Stress Management Tools for Teachers: 7 Tips for Surviving the Rest of This Year

Spring has sprung, April is upon us as we are already a week in. Easter is a week away, and for many teachers and students around the country, that means a much needed and well-deserved Spring Break.

Once Spring Break is over, everyone comes back to school with a single purpose in mind:  get through the last weeks of school as quickly as possible. I have written before about how some teachers and students begin a countdown until the end of the school year, checking off each day as one day closer to “freedom.”

counting the days

The hard fact is that teaching is an increasingly stressful occupation. I receive calls every day from teachers all over the country who confess with some chagrin and no small amount of regret that they are experiencing symptoms of burnout. They need to escape, and while I can help in that area, the more immediate concern is what to do about the stress until they can make their getaway?

Unchecked and uncontrolled stress will make you sick!

Because I want to help, I have developed a short course on how to keep your sanity and navigate these final weeks of school with some sense of peace and ease.

Want to know more?

Take a look at this video, and I will explain.

In this short course, I cover 7 specific strategies designed to help you manage your stress more effectively…not just during these final weeks of school, but all the time. The strategies are:

  1. Mindset (Attitude)
  2. Healthy habits (staying physically strong and well)
  3. Controlling your environment
  4. Managing your workload more effectively
  5. Using the 5-Second Rule (thank you Mel Robbins!)
  6. Setting better boundaries
  7. Asking for help when you need it

Each module in the short course includes information and instruction along with recommendations and suggested resources selected to help you implement the strategy for the week.

Each module is designed to help highlight areas where teachers, in particular, tend to fall into certain traps.

For example, get a group of teachers together and listen to their conversation. I can guarantee that in less than five minutes, the complaining will start. Not that the complaints aren’t legitimate because I would venture to guess that they probably are. The trouble is that complaining without doing something about the object of the complaint is not only not helpful, but it can also become counterproductive.

I hope you have new complaints

The trouble with complaining with a friend about things at work is that it validates your perception of reality, and if you feel aggrieved, it adds to your sense of righteous indignation. Venting can be healthy, but too often, complaints devolve into gossip which can be dangerous and even more counterproductive.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not above gossiping. (I am human, after all.)

I was especially guilty of it when I was teaching, however. The lounge invited gossip of all stripes. Gossip about students, their parents, the principal, and anyone who happened to be out of the room at the time.

Here’s the thing about gossip. While it can seem harmless enough, sometimes, it becomes harmful. Especially if it turns out to be wrong or untruthful, it can certainly hurt the person who is the object of the gossip.

Gossip seems to be built into our DNA. I don’t know anyone who is above engaging in it although my grandmother was pretty good about avoiding it. In fact, I never heard her say a single negative thing about anyone. She would listen silently to a conversation about someone in the community or at church, and invariably, if she did speak, it was to offer something positive about the person in question. But she was the rare exception.

In fact, if you think about it, we thrive on gossip, don’t we? Why is the National Enquirer so popular except that people love the juicy headlines on the cover each week. Even if you don’t buy it, you take a look at the cover as you wait in line at the grocery store, don’t you? Magazines like People and others thrive on gossip about celebrities, and we are eager to hear all the details.

Too often, teachers thrive on gossip about each other. And it is hurtful to the culture of the school in general.

Women gossiping.

I would like to suggest that one way to better manage your stress between now and the end of the year is to become mindful of your own habit as it relates to gossip…even gossip that seems harmless.

You see, it is not just an empty phrase that mindset is critical to your success or that attitude is everything.

Your attitude creates the frame through which you view your life. If you are constantly on the hunt for something that you can criticize or complain about, you will find plenty of things about which to complain and criticize and you will be extremely unhappy with your life.

During these last few weeks of school, strive to find positive things to say, and look for the positive in each situation that arises. It may feel hard at first. But it will become easier with practice. Changing the way you view things can make a huge difference in your attitude, and once your attitude changes, everything around you changes…like magic.

If you would like to know more about how to manage these final weeks of school with ease, click here and learn more about the program I am offering. It is a great deal as far as your investment of time and money, and it may make a huge difference in how you wind up this school year.

