It’s hard working in the education sector during these uncertain times. But it can be massively overwhelming if you’re trying to juggle demands at home while attempting to master new tools and technologies to help students succeed. Read one educator’s advice on how to adapt to the changing climate at work & at home.

You log into your virtual classroom early, excited to connect with your twenty-five students. You miss their smiles, the routine of a normal day, and even the smart-alec kid you’d begun to connect with before school doors closed.

You mentally review how you’ll roll out today’s lesson, one you stayed up late developing while taking engagement levels, IEPs, and access to technology and supplies into consideration.

As you sit there waiting, you notice the inch of dust collecting underneath your couch and make a mental note. You scan your head the other way and wince when you see the aftermath of this morning’s breakfast prep.

You try to clear your mind and focus on the present when: BAM. A crash in the other room. Did the cat get in something again? Is that my toddler crying? You leave your space to assess the situation, pick up the mess, console your child, and rush back to your make-shift desk, only to discover you’re late, breathless, and annoyed. 

Sound familiar?

While there’s a lot of articles out there helping parents adjust to new homeschooling routines, educators are left asking, “What about me? How am I to juggle the needs of my students, as well of those of my family?” Below are some suggestions, crafted specifically for educators, on how to adjust your approach to help achieve work-life balance. 

Create a Maintainable Daily Routine

Be honest. Are you still holding yourself to the goal of exercising, juicing, and journaling before your first virtual meeting of the day? If so, you may be setting yourself up for emotional stress before the work day even begins. 

Make sure your routine is manageable in order to create a sense of control and accomplishment. The last thing you want is to set yourself up for failure! You may need to start with baby steps: set a morning alarm, eat dinner at the table, or take a walk with your kids at the same time every day.

You may be someone who prefers weekly goals as opposed to daily ones. Consider setting and adhering to personally-set deadlines, creating and posting a certain amount of content for your students, or trying a new recipe once a week. 

Start slow to learn what is attainable for your lifestyle. Are there aspects of your life in which you should be more flexible? What are your non-negotiables? You are gifting your students and their families grace; make sure you are also granting it to yourself!

Set a Physical Timer

If your mind is racing with your ever-growing to-do list, set a physical timer. If your thoughts are work-related, only focus on one particular task until the timer goes off. Don’t check your cell phone, open up a new internet tab, or grab a snack.

Blocking everything else out sounds harsh, but it’s a quick way to check items off of your list and help you feel in control. If your kid’s toys are scattered everywhere in your living room, set the timer for ten minutes and pick up as many things as possible. Once again, no distractions.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly time flies and how much you accomplish while focused. I am a firm believer that physical clutter creates mental clutter, so by cleaning your desk, straightening the room, or deleting some internet tabs, you are on your way to a stress-free mindset. 

Additionally, you can use a timer to schedule work breaks so you can stand up, engage in some physical activity, or enjoy a meal without your mind wandering too far away from your work. Remember that what was effective in your classroom can also work for you and your own family!

Set Clear Expectations For Your Students

By now most students are getting the hang of navigating their online classrooms. However, it’s never too late to establish expectations for distance learning and remote engagement. That may mean revisiting the basics of how to pin a screen on Google Meet or muting the microphone when someone else is talking.

It may also look like determining appropriate ways to connect with others online or being a respectful listener. Practicing these expectations is not just important for students now, but also helps build their executive functioning skills for future use.

In addition to identifying behavioral and social expectations, communicating clear cut academic ones will eliminate stress for you and students in the long run.

Assign work within programs students are familiar with so they don’t have problems accessing and operating at home. These assignments should also be clear cut so that students don’t have to search for different links and resources. Less steps equals less excuses. 

One such program is Xello, where at the click of a button, teachers can assign lessons and activities to different groups of students, taking the guess-work out for learners and parents alike.

Xello also generates student-centered data, time-stamps student logins, and runs reports based on student engagement.

This information can help guide conversations in the future, either with kids in classroom meetings, individually during one-on-one check ins. or with parents as scheduled communication. 

Communicate That You Are There For Your Students, But Not On Call

Many educators are not only in charge of equipping parents with homeschooling help, but now also feel responsible to monitor students’ emotional well-being, access to technology, personal safety, and food security.

It’s a big weight to bear, especially when educators are also carrying their own feelings of sadness and grief. In such a compassionate profession, it’s hard not to constantly think about struggling families, kids potentially falling through the cracks, or colleagues that may need additional support. 

Remember: We may not be able to control everything that’s going on right now, but we are able to control how we respond to it.

Creating boundaries is one of the best things you can do for your personal well being. Some ways to set these boundaries are:

  • Set a time where you stop checking your work email (and make sure you aren’t getting alerts on your phone throughout the night!).
  • Pick a chunk of time that is just for you. Sit in silence. Ride your bike. Read a book. Call a friend. Take a bubble bath. Make sure that you’re investing in your own social, emotional, and physical health. 
  • Determine a protocol for when you’re busy and your child needs you. What can they do instead? Who else can they ask? What can you say to quickly redirect them?
  • Consider the consequences if boundary lines are blurred. This may mean having some hard discussions with students or parents. It may look like following through with punishment for your own children. Even though this may cause initial stress for those involved, people crave boundaries, and adhering to them will create a culture of care and respect. 

Take Breaks From COVID-19 Coverage

We all want to regain control, and the media has a way of tricking us into thinking we are preparing our minds and bodies for the nature of this pandemic.

Studies have shown that consuming news coverage for an extended period of time may actually increase our anxieties and raise cortisol levels.

By initiating our body’s “fight-or-flight” response, we are potentially setting ourselves up for digestive, sleep, and emotional-regulation issues. Try to seek content from reputable sources and only for thirty minutes at a time. 

The hard part for you may not be watching the news, but just getting away from the topic in general. Educator friends on Facebook may be posting homeschool activities or memes reminding you of the pandemic.

Wellness accounts are supplying consumers with self-care strategies and at-home workouts, which serves as a constant reminder that our normal lives are on hold.

While these are good resources, also know that it is totally okay to unfollow or silence accounts that are causing more harm than good to your mentality. 

By following the above tips, you’ll come out stronger & with your mental health intact. Stay strong! You’ve got this.

Resources for Further Reading

Free Resources for Schools, Educators & Parents During COVID-19

How to Use Xello for Remote Learning

5 Ways to Facilitate Remote Learning Successfully During Uncertain Times

Kate McKenzie
ABOUT KATE

Kate McKenzie is a School Counselor in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is committed to exploring the many facets of lifelong learning & believes that building skills at a young age helps prepare students for future academic & social-emotional success.