Saturday, October 10, 2020

#WorldMentalHealthDay - Teacher Thoughts

Today is world Mental Health Day. It seemed fitting that I would ease back into social media today. I stepped away for about 3 weeks because there was too much going on all over my life and I just didn’t need to see the dumpster fire of the world in one more spot. 

I am teaching face to face with students who are joining remotely. It is a high anxiety situation. Not because of the fear of contracting Covid-19, but of not being the best teacher I can be in these circumstances. I have always taken pride in putting my best effort in to any problems at school and not letting things get in my way of providing the best educational experiences possible for students, but there are times I will fail and I still, after 15 years, still let it get the best of me. Trying to turn a design class into something that works in person and remotely has been tough and every obstacle has caused me stress and anxiety. I am better off than I was 3 weeks ago and I think it is a combination of things that made it possible. 

1. Supportive Admin and Staff

I cannot stress enough how important a supportive staff and administrative team can be in helping teachers cope with anxiety. I don’t think I’d be teaching in another environment if it were not for their hard work, attitude, and empathy. As things got tough, they were there to offer support and, sometimes, problem solve. As teachers, we cannot be left to fend for ourselves. I have friends that are dealing with serious vacuums in their leadership and it is causing more issues than can be shared. My heart breaks for them. 

2. Stepping Away

Taking the break from social media is important and I recommend it to everyone. It was tough not connecting with friends and letting them know what is happening in my world, but I needed to go cold turkey if I wanted to really step away. More than anything, those minutes I saved were used for self care techniques I’ll share in a bit. Those minutes add up and I will be looking to keep the minutes I add back to a minimum. 

3. Meditation 

I use the Calm app to help me quiet the noise in my head. I do it almost every night and I could not be happier. Taking the time to just empty my skull of the nonsense of the day and focus on breathing and wellbeing makes a difference. During some of my most stressful anxiety driven moments, meditation helped me through it.

4. Therapy

It might not be for everyone, but it is for me. If people are comfortable, they need to share more often that therapy is a part of their life. There is still a stigma out there about people who go to therapy. It is a shame. Therapy is a great way to talk through issues with a neutral third party. I am lucky to have health insurance that covers therapy visits. 

5. Distraction 

Finding something that distracts you from the noise can be helpful. I used to run, but my knees and back are starting to disagree with that form of distraction. I game fairly regularly at night. Shooting ghouls can help calm the nerves. I listen to podcasts as well. Welcome to Nightvale is amazing and I also love Fake Doctors, Real Friends which is podcast by Zach Braff and Donald Faison. Scrubs is one of my favorite shows of all time and those two are rewatching the series during lockdown and sharing their memories. If you love Scrubs, you will love this podcast. 

The world is not going to be getting easier in the next month. In November, about half the country is going to be very angry and teachers will be on the front line again to support the students who need it. I might need to add more things to help me cope, but I know I can do it.

For those of you reading that do not deal with mental health issues, but have friends who do, here are a couple of things you can do.

1. Listen

Just listen. Don’t solve problems, just listen to them.

2. Don’t isolate them even if they want it

They are going to push you away, ignore your texts, and try to ghost you as much as they can. Be persistent, but not annoying. Checking in every few days lets them know you are still thinking about them and are there. I know it is more work, but your friends need the extra help right now.

3. Love them

Let them know how much you love them and how important they are to you. If you can, give them big hugs. The fact that we have a strict no touching policy in this country to keep everyone safe is making it very hard for those who deal with mental health issues who need hugs. It seems silly, but there are plenty of studies that show how important hugs can be to the body. If it safe and you are in bubbles, just giving them a hug or holding them can help so much.

I hope all of you will take a few moments to connect with your loved ones, let them know you love them, and share this with anyone you think needs help. 

I love and miss allot of you very much. 

Hugs and High Fives, 

NP

Friday, August 21, 2020

Supporting Students Back to School

I'm heading back to the classroom in a few weeks and my anxiety levels are high. I do not want to spend this post debating the facts of going back or staying home. I want to write about our students.

Face to face instruction is happening. Whether you like that or not, it is happening and teachers need to think about the impact that is going to have on our students. It is not fair that we have to manage our mental health and the mental health of students in our classroom, but we have to. We need to start every class with empathy, compassion, and grace. Please do not treat back to school like back to school 2020. It is not the same and our students deserve better. Here are some quick thoughts on making this school year the best it can be whether online or in person. 

  • Start the school year with a wellness check in with your students. This could be a survey or just side conversations with the students. We need to understand where students are starting from in a mental health way if we are going to try and teach them. Make these check-ins a normal part of your routine. Let kids know they are being listened to and supported. 
  • Please consider doing away with strict due dates on assignments. Teachers need to be flexible when it comes to work. Students are going to have a wide variety of living situations that will not be equitable across the board. Show some grace and work with students who need more time. 
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help from your students or your colleagues if you get stuck on some tech issues. You might be using different tech for the first time this year and you should not be expected to be an expert right away. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 
  • Do not make every lesson about Covid. Let there be a space for students to escape into learning and growing without the specter of the pandemic hanging over them. They are wearing a mask in class (hopefully), they know what is going on around them. 
  • Look for a wide variety of ways to express themselves artistically. Student expression is even more important now than every before. Students will be dealing with regular growing up feelings on top of the new and confusing feelings of trying to learn during a pandemic. Artistic expression can allow them to cope and share in meaningful ways. 
  • Revisit your assessments and see if they truly meet the needs of your students learning during the pandemic. Please do not just turn your multiple choice tests into Google Forms. Consider a portfolio approach to assessment and other non-traditional ways to assess. Doing it like you have always done it is not going to cut it for students today. 
  • Find someone to talk to about your anxieties. You need to have a support group if you are dealing with a wide range of feelings. This could be a certified therapist or a close friend that is a good listener. You need to help yourself before you can help others. 
This is going to be a stressful year for everyone involved. People are going to question every decision everyone makes and nobody will truly be happy with the plan. Supporting students from a mental health standpoint will allow for a better environment for learning; whether that is in person or through the Internet. I know I have lots of fears and anxiety for myself, my family, and all of fellow educators. I look forward to the day we can all get together in person and share our stories. 

