Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Three Stress Tolerance Techniques I Use in Schools

I’m excited to be back this school year to re-establish long held relationships with students, families, faculty and staff.  I’m also excited that through my work as a psychologist, I can assist families and students to access needed resources for their emotional and academic learning.  With this excitement also comes stress, a great deal of it.  In the education business, we all feel this stress, and the most insidious kinds come from things that impact our lives that are out of our direct control.  In the broad education world, we have the implementation of the common core, standardized testing, politically based teacher evaluations, school improvement plans, and other so-called “accountability” measures from the ed reform movement.  More locally, we see budget cuts, limited staffing, special education legal requirements, locally based school board controversies, and so forth.  On a personal note, it is special education deadlines, large caseloads, and striking a balance between strong advocacy of a students and family’s needs with increasingly limited resources available.    What all this boils down to is stress.  Now as a psychologist, I often think, ok, my job is to help others manage stress; it may not be a good sign if I’m not managing my own particularly well.  I do try to do so, with varying degrees of success, and this current blog post is meant, in reality, to clarify in my mind what it is that I do to alleviate this stress.  If I can figure that out, I’m much more likely to be able to help students and staff with theirs.

My first stress tolerance technique is mindfulness. There are a lot of stressors out there.  Again, they are not under our direct control.  We can, however, control our own reaction to our environment.  A great way to direct my focus is the use of mindfulness.  This in short is maintaining yourself in the present moment.  Focus on every aspect of what you are doing to bring you into sharp focus.  Many take this a step further and practice meditation techniques to sharpen focus in a quiet setting.  They focus on breathing, or on things that are out of our usual present awareness, to bring them in.   Mindfulness can also be a daily work technique, some psychologists may refer to it as “flow.”  Focusing on writing without multitasking, the conversation in front of you without checking your phone, focusing on student observation without having your mind drift to what needs to be done later.  This focus in the present moment gives you the pleasure of enjoying what you are doing with your full attention.  Then other larger stressors stay off in the background.

The second technique is a simple reminder, which I try to do often, of why I’m in this business. --Focus on the students.  Many stressors invariably come to impact our daily work, and we have to address and deal with them to the best of our ability.  However, we need to keep our eye on the ball of focusing on kids and families regardless of how these other factors are playing out.  This means focusing on our day in and day out interactions with children and families, making sure they are positive.  It means making sure that we are, in our daily efforts,  in some way contributing to students and families, whether it is through our teaching and counseling interactions, or in my case, to get students needed supports.  I have lately been turning to Twitter for these reminders, as there is daily support there, from my PLN, about keeping the focus on kids.

Finally, take some time to enjoy activities that you are passionate about.  This is certainly true of focusing on our passions outside of the work setting (for me sports, art, music, reading, comedy).  What’s even better is if you can bring those passions into your work setting, especially as a teacher, AKA “Teach Like a Pirate” – (Dave Burgess) style.  Most professions have a certain drudgery component to them, in my case, special education paperwork, which is a necessary condition of doing business.  However, on a day in and day out basis we need to enjoy what we do in order to be successful.  This means spending time cultivating what you are good at, and the joys of your job. 

Everyone has different stress tolerance techniques that are their “go-to’s” to keep them sharp.  Mindfulness, keeping the focus on the kids, and cultivating my own interests and passions are the stress tolerance techniques that keep me relatively sane.  I often need daily reminders of these techniques to reset my own scale, to make sure I’m on the right path.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Back in the Game

It's funny what comes down the pike when you are forced into situations to make yourself more relevant.  I'm reflecting on this idea after reading Tony Sinasis' recent blog post about how his PLN saved his career -- It's a great post, please read it!  I identified with his notion of things sort of settling in to a situation where you do the same things every day.  Where you are stuck in routines and not growing.  I've had thoughts recently that I can't bear to give another IQ test, even though I probably have 150 ahead of me this year, with questionable value to student learning on top of it.  I've been caught up with the politics of fiscal conservatism vs. advocating for what kids need.  I had been in a long rut. The fact is though, I desperately don't want to be in one.

Here's the thing, however... Twitter refreshed my career too!  I'm back to being excited to learning again, and I have my wife @bekcikelly and @thomascmurray to thank for that.  It was they who introduced me to Twitter, despite many initial reservations.  Because of their encouragement and my change of mindset, I can now get online everyday and talk freely and openly about being a school psychologist, and what a school psychologist should be doing --working every day to help students learn, both academically and emotionally.   Or, I can have grander conversations about being an educator, and what that means in a 21st century world.  In addition, I can protest the grounding of education from the standardized test movement. Even better, I can advocate for increased mental health services in schools and increased social/emotional learning.  Honestly, I feel like I have a voice again!

Twitter has also helped me become less isolated.  Being a school psychologist can be an isolating position at times.  I have three schools, and although I work at it all the time, I'm often not fully integrated into any one of them.  Despite that fact that I get along very well with the staff there, and have gotten to know students and parents well, I still feel at times like a psychological gypsy, so to speak.  If I want to have professional conversations, they come and go, either in the hallway, or through professional meetings that are set up to talk about such things.  Those are good avenues, but are just not strong enough, and not completely what I'm looking for intellectually. My PLN however, has become a 24/7 go to for professional development and ongoing exciting conversations in the world of education!  The resources I have come across, have been game-changers, and the collaborations I've developed with people with like minded excitement and interests have been a career changers as well. Twitter really makes me feel like I'm back in the game, doing what I love to do. I'm incredibly appreciative of that! So thank you, everyone in my PLN, like Tony said, you may have saved my career too!