The pandemic is forcing us to start school in a way we never have before. Teachers have spent the summer wondering how school will start in the fall, if the decisions made will keep us safe, and thinking about managing students and our own kids’ schedule. Strategies for managing teacher stress during virtual learning is more important than ever.
We know the days until the start of the school year are numbered but before you set foot into school or log into your online classroom, now is the time to build in practices that can help. It’s never too early to start thinking about how to work smarter and stay sane, inside your virtual classroom and out. Here’s how you to manage your stress, prioritize your basic needs, and learn to say no without guilt.
5 Tips for Managing Teacher Stress During Virtual Learning
These tips for managing teacher stress during virtual learning serve as food for thought to help you have a strong start to the year. They’re not meant to add to your to-do list!
You’re welcome to skim this post now and then pin this post or bookmark it for later as you feel stress starting to build up as the school year approaches. You can also share it on social media by using the handy social share buttons to the left or email the link to your colleagues. Feel free to pass it along to other teacher friends so you can hold each other accountable. We’re all in this together! (((hugs)))
Create a Schedule
Reclaiming a routine is important to managing your time and energy to prevent burnout. Once you know what your days and weeks will look like, time blocking can help you plan your day.
With time blocking, you put everything on your calendar. Start with the knowns such as times you’re teaching certain subjects and meetings. Block out time for your basic needs such as a workout, meals, and even bedtime.
The practice of time blocking helps schedule everything out in your entire day to help you manage your time and energy and force you to prioritize your basic needs.
Prioritize Basic Needs
Basic needs seem to have fallen by the wayside as we ended the year in a crisis school situation, but we need to take care of ourselves before we can help others.
Feed Your Body
As you’re creating your schedule, include time for breakfast before starting your day and be sure to break for lunch. Use mealtimes to fuel your body, mind, and soul by scheduling time to grab coffee with a colleague over Facetime before starting your day. You can also make plans to meet your team for lunch over Zoom.
Pack lunches for yourself like you used to or treat yourself with a shipment from Splendid Spoon. When the pandemic first started, Splendid Spoon sent their plant-based smoothies, soups, and grain bowls for me to try.
Cooked, chilled, and sent right to my door, the ready- to-eat bowls were perfect to grab for lunch. The rich and satisfying grain bowls were loaded with whole grains and seasonal produce. They provided a healthy option to power me through the rest of my day and were a delicious change from my usual yogurt or sandwiches!
Nourish Your Soul
Sitting in front of the computer is a big change for all of us who are used to be moving around our classrooms and working side by side with students. These 3 exercises can be helpful for managing teacher stress and can be done without leaving your desk :
- Make your workspace work for you by switching out your chair for a stability ball to engage your core
- Pause instruction for a minute to sneak in some yoga poses at your desk with your students.
- Multitask during listen-only staff meetings with an upper body workout with hand weights or a Dribble Up Smart Medicine Ball. Dribble Up pairs with the app that provides workouts for upper body, lower body, abs, and cardio and the virtual trainer guides you through the drills and how to hit targets to perfect form. Experienced users pull up the app to run through weight training exercises with their Dribble Up trainer while listening in on meetings!
Rest Your Mind
A good night’s rest is just as important to a healthy lifestyle. This basic need can be met with some simple changes. In Insomnia in a Pandemic, The Harvard Gazette stated sleep is a casualty of COVID-19 and “too many sleepless nights can aggravate both physical and mental health problems.”
The National Sleep Foundation blames coronavirus for the lack of restful sleep because it brought the world into uncharted waters. Their Sleep Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic shares challenges and guidelines to promote sleeping well. Tips include setting a schedule, reserving your bed for sleep, and using light-based cues from the environment. They also recommend being mindful of screen time.
Set the ideal number of hours you’d like to sleep and hold yourself accountable. This can be done by keeping a sleep journal, relying on an app or wearable, or simply checking a box in your planner’s habit tracker. Taking small steps to a get more sleep can make a huge difference!
Close the Door on Your Virtual Classroom
Taking care of your basic needs also means setting limits. As teachers, we want to build community by being accessible to students and parents, but the virtual school day can go on all night if we continue to answer emails as they come in.
Sending and receiving emails at any hour, and the constant ability to read and respond to messages, makes us feel like we should always be available. Just as we could close the doors to our physical classrooms and leave school, we need to do the same when we’re teaching virtually.
