How to Find True Rest

How to Find True Rest

Has this ever been you?

You just feel like you have no time. No time to be yourself because any time you take for yourself feels guilty and like a waste of time. Or maybe you want to take time for yourself, but you are so drained at the end of the day, that the thought of mustering up the energy to do anything after work besides your obligated tasks, like taking care of your family and dog, and then pouring yourself into bed seems outlandish and impossible. This was my normal state for years. Teaching and the impossible standards I set for myself pushed me into a negative cycle; a cycle which pushed me into depressive and isolating habits and emotions.

If this sounds like you, first I would like to express deep empathy because I have been there, and though I do not know your situation and I do not pretend to know exactly how you’re feeling. I relate to the hopelessness and fear that this cycle generates. I would like to help and share something that was instrumental to breaking that cycle, and it might seem outlandish, but not only do I have anecdotal evidence, I also have research to back it up (because I am a nerd, and I research things for my own fun and enjoyment lol)

Research

I am happy to say that I spend much less of my time in the depressive state I described above. I have the energy after work to do fun things like work out, cook, hang out with my husband etc. And no, it is not because I changed professions. I am still an educator and this energy came to me while I was still in the classroom. I might also add that this energy came while I was going through grad school. I wondered, “how is this possible?” My work load didn’t change, my profession didn’t change, my home situation didn’t change…” So I looked back for clues. When did I first start feeling better, and that was when I started to try new things. I started going to workout classes after work instead of pouring myself into bed, I tried yoga, cycling, boxing, and I even took a meditation class. My life really took a positive turn when I began to try to cook new things. I remember when I decided I was going to try and learn how to make macarons… it took me 4 separate tries but I did it! Then I taught myself how to build a website, and it birthed the blog you’re reading today. But why? On the outside this all just seems like MORE WORK. How could this lead to me feeling better rested? 

“What type of tired are you.”

Well, it turns out, rest is more than just staying in and not doing anything: this has to be one of the most powerfully life changing ideas I have encountered. I read the book Sacred Rest by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith which uncovered why these new activities filled me up rather than drained me further. According to her research, there are 7 forms of rest that we need in order to be TRULY rested: Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, Sensory, and Creative rest. What type of rest you need depends on what type of tired you are. For me, as I look back, I was a little of every tired. The yoga helped cure my spiritual fatigue because I used the time to pray and connect with God; the meditation provided me with mental rest where I could take a break from all of the mental background noise that bombarded me everyday; and hanging out with my friends provided me with emotional and social rest.

I highly recommend her book. I listened to the audio book which comes with an accompanying PDF assessment that can help you identify what type of tired you are. Additionally, the chapters go in depth about how to get the kind of rest you need. I mean it when I say this book was an instrumental factor to understanding my needs more intimately, and it helped me become more efficient with supporting my physical and mental health. 

If you are not a reader, though I believe we all are on the inside, you can check Dr. Dalton-Smith’s website with FREE resources.

Dr. Dalton-Smith’s website with FREE resources.

The Fun Factor

The next piece of influential research that helped me on my journey to joy is The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos. This is a podcast by Dr. Santos who is a Yale professor who teaches a class on get this, how to live a better life! The episode that influenced me the most is “Laurie Gets a Fun-tervention” parts one and two. This podcast shook me to my core because it held a up mirror and made me realize that I could NOT remember the last time I actually had fun! Like true fun. 

Fun actually has a definition. In her podcast, Dr. Santos explains that we use the word fun way too liberally. A lot of the time we use the word fun as an inverse to work. Just because it is not our job, doesn’t mean that it is actually fun. To qualify as fun it must satisfy 3 factors: playfulness, connection, and flow! When you are playing, you are engaging in an activity that you are doing just for the sake of doing it. It isn’t for accolades or necessarily an end goal, it is for the pure enjoyment of engaging in the activity. Connection with others is also important for people who do not describe themselves as “people people.” As humans, we crave connection, and when we feel the connection it adds to the fun factor. Lastly, flow. Flow is when you are so present and involved in an activity that you lose track of time. It is when you are immersed in what you are doing, and time flows naturally.