Happy Spring!

 

Did You Get to See This?

This is a link (see below) to an article that Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has offered. It actually came out several months ago (February 5, 2015) but it popped up on my Facebook page recently, and I shared it with my Facebook peeps just a few days ago. It occurs to me that it belongs here.

The article’s title is “Why Teachers Can’t Have ‘Normal’ Lives.”

Take a look and let me know what you think.

/www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/05/why-teachers-cant-have-normal-lives/

If you are a teacher who is feeling overwhelmed with work, check out this checklist on teacher burnout.

For more information, head on over to my website at TeachersinTransition.CoachesConsole.com.

I Am Back!

I have been so busy with other writing and other activity that I have neglected my blog here. My apologies to anyone who was following this particular blog…I am going to be more active here moving forward. Thank you for your patience.

In my defense, I have been busy with numerous activities along with some life altering events.

For example, in April I launched my eBook, Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed:  A Guide to Managing Your Stress and Developing a Greater Sense of Work-Life Balance. It is FREE, so feel free to go to the link to download it.

About the same time I launched the eBook, however, my mom got sick. I spent the better part of 25 days either with her in the hospital or running back and forth from home to her (a 3-hour drive one way) to keep up with the basics of running a business and taking care of things at my home.

She passed away on May 15. Frankly, nothing has been the same since. I know it is one of those things that happens to each of us if we live long enough. We lose our parents, and in her case, she was 86 years old and had had a good life. She had not been well for a while, however, and I know that she is in a better place, and she is not suffering which is a relief.

In spite of the fact that she is gone, and in spite of the fact that my dad died in an accident 29 years ago, I still think of each of them every day.

I am always mindful of the lessons they taught me. I am always wondering if they would be proud of the work I am doing today. I think they would be…but I miss them nevertheless.

I have also been writing a lot for an ezine called Careerealism. You can find some of my writing there if you like.

I have been working a lot lately as a career transition coach. I specialize in working with teachers who are experiencing symptoms of burnout, but I also work with mid-career professionals who have found themselves stuck in their job search. I offer resume review and LinkedIn help for anyone who needs to make sure they are on the right track in their personal job search.

If you happen to be a teacher who is suffering from job burnout (a teacher in distress), check out this new checklist I just released. Answer any one of the 7 questions about job burnout “yes” and you may need to talk to me.

Check it out. The checklist is available here. Download it and check it out. If you ARE suffering from job burnout, contact me for a complimentary consultation. Sign up for that here.

I  am sorry I have been away so long. I am glad to be back. Let me know what is going on with you.

Until next time.

5 Steps to a More Successful 2015

As you approach the New Year, you may be considering how you might change some of your less helpful habits—habits that are holding you back from being your “best” self. Or, perhaps you are thinking about which of your “bad” habits are preventing you from being happier, healthier, and more successful.

As a stress management coach, I offer specific strategies on how to manage and reduce stress in the lives of my clients. These strategies also help them become more resilient in the face of life’s inevitable challenges.

For the purposes of today’s message, I would like to focus on 5 steps that you can start taking today to take you to a better 2015:

1)  Make a decision. The first step you must take before making any change, much less maintaining a better habit, is actually to make the decision that you are going to change. You must first decide that you are going to change and maintain an improved habit (or habits) in the upcoming year. A decision is different from a wish, a hope, or a dream, and making a decision to change something in your life is the first step toward making any meaningful change that is likely to last.

2)  Change only one thing at a time. People don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions—and let’s face it, most don’t—because they overwhelm themselves with making a dozen “resolutions” when they need to focus on one change at a time. If you have multiple areas of your life where you want to make significant changes, you need to choose the top one that you feel is the most urgent to your health, happiness or success, and start there. If you try to make more than one change at a time, you are dooming yourself to failure before you even get started.

