I recently spent time with a group of colleagues from across Nevada’s urban and rural school districts in a workshop on “communicating in crisis” using “Ten Lessons from Mr. Rogers on How to be Heard.” All of us were incredibly appreciative of the topic and also the timing of this professional learning opportunity. We’d felt physically and emotionally isolated since Gov. Steve Sisolak closed schools throughout the state on March 15. What was surprising was the intensity of the feeling, even in the virtual space, of relief and belonging as we connected over this topic. We are all struggling to cope with the impact and effects of COVID-19 stress, and this discussion was personal to all of us.
Teachers inherently want to continue their professional learning. Just as with our students, however, stress can block that ability to grow and strengthen synapses in our brains. If we get stuck in our negative emotions, it depletes our cognitive energy, leaving us with impulsive and reactionary behaviors.
I am discovering that social emotional learning had not been enough of a priority prior to the coronavirus pandemic — teachers and students did not have a readied toolbox of stress-coping strategies to use during this critical crisis. While it is never too late to create new habits to combat stress, we may not be in a space now to learn a brand-new skill because our cognitive energy may be low. As I reflect on how I am coping, I offer three steps for teachers to counteract COVID-19 stress that do not require intensive, cognitive demand:
■ Identify your feelings and name them. Naming something creates a power shift, giving power to you rather than giving power to the feeling or situation. As Mr. Rogers says, “Anything mentionable is manageable.’ A colleague of mine noted that, “We have worked on identifying what the feeling is behind the fear. This has helped my students identify the feelings behind the anger and has resulted in diffusing many situations as well as leading to self-awareness. On a personal level, I find I use this almost daily as I try to identify the ‘fear’ beneath the ‘feeling’ in order to operate on a more self-aware level.”
■ Establish routines that are based on your priorities. Be certain to emphasize your priorities in your check-ins with students, families, colleagues and yourself, focusing on social emotional well-being. Ask questions like “How are you doing?” or “What is something good that has happened recently?” Focus on tasks that align with the core mission of why you became a teacher in the first place and on the priorities that are most meaningful to you, realizing that it is OK to say “no” in order to alleviate some of the stresses that impact you.
■ Find joy in small, daily moments. We need a 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in order to combat the negativity bias in our brains. I can improve how I feel, get things done and treat others by “taking in the good.” Acknowledging these moments of joy and happiness, no matter how small or fleeting, will help to build a practice of gratitude.
As a teacher leader committed to supporting my colleagues, I focus on providing space for them to connect with one another, find common ground and share in collective experiences. Doing so provides us a renewed sense of hope and energy, validating that what we do matters and is enough. A colleague’s reflection resonated with all of us as she shared, “It was so good to feel a kinship with educators from all across the state and realize that, while our challenges might be unique, we all still share the common concern for our students: wanting the best for them and helping them effectively.”
Jen Loescher is a regional math trainer with the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program.