Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why So Stressed?


         A couple of weeks ago, as our EDCI 569 class came to a close, our instructor Alec Courosa commented on our low energy and wondered aloud why we were all so stressed.  An awkward silence ensued.
6 a.m. picket shift Jun 2014
         As a cohort-we have all seen the stress levels of our group rise and fall over the course of this winter. Between us there have been births, deaths, floods, financial hardship (helllloooo Teacher Strike of 2014), injuries, illness, full time work, full time parenting, full time domestic drudgery, to name just a few of our sources of stress! When Alec asked, "What's everyone so stressed about?" after our session with Audrey, I was intrigued by the silence. I found it a little bit funny that none of us really jumped at the chance to explain our stress in any sort of specific detail. We might expect similar silence amongst our tenth graders, but it was a little surprising within the safety net of our cohort!I could almost hear us all responding simultaneously in our heads, "What's everyone so stressed about?...everything!". It's been a long, tough winter.
         Even though we didn't delve into our own personal sources of stress when Alec asked, we can all pat ourselves on the back in acknowledgement of our adoption of some very good coping strategies over the last year and a half. We have reached out to each other through one off messages, spontaneously arranged small group meetings, and scheduled gatherings of study groups via platforms such as Twitter, Google+, GHO's, Bluejeans, and Facetime, as well as face-to-face when our lives and geography allowed it. We are a strong network of support for each other and it has made all the difference. Whether it comes as a cheer or a taunt, the realization that worries are shared or far removed from one another, we have been there for each other. Our sense of community is unshakable.  Individually, or as a (virtual) group, we have practiced meditation strategies, structured breathing exercises, and physical exercise to manage our stress. We name it, calling it what it is: stress, anxiety, overwhelm and we do our best to move on from there.  Our instructors, while not quite in the thick of it, demonstrate their support through their quick responses, words of encouragement,directing (or redirecting) to resources, and the offering of a different perspective, option or alternative, as they are able to.
         Reflecting on this, I wondered how we monitor the waves of stress within the walls of our own school communities, be it the stress of our students or of our colleagues (or both).  I often consider how amazing it would be to be part of a staff that was made up of our #tiegrad cohort members; I consider what I can do from my end to nurture this same level of trust, openness, and support that we have established with one another, in my own school environment to positively impact my own relationships with staff members. Further, I would like to know how we can extend what we have developed in our virtual classroom to our own students. 

  • What do you see as integral to establishing healthy school culture at the staff or student level? And how do you go about it?
  • How do you monitor your own students' stress levels? And how do you respond?

         As educators, I feel many of us pay significant attention to the importance of knowing our students and building relationships with them, but I think we often overlook the importance of our relationships with our peers within our schools and how healthy relationships at the staff level might just trickle down to encourage healthy relationships between students, ultimately impacting whole school culture. I have reflected frequently this semester, especially in my readings for my lit review, on the idea that what we do at the staff level impacts the social tone, interactions and learning of our students.Working so closely with so many students burdened with mental health challenges, I recognize that many of them fall through the cracks. 

  • What can we do better or differently to acknowledge and support the quiet, introverted learner who is not easily recognized as a ball of stress and worry?
         I recently read and tweeted out a link to this article, Anxiety in Kids: How to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life, by heysigmund, that recommended adults respond to kids who are struggling through anxiety with these strategies:

  1. Don't talk them out of it--basically acknowledge it.
  2. Normalise it.
  3. Explain why anxiety feels like it does.
  4. Explain how common anxiety is in kids and adults.
  5. Give it a name.
  6. Now get them into a position.
  7. And breathe.
  8. Practice mindfulness.

         The actual article explains and elaborates on the various strategies; I was struck, quite frankly, with our #tiegrad group's grasp on our own anxiety, both within ourselves and in our responses to each other. As I lamented one day to a small group of my #tiegrad peeps about my state of overwhelm, Melody Watson reminded me to break down the task at hand, which enabled me to gain the perspective I needed to move forward. She basically "got me into a position"; it may not have focused on breath, as the article describes, but the effect was the same and it was what I needed. My husband commented afterwards that he has heard me give the same advice to our children when they are "stuck", no longer moving forward, in their own school work. His comment hung in my head for a bit and I realized the significance of it. As educated adults, our brains know, theoretically, what to do to deal with stress; we are well-versed in stress and the impact anxiety has on our learners, yet my own innate stress-based response impeded my ability to access the good strategies to deal with it. What I did do, however, was share the fact that I was overwhelmed. Unlike many of us, our young learners often aren't able to effectively communicate their feelings of stress or anxiety, so I ask again: 
  • What can we do better or differently to acknowledge and support the quiet, introverted learner who is not easily recognized as a ball of stress and worry?
         For us in #tiegrad, we can be thankful for each other, thankful for the safe PLC that has been established over time through so many meaningful opportunities to share, goof up, recover and learn. For me, personally, I am grateful for Melody Watson and, oh, so very appreciative of my #tiegrad PLC.

1 comment:

  1. Love this blog Tanya. I completely agree with you!!! Having a supportive group like ours is so refreshing and inspiring to be around. I am so thankful as well that our tiegrad PLC is extremely honest and open, and the support and collective group anxiety makes us feel like we are all human and that we are all in this together!!!!