Learning to manage our tech use to regain control of our digital lives is important. It’s ok to close your laptop and walk away. It’s also ok to not check your email in the evenings. By setting boundaries, you’re working to maintain digital wellbeing.
Take some time to get to know free tools that can help you manage your virtual classrooms and teaching responsibilities. Free tools like Gmail Auto Reply, Do Not Disturb, Android Wind Down Screen, and Switch Off Work make it easier to give yourself permission to take breaks from your inbox and your phone. Here’s a quick look at each of these tools:
- Auto Reply helps set parent expectations about when they can expect a reply from you. Letting them know you’ll get back to them during school hours helps limit work hours so you can focus on family and other priorities outside of school.
- Do Not Disturb hides all push notifications by muting sounds, stopping vibrations, and blocking visual disturbances with one tap in your settings. This ensures that the only texts and phone calls I get between the hours of 9 pm to 8 am are from my parents and two teens so I can focus on what’s most important. If there are some notifications you want to come through, you can also customize notifications.
- Wind Down Screen serves gentle reminder that Do Not Disturb hours are beginning. This Android features reminds you to switch your phone off at night by setting a bedtime schedule for your phone.
- Switch Off Work lets you do just that! Android users can turn off their Google Classroom work profiles with one tap to pause work apps and their notifications. This allows you to use your device without work interruptions in the evenings, on weekends, and to enjoy that vacation you deserve.
For information about these 4 tools and more, read my 8 Ways to Manage Daily Tech Use to Regain Control of Your Digital Life.
Learn to Say No
As much as we try, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. Time blocking carves out times for the non-negotiable parts of our job and builds in time for our basic needs but if we fill the other minutes during our week, burn out is inevitable. We have to get better at saying no to the things that are negotiable as a way of taking care of ourselves.
But this is easier said than done especially when worries that saying no could result in hurt feelings.
Here are 3 steps you can take towards saying no in order to reclaim your time:
- Define what is negotiable– What are the things that are most important to you? Think about what fills your bucket make time for you and your family. Then write a list of work responsibilities that are non-negotiables such as class time, planning time, team or staff meetings, or maybe work for a graduate class. Everything else is negotiable. What can you say no to in order to free up more time?
- Evaluate your efficiency– Is there a mismatch between your time and goals? Maybe there are things you’re spending too much time on. Taking a critical look at your efficiency is a way to help yourself.
- Be flexible– It’s worth reconfiguring your schedule after you’ve had a chance to determine what elements of your school day aren’t top priority for you and your students. You can do this monthly, quarterly, or on an as needed basis.
Cultivate Positive Relationships
“By finding the positive, supportive, energetic teachers in your school and sticking close to them, you can improve your job satisfaction more than with any other strategy.”
-Jennifer Gonzales, Cult of Pedagogy
The above quote from Jennifer Gonzales comes from her post, Find the Marigolds. Originally written for first year teachers, there are lots of good takeaways for new and veteran teachers as we start the school year.
“This year will test you more intensely than just about anything you’ve done up to now. It will deplete all your energy, bring you to tears, and make you question every talent or skill you thought you had. But all these tests, if you approach them the right way, will leave you better and stronger than you are today.”
Her advice: surround yourself with good people.
Take some time to think about the people who are part of your support structure. Surround yourself with family members, friends, colleagues, and maybe those you’ve gotten to know through a virtual professional learning community.
Building relationships with colleagues is important. Team meetings, staff meetings, and collaborative 1-1 sessions serve as professional ways to connect but it’s also important to make personal connections. Being a good listener during staff and team meetings can provide insight into someone’s life outside school and serve as a conversation starters. By showing someone you care, you can build more meaningful personal relationships.
In addition to building relationships with colleagues and administrators, look to connect with teachers outside your building. Opportunities for virtual professional learning communities exist everywhere and can provide a fresh perspective. Facebook groups of educators teaching the same subjects or grade levels can be a source of inspiration but also a time suck or an energy drain. Decide how you might want to budget time for collaboration with those inside and outside your building and add it into your time block schedule.
Although we’ve never started a school year during a pandemic, the virtual end to the school year provided us with valuable lessons. We’ll take the best practices and apply them to our teaching but be sure not to let yourself get lost along the way.
This post was written as an assignment for a graduate class I’m taking to renew my state teaching certificate. All opinions are my own and based on class learning and personal experience. Affiliate links are included in this post.