For me, my fun factors came when I was cooking a new recipe. It was playful because it was out of the norm, and it was an experiment just to see if I could do it. I felt a connection with others because I would share my recipes and endeavors with my friends and we would get to eat afterwards. Lastly, I was completely in flow zooming from sink to stove to counter dancing all the while! I also found ways to make my date nights with my husband more than just us sitting on the couch and watching TV. I set up a paint and sip where we followed a youtube painting tutorial, I bought a magnetic dart set so we could compete with one another in the house, and we even took a trip down memory lane and played rounds of Battle Ship.

The possibilities for fun are endless, but the important part is to just start experimenting. I promise you, the introduction of more fun in your life can only help. 

Thank you!

Thank you for reading, and I really hope this helps. I mean it when I say that being intentional about rest and fun has changed my perspective and outlook on life. I am hoping the same for you. You deserve to have joy and peace in your life. Until next time remember, mind, body, and then classroom. In that order. 

Building Personal Habits for a Successful School Year

Building Personal Habits for a Successful School Year

I am just going to be transparent: I fell off on my healthy habits. I am inconsistent, some days I will make it to the gym or a long walk with my dog. Some days I will pour myself into bed right after work, sleep, and then wake up, eat, then go back to sleep. Some days I get up early and do some blog writing in the morning, and some days I will keep pressing snooze and miss my window all together. I know that this doesn’t sound too bad, but not only does it fail in comparison to past me, it is also significant because I attribute my healthy habits to why I am able to maintain a positive mindset while tackling significant challenges like teaching 9th graders and convincing them over and over again that they should read! I mean have you ever tried to convince a teenager to read, it is exhausting and it takes the utmost self care to maintain.

Last year Me was killin’ it! I would get up, meditate, journal, workout and walk my dog all before even getting dressed to go to work. I would come home and still, somehow, have energy to do all of my grad school work, and on Wednesday’s I would be in class until 8:00pm and then still have time to read a non-school related book. All while full time teaching. Life has taken a turn, and I look back on that woman as unrecognizable, amazed by her go-getter attitude and the discipline to wake up so early everyday. 

Curious about my own tendencies and habits, I, being me, wanted to learn the science behind this… How could I be so consistent in one season, and in the next, the habits that came to me with ease seem like herculean feats. I started my investigation by beginning the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and I think I might have figured out the answer. 

According to his book, each habit that you have starts with a cue, something that signals to your brain that it is time to start a habit. Our life is littered with cues, so much so, that sometimes we don’t even know we are being triggered. Something that we think is a choice, may actually be a reaction to a cue.

Forreal y’all… not an ad, not sponsored, just really enjoying the book!

I started to think back to past bad-ass Stephanie, and I realized my environment completely changed, and one major cue was gone. I got married, so I moved in with my husband, so the life I designed to support healthy habits changed, and a huge thing that used to cue my habits, GRADSCHOOL, was over. I had no school work to design my self-care around. This led me to a journey to regain my healthy habits and intentionally design a new routine to fit my new life. I am going to share some of my research in hopes that it is helpful to you as you try and live your best life while educating in such a time as this!

  1. Identify your desired habits.

What is going to make your day run as smoothly as possible? What is going to pay off for your mental health in the long run? Do you know that exercise makes you feel amazing even if it is a pain to get to? Will it be so much better for your morning to have your lunch already packed? Do you reach the end of the day and realize you forgot to do something, so a planning routine will pay off? Identify what will make life easier and thus support your mental health.

  1. Schedule it, make it obvious, and make it easy!

In his book, James Clear explains the principles of behavior change. By nature, the entire world is lazy! Yes, it is literally a law. Everything from water to humans will take the path of least resistance, so you need to make sure that the desired habit is a part of that path. If you want to work out, make sure you have easy access to your gym or equipment. Set out your workout clothes and make sure your gym is on the way home. If you want to plan your day in the morning before work, set out your planner on your desk, so you see it right when you come into your classroom.

