 7 Healthier Habits for 2016,” please let me know. I will be happy to work with you if you are interested in making this a healthier year ahead. In this program we will be working slowly and incrementally as we incorporate one new health habit a month for 7 months. In that way, the habits we create will last longer and by the end of July, 2016, we will be healthier, and if the adage is true, happier as well.

I invite you to join me.

Until next time.

 

 

It’s Almost Here

holiday list

The countdown is on. How are you doing? Are all the gifts purchased and wrapped?All the baking done? Any parties to plan or attend?

I don’t have to tell you that the litany of holiday activities and “to-do’s” is seemingly endless. And the pressure! Ever arrived for an event and realized you didn’t remember a gift for Uncle Bob or Aunt Sally? Is that the worst feeling, or what?

I watched the show “Black-ish” recently and was struck by the story line regarding the pressure we put upon ourselves–and sometimes the pressure others put on us–to make every holiday better than the year before. It is a tall order for many of us, but we continue to try.

All of this activity can be stressful, needless to say. That is why I am offering a FREE webinar Tuesday, December 15th at 7:00 p.m. EST. Here are the benefits of my program:

  • You will learn what stress is. The fact is that “stress” means different things to different people. What stresses me out might not even register on your radar. What stresses you out might be something I deal with every day. Stress is different for each of us, but…
  • Stress has a definite effect upon each of us physically, mentally, and emotionally. I will help you understand what stress is and how it might be impacting you negatively and you aren’t even aware of it.
  • You will also learn how to recognize the stressors in your life, and
  • You will learn why it is important for you to understand stress to be…and stay…healthy and well.
  • Finally, you will learn 7 specific strategies that won’t cost you anything but might save your life. These 7 strategies are simple (if not always easy) and can impact your general sense of wellness and well-being.

So, what do you think? Is it going to be worth an hour of your time to check it out? If so, I hope you will register here.

I hope to see you there.

Until next time.

You Are Invited to a Special Online Event

You Are Invited to a Special Online Event

Holiday Gifts

Holiday Gifts

We have all heard the song about the holidays being the “happiest time of the year,” right? But this holiday season has already been overshadowed with tragedies and terrorism from Paris to Beirut to San Bernadino. The airwaves are filled with rancor and vitriol and personal attacks instead of messages of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.”

On top of what is happening globally, the holidays are fraught with other kinds of stress. We tend to overeat, over-drink, and overspend. We fret over whether we have gotten just the right gift for everyone on the list. There are parties to attend and host, there are end-of-year tasks to deal with at work, and last minute details often forgotten until, well, the last minute.

It all makes for a stress-filled time of year even though there are good times to be enjoyed.

I am reminded that it was ten years ago this Christmas that I left my home and started divorce proceedings. In fact, many of my moves have been over the holidays to accommodate my teacher schedule.

This year will be my first Christmas without my mom, and my 29th year without my dad. And my 7-year-old car has decided that it is time for some major repair work…ouch.

Let’s face it, in spite of the fact that this is supposed to be a happy time, sometimes it just isn’t.

In case you are feeling overwhelmed with everything on your to-do list, I want to invite you to join me for a FREE LIVE webinar that I will be hosting next week. The date is December 15, 2015. The time is 7:00 EST. The registration link is here.

I hope you will sign up and plan to join me and others who will be exploring how we can take better care of ourselves during this stress-filled season so that we really can enjoy ourselves and be happier and more ready for the new year.

So sign up now, and join me.

Do You Have Someone You Need to Forgive?

Photo by Shutterstock

Photo by Shutterstock

I write a newsletter for my clients, and today’s message seemed pertinent to share here. I don’t know if you have someone in your life whom you need to forgive…or perhaps the person you need to forgive is yourself. What I do know is that forgiveness is a topic that many of us talk about but just as many of us fail to practice for a variety of reasons. It sometimes just feels too hard to forgive someone who had breached your trust or betrayed you in some way.

Someone wisely said, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” And when you think about, that is the absolute truth. You may be filled with anger, resentment, and even hatred, while the other person is merrily going about their business with no idea that you are so angry and upset with them.

In my thinking about the need to practice forgiveness, I ran across this article about the health benefits of practicing forgiveness. It has been written by the Mayo Clinic Staff, and since there is little that I could add to what they have offered, I decided to share the article. I hope you will find it of use to you. If you aren’t having trouble with forgiveness in your own life, chances are you know someone who is struggling because of some unresolved hurt or issue. Feel free to share this with anyone who you believe might benefit. It is a good reminder that letting go of grudges and bitterness is not about letting another person who has hurt you off the hook…it is about letting YOU off the hook once and for all.

Enjoy.

Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness

When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Perhaps your mother criticized your parenting skills, your colleague sabotaged a project or your partner had an affair. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance — but if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

What is forgiveness?

Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone?

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse

Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?

When you’re hurt by someone you love and trust, you might become angry, sad or confused. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.

What are the effects of holding a grudge?

If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present. You might become depressed or anxious. You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs. You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others.

How do I reach a state of forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change. To begin, you might:

  • Consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in your life at a given time
  • Reflect on the facts of the situation, how you’ve reacted, and how this combination has affected your life, health and well-being
  • When you’re ready, actively choose to forgive the person who’s offended you
  • Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life

As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding.

Please like me on Facebook or follow me onTwitter and find me on LinkedIn.

