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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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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.

Practicing the “Art” of Self-Care

 

Self Care

Self Care

I have been talking about self-care a lot as I conduct my workshops on stress management. As far as I can see, stress management relies most heavily on our ability to practice self-care, so I ask you to consider:  How good are you at practicing self-care?

Women, I believe, are especially vulnerable to the notion that taking care of self first is “selfish,” but I don’t believe that women are the only ones who suffer from not taking care of themselves. We are taught as small children that we must always share and we must bite back the things we would like to say in an effort to be “polite” and to “get along” with one another. Men and women receive messages that seem to indicate that others always come first, and where does leave them?

As a result, I believe we have a lot of adults who have lost touch with themselves while they go about their days putting the needs and feelings of everyone around them first.

Now, I am not talking about moms of small children. In the early years, it is necessary, of course, for young mothers to be mindful of and responsive to the needs of their babies and toddlers. But as our children grow older, to continue to put their every need head and shoulders above your own is not only not healthy for you, it teaches your children wrong lessons about how they should conduct their own lives.

We have gotten too used to putting everyone else first, and I believe we are paying the price for it by being sick more than we should, feeling tired so much of the time, and suffering from a serious bout of “is this all there is-itis.”

The solution, of course, isn’t to declare that from this point forward, you are only taking care of your own needs and no one else’s. That won’t solve anything. But there does need to be a better balance, it seems to me, between taking care of others’ needs and taking care of your own.

Stress is caused by a sense of overwhelm that can be created by feeling that there isn’t enough time, there isn’t enough money, and you don’t have the energy to deal with all of the demands on you. You can take some active steps toward better managing and reducing your stress right away if you start to learn some important self-care strategies.

Arianna Huffington has recently written an entire book on the premise that we as a society have become exhausted and that we need to recognize that taking care of ourselves is not selfish, it is self-preserving.

One of the strategies that she is promoting is meditation. I did a workshop recently on stress management, and one of the participants asked me before I began if I was going to talk about meditation. I told her that given the amount of time we had, I wouldn’t be talking about it at length, but I would be mentioning it as one of the seven strategies that I recommend to those who are interested in reducing their stress levels. Meditation every day or a daily practice of prayer—or both—can go a long way toward helping you feel better about yourself and about life in general.

Meditation is recognized as an important practice on a wider and wider basis these days. It isn’t just some New Age “woo-woo” stuff. Indeed, meditation is becoming more and more mainstream, and Oprah Winfrey has teamed up with Deepak Chopra in an effort to take it to an even wider audience worldwide. Researchers are discovering that brain waves can be altered with meditation, and an individual’s sense of well being can be impacted by a daily meditation practice.

I am going to suggest that for this week, you try to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, even if it is only for five minutes a day. And if the idea of being still and doing nothing for five minutes makes you feel anxious, consider that you could take a walking meditation, or still your mind while you are doing the dishes or working in your garden. The point of meditation is to still your mind, to get rid of the chatter that is constantly telling you that you don’t have enough time, you don’t have enough money, and whatever else your mind frequently goes on about. Still your mind while you knit or crochet…but still your mind if only for a few moments in order to make space for the inner voice of wisdom that resides in each of you but is so often drowned out.

Self-care is not about being selfish—it is about nurturing yourself and your own soul so that you can be the person you were born to be. Consider for just a moment what you might do differently if you were acting in your own best interests for a change. What if self-care became a way of life for you starting today? It could change your life, couldn’t it? And, if it can change your life—and for the better—why not give it a try? What do you have to lose?

For more information, please feel free to contact me directly at kittyboitnott@boitnottcoaching.com.

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