  1. Stack it and make it attractive!

Habits work best when you pair it with another, attractive habit. When James Clear says “attractive,” he means that you already like to do it. For example, I knew that after work I love to watch something to get my mind off of things, but I also know that I need to cook dinner right away to avoid the call of the drive-through and I also needed to be done cooking in time to work out, so I put a movie on my ipad, wash the dishes, and start dinner. I am not allowed to watch anything if I am not doing the dishes. Now I associate the chore with something I like, and it’s pretty fun (Well as fun as doing the dishes can be haha)!  Another technique is habit stacking. Habit stacking is doing a habit you are trying to build right after a habit you already have. For example, I write this blog everyday after I meditate and journal. I meditate and journal everyday without fail, so if that becomes a cue to write my blog, then I will begin to write everyday without fail.

  1. It isn’t about how long, it is about how often. 

This sounds simple, but for some reason when I read this it blew my mind! It doesn’t matter if you have been doing something for a year, if within that year you have only repeated the action 20 times. Building a habit and how it sticks is about repeating it enough, so the behavior moves to the habit part of your brain! This means you can start slow but often. For example, to build my morning routine, I used to just get up and sit on the couch, so I can get into the habit of getting up. Once I did it enough times, getting out of bed was automatic. Then I began to add in routine and since I did it everyday, it also became automatic. Now I feel completely off when I don’t complete it when in the past, I hated it!

This is an oversimplified explanation of what the book explains, but I hope that it was enough to get you started or inspire you to get the book. I think it is helpful in designing my environment and a life that serves me, but I also think it could be helpful for teaching. We try to instill healthy academic habits for our students. Understanding behavior change and the way habits are formed and maintained could benefit us greatly in assisting students to building their own academic habits. Maybe that will be my next post! Let me know if you’re interested. 

Thank you for making it to the end. And remember Mind, Body, and then Classroom. In that order!

3 Tips on How to Manage Clerical Tasks

3  Tips on How to Manage Clerical Tasks

When I started teaching, there was an undercurrent of dread that came from something that is overlooked in most teacher training. There was little to no preparation  for all of the CLERICAL TASKS teachers are asked to do. I was not prepared to keep up with parent contacts, student contacts, emails, special education documentation and accommodations, student behavior logs etc. etc! There is just so much that you need to keep up with and be intentional about. You need to think about when, where, and how you document everything. I am happy to say that I got the hang of it after a while. I am not perfect, but I have found a system that allows me to complete and keep up with tasks and documentation. I am going to share some ideas that will hopefully help you also,

  • Tip 1: BLOCK OUT TIME: ESPECIALLY FOR EMAILS!

We have experienced getting an email notification, and it ruining your entire day! Or you set down to do a task, and then all of a sudden, you have opened 10 emails, and forgot why you sat down in the first place. With the mounting to-do list that we have to deal with, the best thing we can do is block out dedicated time. Research shows that we cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. In actuality, we are just splitting our attention which is detrimental to the quality of all of the tasks we are doing. That is why I set aside a time to check emails, and that is it. Yes, I mean it, that is it. I do not have emails linked to my phone. I know, “what if it’s an emergency?” Well, you can always reach your email on your phone through an internet browser, but the enemy is notifications! You do not want to be distracted by emails all the time. It is actually detrimental to your productivity, not the other way around.

Additionally, while answering emails, I do not try to complete the tasks that are in the emails right away because I would never get through all of the emails if I did that. I keep a notebook, or in my case my digital planner on my ipad, next to me and I write out the tasks given to me in the email, therefore I can prioritize them by level of importance and schedule them to be done from most to least pressing. 