3)  Create S.M.A.R.T. goals. “S.M.A.R.T.” stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Attainable), Relevant, and Timely (or Time Limited).” A habit is something that is deeply ingrained. You engage in the behavior in question automatically and without thinking. That’s why it is called a habit. There is no denying that habits are hard to break. If that weren’t the case, we would drop bad habits in a hurry with little effort, right? But habits are sneaky…they drive your actions through your subconscious. So turn changing the habit into a goal and then establish parameters around how and why you want to change by creating S.M.A.R.T. goal language around it.

4)  Write your goal on a piece of paper and refer to it daily. There is something about writing down a goal that makes it feel more achievable than when it is just rattling around in your head. Write down your goal and write it in terms that comport with the S.M.A.R.T. goals in #3. In addition, write down why you want to change this habit. If you are a smoker and you want to quit smoking, write down why you want to do that. Is it because you don’t want to be a poor role model for your kids? Is it because you are tired of your clothes smelling like a stale ashtray all the time? Whatever the reason for your making the decision to change your habit, write it down. Then, carry the paper with you so that when you are tempted to revert to the old habit—and you will be tempted many times—you can remind yourself of the reasons for wanting to make the change.

5)  Share your goal with others and/or get a coach if you need one to hold you accountable for your actions. There is something about sharing goals with other people that keeps you more honest than if you keep the goal to yourself. If you make a decision to lose ten pounds between New Year’s day and March 31, 2015, that is something you CAN do…it falls under the heading of something you can translate into a S.M.A.R.T. goal…and if you stick to the resolve you felt when you made the decision, it is definitely doable. There are going to be times, however, when you will feel tempted to go back to your old habits of eating poorly and not exercising enough to be successful. You will be tempted to give up. If you have shared your goal with someone else, you are far more likely to stick with it. You may choose a friend or a buddy who will hold you to your promise to yourself. Perhaps you could use a coach that you hire specifically for the purpose of helping you stay motivated and to keep you honest throughout the process.

I have participated in a program around setting goals for myself as a business woman for the New Year. One of the important distinctions that the program offered is one that I believe might be helpful to you as you enter 2015. That distinction is to remember that your past does not define your future. You may have tried to quit smoking before and failed. You may have attempted to lose ten pounds before and gave up because it got hard or was inconvenient or you just couldn’t stick to your resolve.

That was then…this is now…it is a new day. This time you CAN be successful! You must first make a decision that this time is different, however. Decide once and for all that whatever it is that you want to change is not only something you wish you could do or just want to do…decide that it is something you will do…no excuses…and then follow the other four steps offered above to get you there. Tackle one bad habit at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once. One habit at a time, one day at a time…you can do this. Happy New Year.

For more information about Kitty Boitnott at Boitnott Coaching, LLC, contact her at BoitnottCoaching.com and subscribe to her newsletter by opting in for the free stress management evaluation that is available on her website. Or, fill out the form below:

How to Manage Your Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress - Photo by Shutterstock

Holiday Stress

Photo by Shutterstock

The holiday season is supposed to be the “happiest time of year.” At least that is the message that we hear in the songs, holiday specials, and all of the other messages–both overt and subliminal–to which we are subjected during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (And let’s face it…the holiday hype now begins long before Thanksgiving.)

The fact is, however, that for many people, this isn’t the happiest time of year. Moreover, it is a time when stress levels just ratchet up and up and up. There are pressures to spend more money…sometimes money we don’t have…so the credit cards get a work out with only passing thought to how they will get paid in the new year.

There are also pressures to eat things that we know aren’t good for us; but they go with the season, right? The standard Christmas gathering isn’t complete without fudge and Christmas cookies of every shape and description. Many of us just resign ourselves to gaining 5 or 10 pounds during this time of year…again, with little thought as to how that will make us feel as we hit the new year.

And then, there are the family get togethers and relationship pressures that we all face. Getting together with certain family members that we would rather not see, but they are, well…family. You have to deal with their intrusive questions that are supposed to show that they care but really make you feel like shouting, “It’s none of your business!”

All of these pressures add up, and instead of feeling happy, many of us just feel isolated, depressed, and dejected. For strategies for managing stress during the holiday season, go here for a “cheat sheet” on how to manage and reduce your stress as well as building natural resilience so that you feel less stress even when you are experiencing stressful situations. Continue reading

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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