If you or a friend or family member is looking for a job because they are out of work, between jobs, or underemployed, contact me for information about the “disruptive job search” methodology that is taught atCareerHMO, the “cure for chronic career pain.” I am now working as a career coach with CareerHMO and am looking for people who could benefit from the program and the fantastic resources that are available through CareerHMO and its sister site, Careerealism.

A Few Words of Wisdom for My School Administrator Friends

I know my teacher friends are still enjoying their summer vacations (unless they are working summer school or their summer job in order to make ends meet) and thoughts of school are at least temporarily on the back burner. Having said that, I think it is time to write a post that offers some advice for my administrator friends and colleagues who are gearing up getting ready for the return of their teachers in just a few weeks. I hope you will read and know that this advice is offered with good intentions and good will.

I offer a workshop on stress management for teachers, and when I am preparing to go into a specific area to offer this workshop, I do a little homework and contact some of the teachers from the area to see if there are any specific issues of which I need to be aware. While teachers everywhere are subject to high levels of stress these days while also dealing with historically low levels of morale, it is foolish to think that all teachers in all locations are dealing with the same stressors. So, I ask, and I learn. That might be one good piece of advice for administrators. Ask how things are going. You might learn some things that you hadn’t considered.

During my investigation this summer, I have talked to a number of teachers and inquired about what was going on in their school and their district. Three themes have emerged, and I thought it might be helpful to administrators to offer what I have learned in case you haven’t yet taken the time to ask these questions yourself.

In answer to what are the top two or three things that create the most stress for you, here are the things that emerged, and in this order:

1. Lack of time.

2. Too much paperwork.

3. Inconsistent administration of district policies from school to school.

I know that time is a problem for everyone. We never seem to have enough to do all of the things that need to be done. As a result, too many of us are depriving ourselves of sleep in an effort to get everything done, and in the end, we wind up exhausted and unable to do our best work because we are, well…seriously sleep deprived. This is truly a problem, and it is a growing problem that people need to stop and consider. I just wrote another article entitled, “Are You Sleep Deprived?” in which I point out that sleep is as essential to our health and wellness as food and water. Yet too many of us think that sleep can be delayed, put off, and minimized in our effort to accomplish all of the things on our to-do lists.

For teachers, time becomes an issue because, in addition to face-to-face time with their students, they need planning time. They need time to collaborate with their colleagues. They need time to sort through the mounds of data with which they are presented, and they need time to sort out how they are going to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of the children who are coming to them every year with more needs and fewer resources with which to meet those needs.

As a Superintendent, you should consider how you can provide your teachers throughout the district with the time that they need in order to do the job they have been hired to do. This does not mean cramming in extra professional development programs that may or may not meet the needs of the teachers in your district. It also does not mean sending the message to your principals that they can impose meetings on their individual faculties that may wind up being a waste of the teachers’ time. Forget the idea that a cookie cutter approach to staff development works. It works no better for teachers than a cookie cutter approach to teaching students works for the students.

As a principal, you will be forever loved and appreciated if you can figure out a way to respect your teachers’ time and give them as much as you can for planning, for collaborating, and for keeping up with their mounds of paperwork. Indeed, the paperwork seems to increase exponentially every year because the people in charge “at the top” of the education pyramid have no idea what teaching in the classroom looks like anymore.

As for the complaint about too much paperwork, an effort to control that would be greatly appreciated, and it would help with the complaint about time. Teachers are feeling more and more overwhelmed with paperwork that feels like “busy work” rather than work that is truly helpful or meaningful either to them or to their students. Cut out some of the reports that no one ever checks. In fact, I heard from more than one teacher this summer while I was doing my background research that many teachers feel that they are being asked to keep up with reports that no one ever checks and the only rationale for the reports is that it helps justify a job of someone in the central office. If that is the case, it is time to take a serious look at the work that is being required by the central office administrators. Busy work isn’t recommended for students…it should not be required of teachers.

Finally, with regard to inconsistent administration of district policies from school to school, it is up to the Superintendent to provide training for school administrators so that this is minimized. It is not okay for some school principals to be sticklers for every letter of a policy while others let some policies slide. And when it comes to disciplinary policies for students, it is critically important that principals strive to be on the same page with other principals about how they handle certain incidents just as it is important for administrators within the same building to be consistent. Teachers, like students, are hyper-sensitive to anything that smacks of unfair, inconsistent, or arbitrary treatment. Be aware. Be consistent. Communicate with each other, so you know what you are all doing and be consistent.

In my general research about teacher burnout, I have read numerous articles that point to the fact that teachers who feel truly appreciated and who are recognized for their contributions are much happier in their jobs. Job satisfaction is key to those who want to avoid feeling the burnout that comes with feeling that no one cares about how hard they are working or the efforts that they are making. The current craze around testing and accountability has put the focus on arbitrary test scores instead of the authentic teaching and learning that is taking place in every classroom every day. Paying lip service to how much you appreciate everyone’s efforts to get the school’s test scores up is not what I mean when I talk about teacher appreciation. Giving awards is not what I am talking about either. A teacher knows when his/her administrator truly knows what they are doing and cares enough to check in to see how they are doing and what the administrator can do to help and support their efforts. A genuine “thank you” for everything you are doing and a “What can I do to help?” goes a long way toward ensuring the loyalty and appreciation that you as an administrator yearn to have.

These are definitely difficult times for educators everywhere regardless of whether they wear the hat of teacher or administrator. At the end of the day, however, regardless of which hat you wear, you are–or at least you should be–about making sure that children learn in a nurturing and safe environment. Period. That is what we are about. That is why we do this job.

Happy New School Year.