Besides emails, I also block out time for grading, parent phone calls, and paperwork. It is just important to have a dedicated time for each 

  • Tip 2: Have a set system for documentation

This is another skill that was glossed over in teacher orientation, that can make or break your mental state as a teacher. Here is a list of things that you may need to think through a system of documenting. 

  • Parent contact
  • Student Behavior (Both positive and negative)
  • Special education paperwork and accommodations
    • This usually needs to be secure and in a locked area.
  • Meeting notes and tasks
  • Interventions and student progress
  • Student work and achievements!
  • Lesson plans and resources

The way you document these may look different because it is personal to your organization style, but I wanted to share some systems that work with me. 

Digital planning saved my life! I use an ipad and the goodnotes app to keep up with most of my documentation because it keeps everything handy and in one place. I am not unorganized, but I am forgetful. While I am walking around the room, I may misplace my clipboard, or I may forget a paper in another room or at home sometimes. By putting everything on my ipad, it made it much easier for me to keep up with paperwork because I know that if I have my ipad, I knew I have everything that I need. It is also password protected, so if I leave it on my desk, I do not have to worry about students being nosey and reading sensitive information about other students.

Digital planning is also helpful because it is SO EASY to color code information and edit your writing. While I am monitoring student progress and giving in the moment feedback, I can easily assign a color for “mastered a task,” “Almost there,” and “Needs attention” instead of walking around with three different pens! 

  • TIP 3: Do your research and experiment

It took a lot of trial and error for me to find a system that works for me, so I am going to share three resources that helped me find my organization style!

  • Leadership Tools for School Principals: Organizational Strategies for Survival and Success by Nelson Coulter
    • Yes, I know this says school principals but this has been helpful for me as a teacher. It explains how to manage emails, phone calls, and paper documentation. A warning, that it is a little dated when it comes to technology, but I still found it helpful for organization. 
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
    • Once you have a system, how do you force yourself to use it? That is where habits come in. This book is helpful for strategies to gain consistency for your routines. I also found it helpful for training students to have good academic habits also.
  • GoodNotes App
    • This app allows you to put all of your notes in one area. You can upload digital planners. You can also email PDFs directly to the app and write on them like they are paper. It is a life saver for documentation during class. 
  • Virtual Planner
    • You can find these planners on ETSY. This is the link to my personal planner, where I track all of my personal tasks. I also have a specific teacher planner that I made, it is available for free HERE.
My Teacher Planner is available for FREE

Though managing the day to day tasks and documentation may be intimidating, it isn’t impossible. It may be ugly before it gets pretty, but you can do it! Remember, you can also ask for help. I am sure there are teachers and administrators around you who have great systems they can share with you. You are not alone!

Thank you!

Thank you for reading and I wish you all of the best for your new school year. Remember, mind, body, and then classroom. In that order!

Procedures: Different routines to think through BEFORE the beginning of the year.

Procedures: Different routines to think through BEFORE the beginning of the year.

Many of us are stepping into new roles this year. Whether it is our first year teaching at all, or our first year at a new school, or our first at a new grade level, being intentional at the beginning of the year, before you ever see a student, can save you so much time, and mental sanity throughout the entire year. The best piece of advice I got when starting my teaching career was to think out my procedures and make sure they are clear and intentional. After 7 years of secondary teaching, I have a list of student facing procedures that I revisit, and adjust each year to fit my context. I also revisit this list before the start of the second semester when students come back from winter break. I am sharing in hopes that it will act as a resource for you when you are starting your next school year!