Hugs and High Fives to all of you, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Friday, May 29, 2020

Supporting Educators This Fall #EdChat

The end of the school year is upon us and, while it might not be fun, we need to have a serious talk about school in the Fall. 

Based on conversations with teachers across the country, many schools/districts were not prepared for remote learning. No plan was in place and it took weeks, or even a month in some cases, to have a plan. The most troubling thing about this was that teachers were thrown into the meat grinder of remote learning with little to now professional development or support along the way. This cannot happen again. The age old adage, "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best" is what schools need to be thinking about. Based on my work with my school and with other teachers, here are some thoughts on supporting educators in Fall 2020. 

Guest Speaker PD - If you are not sure where to start, looking for outside help is a good idea. There are many wonderful educators out there that have been teaching during the pandemic and/or have been supporting schools through this unprecedented time. These educators can help support staff through training or even the overall structure of your remote learning format. Not every person can do this and I'm sure there are lots of big companies that will claim to do this, but you really should be looking to educators that are doing with students now and/or already working with teachers who are in the classroom. I've been luck to work with great schools and districts over the years to support Project Based Learning, Design Thinking, and other edtech initiatives. Below are just a few of the educators I know that can help schools with so many issues they are going to face in the Fall. They are amazing and any school would be better by having them talk to their staff.   

Mary Beth Hertz             Sarah Thomas                John Spencer                 Heather Lister

       Tanya Avrith                 Ken Shelton                      Tara Linney                Widad Luqman 

There are so many more awesome people I could point to, so please reach out if you need specific recommendations. 

Book Study PD  - Maybe a book study for the school or district could help prepare teachers for the shift and be less stressful than jammed packed PD before school starts. There are many books out there on a wide variety of topics that can support this. Do not just buy the book that seems popular in the moment. Do some research, reach out to authors, and ask questions. Before buying a bunch of books on Amazon, reach out to the publishers. Some publishing companies, like the one I publish under (Blend Education), offer discounts on bulk purchases. Here are a few books I would recommend, other than my own of course ;-)



Invent to Learn - Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager

The Google Infused Classroom - Tanya Avrith and Holly Clark

There are many great books out there, but there are also so very bad books out there. Reach out to your social media network to find the right book for you and your staff. 

In-House PD - This type of PD is often overlooked in districts. There are so many great things happening in classrooms in your own buildings that is crazy not to reach out to them to share what has been working in their classrooms. This could be done through a virtual Edcamp model. Have teachers sign up with what they want to share and post those sessions with links to the video conference room in a shared Google Doc. Let teachers get together and share. Consider inviting some out of district educators to join your Edcamp to increase the diversity of voices. 

Instructional Coaches - This one is probably the toughest of them all, but it might be the most important. Having someone from your district that is dedicated to the instructional practices is crucial if teachers are going to be asked to make major pedagogical shifts. This might mean shifting an amazing teacher out of their classroom to support others. Maybe finding ways to compensate teachers who use their free time to support your staff. There are going to be teachers that are going to need support lesson planning in this new phase of education. If many teachers do choose early retirement, then there will be many new teachers that will need support. It will be tough to find the funds for this, but it could help make many teachers more successful in the long term. 

The last bit of advice I have is to make sure you are not trying to make school happen online. There needs to be a fundamental shift in what learning looks like for students and for teachers. There needs to be an increased focus in helping students become independent learners. Worksheets need to vanish and interactive lessons and projects need to replace them. A new emphasis on creation over consumption needs to happen. Now is the time to be innovative in your approach to instruction. I can't think of a better time than now. 

If you have any questions or would like help in supporting your school or district, you can reach me at Nicholas.Provenzano@TheNerdyTeacher.com.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How Often Are You Checking On The SEL Of Your Students? #EdChat

As the epidemic continues and teachers and students are still engaging in remote learning, how often does SEL come up?

Right now, I have seen too many articles about the knowledge slide that students are going to experience this year. When it comes to content and curriculum, students are going to be fine! Teachers will adjust the curriculum and students will be able to continue to learn. These views are stuck in the antiquated view of what school needs to be. Grades, pathway to college, and homework should not be the main focus on school right now.

Right now, teachers should be trying to engage students as best as they can with content, but they should also be checking on the mental health of their students by making sure time is given for students to connect with one another online. Let the students share their favorite stories or binge worthy shows. Play games using Kahoot! or Gimkit. Ask about something new they have done at home. Ask for book recommendations. For some students, connecting with their class is the only connection they have with other people outside of their home. We need to try as best as we can to support our students beyond the grade book. 

Here is a great article from EdWeek that is worth reading that covers SEL and Remote Learning. I hope everyone involved with remote learning will take a moment and assess the wellbeing of their students before giving out the next assignment.