  • Entering  the classroom
    • What noise level do you want them to be at? 
    • What do they do when they first walk in? 
    • Should they borrow their supplies before class? 
    • Where can they find the warmup? Where are you while all of this is happening?
  • Exiting the Classroom
    • What noise level do you want them to be at?
    • What needs to be done before the bell to make sure the room is ready for your next group of students? Ie: trash picked up from the floor, materials turned in etc.
    • Are there daily deliveries that students need to return before they leave?
  • Bathroom Passes
    • In a perfect world, how often would you want to allow students to use the restroom?
    • How will you track restroom usage for documentation to identify patterns if need be?
    • Will a student helper be useful?
  • Borrowing supplies
    • Where in the room will the supplies be located?
    • How will students be held accountable for returning your supplies?
    • What time of the class period will you allow students to borrow the supplies?
    • Who will be in charge of making sure supplies are returned (maybe student helper?)
  • Late Work Policy
    • First, what is your district/campus policy on late work?
    • How will you go back and check late work? Will it be turned in in a different location?
    • How will students communicate special circumstances to you?
  • Turning in assignments
    • If you have paper assignments, where in the room will students turn in these assignments?
    • What time of the class period will students turn in assignments due? (before the bell ringer? Part of your exiting procedure?
  • Phones and technology
    • First, what is your school’s policy on cell phones?
    • Where will students store their devices durning you class. (I find that it is helpful for students to have options when it comes to their phones. I let students put it in their backpack, face DOWN on the top right hand corner of their desk, or in the lock box charging station)
    • What are the consequences for unauthorized use?
    • What are the rewards for responsible use?
  • Incentive System
    • What opportunities are you going to provide for students to gain positive feedback?
    • How are you going to track it?
    • Who is going to be in charge of tracking it?
  • Student Jobs
    • What opportunities are you going to have for students to share responsibility over their learning space?
    • How are you going to rotate the jobs for everyone to get an opportunity?
    • How are you going to hold students accountable for doing their job well?
    • Where in the room are you going to track who has what job for that week?

Thank you!

I hope that this is helpful, and I wish you the best for the upcoming school year. Remember mind, body, and then classroom. In that order 🙂

Journaling: What are the Benefits? What to Journal About? and How We Can Make it a Habit?

What do you do when you feel as if you cannot hold your emotions within you? When you are a cup, ill equipped to hold the volume of your feelings, and at any moment, it can all come spilling out creating a mess that would be more than a little inconvenient to clean? For me, the answer is I write it down. Since I was a child, I have loved to write, and very early on I realized that when I put my ideas into words, even if I was unclear when I started, by the time I finished, I would have more clarity than when I began. As an adult, I can add personal color to the widely accepted and research backed consensus that journaling can be life changing. When I post on my instagram story about my journal, I’ve had several people ask me how I journal and what I journal about. I am here to offer research, ideas, and resources for those who wish to know more and begin to journal. 

Preventing the Sunday Scaries

Sunday Scaries is deeper than just deciding not to work on Sunday, or getting all your work done before you go home. That dread of going to work may mean that you are burned out. By focusing on improving your physical and emotional resources, you can begin to make steps to take not only your Sunday back, but also your life.

How to Find True Rest

Thank you for reading, and I really hope this helps. I mean it when I say that being intentional about rest and fun has changed my perspective and outlook on life. I am hoping the same for you. You deserve to have joy and peace in your life. Until next time remember, mind, body, and then classroom. In that order.

Classroom Vision: 7 Questions to ask yourself to set the foundation of your classroom.

Classroom Vision: 7 Questions to ask yourself to set the foundation of your classroom.

When I first started teaching, I felt overwhelmed. Here I was, straight out of college, with virtually no student teaching experience, staring at the reality that in a couple short weeks, I will be left alone in a room with 20 plus 7th graders and expected to keep them alive, and better yet, actually TEACH them something. I had no idea where to start. Thankfully, I had the guidance of older and experienced teachers who shared the best advice which I still utilize today. I needed to start with a vision.

Like all leadership positions, the tone, direction, and culture starts with you. In order for me to lead my students in the classroom, I had to first understand where I wanted to lead them. I had to ask myself, “What type of classroom environment and values do I want to work towards?” I found this effective. I am happy to say that today, my district student survey results are positive with many of the domains over the ditrict average and some of the domains were even over the state average. My students report that they feel respected in my classroom, and I accredit that to starting with these questions, and then working to build systems around them. 

I want to share this with you because I truly believe that to have a classroom where all feel welcomed and valued, it must start with being intentional about the questions you ask yourself surrounding what you want to be true for your students. Here are 7 questiong to ask yourself when you begin to plan your year. I hope it helps!

  1. What is the goal of the year? What do you want students to walk away with when they leave at the end of the year?

I want you to push beyond data and numbers in this question. The skills and habits you want them to leave with is important, but I would also push you to think about personally and professionally how you want them to feel. Because I teach 9th graders, a big part of what I want my students to leave with are skills to reflect and process emotions. This is something that will not only help them to focus on their work more effectively, but also help them to navigate life far beyond my classroom.

  1. How do you want students to feel when they come into your room?

This is a big one. Though it seems small, whether a student feels welcome, safe, and seen, plays a LARGE role in the overall classroom culture and if a student will be open to tackle new content and ultimately learn. Think of adjectives that you want your students to feel like when they come in. For me, I want my students to feel safe, seen, open, loved, and empowered. 

  1. How do you envision students engaging with the work?

Do you envision your students up, doing hands-on activities, and engaging with manipulatives? Do you see students regularly engaging in sustained silent reading? Students taking charge of their learning and exercising agency and choice? When you picture the perfect student engagement, what do you see? Since I am an English teacher, I see students tackling rigorous texts and engaging in dialogue about their ideas of how the text relates to their lives, and the world at large. 

  1. With what mindset do you envision students approaching problems and difficult situations in your classroom?

Learning does not take place unless you engage with something new and challenging. So, at least for me, approaching problems and difficult situations is the entire point of school! What mindset do you envision your students having when they approach work that may push them out of their comfort zone? What kind of self-talk do you want them to have? What types of resources do you want them to have access to? How do you want them to proceed when they get stuck?

  1. How do you want relationships to look like in your classroom? What language do you see them using with one another? How do you see conflict being resolved?

Conflict is unavoidable both in your classroom and in life. One of the most important lessons we can make space for in our classroom is how to approach conflict in a healthy way. It is imperative that we are intentional and explicit with students about how we handle conflict. In order to do this, you must flesh out for yourself, how do you see it taking place in the classroom? What level of voice? What language? At what point do they need to involve the teacher or a mediator? How do we move forward?

I would also push you to think through how you want students to celebrate each other and themselves? Do you have a unifying cheer? Are students leaving shoutouts on a shoutout board? Are you ending each classperiod with glows? Being intentional from the start can make celebrating and positive thinking a staple in your classroom. Especially if you teach secondary, don’t assume that this will develop on its own. Intentionality is key!

  1. What do you want your students to remember from your class when the year is over?

What do you want as the main take away? For me, it was the mindset of “No failure, only data,” And because I started intentionally from the beginning, by the end of the year, I had students quoting it to me when I found myself in a fixed mindset. I would like to think that is what they took with them moving on. What do you want to stick for your students?

  1. What do the STUDENTS want to be true in their classroom?

I saved this for last, not because it is the least important, but because you cannot ask this question until after the school year starts. Though you want to have a foundational vision when stepping into the year to build systems around, it is extremely important to get the student’s values and input as to what they want their classroom to be because in the end, the classroom is for them. I ask my students at the beginning of the year what their goals are and what they value. What they want to get out of the class, and I make adjustments to be sure that the students can see themselves reflected in our classroom.

After you think through all of the questions, you can begin to build systems around the answers. If you want students to feel seen when they come into your room, maybe build a system where you are at the door greeting them each class period, or start off with a emotional check in for the warmup before jumping into the work. If you envision your students collaborating, set your room up in groups. If you envision students dealing with conflict in a professional way, maybe introduce them to sentence stems and then incentivise their usage. When you know where you’re going, it is easier to know what systems to put in place!

THANK YOU!

I really hope these questions have been helpful. Remember, you are amazing, and so many students and parents are grateful for you even though, sometimes it might not seem that way. I will see you next time, and in the meantime, remember, you are enough.