For some reason, Phil Collins masterpiece “In the Air Tonight” has been really stuck in my playlist as the April Break Pre-Jam…I think it has to do with its smooth roll into the heart of the song, and it really has been that way for us in education. We have had a slowly increasing workload that has been building upon us in this new educational landscape. It has caused educators to really be placed into areas that they are not necessarily familiar with, which can be very exhausting when trying to learn new tools, platforms, and practices while simultaneously using them.

Educators Need this break more than ever.

In the last four weeks, educators and administrators have crammed in 3 months worth of work. The days have been long, and the tensions have run high, as we balance our place and practice in this “New Normal.” However, I have seen not only in my district but across the country, educators have entered into this new landscape with not only grace but with FLARE! Keeping the learning fun and engaging has been a top priority for staff, I mean, who doesn’t love a talking Snail!?

Or local police officers delivering Happy Birthday messages to our students at home?
Or preparing distance learning bags for families?
Or my PERSONAL favorite, a daily morning message to students from their Principal!

Now, as we enter into a MUCH needed April Break, I cannot stress enough for educators everywhere to DISCONNECT and RELAX. This has been an incredibly high-paced journey, and we need to recharge your batteries for the final countdown. Personally, I am going to be trying to disconnect myself and accomplish the following THREE things:

  1. Finnish my Dissertation to graduate from my Ed.D. Program in May.
  2. Watch every single underwater thriller movie. Ending with the new movie Underwater. We have a thing for stressful situations happening underwater lately in our movie binge habits…lol…this stay-home order has really developed our movie preferences.
  3. Play lots of Chess.

Do you need some ideas to take your stay-home vacation to the next level? Checkout this post on how to make it “feel” like you are on vacation from your home.

In the end, take the time to relax and reset yourself for the final stretch of the year in this distance learning environment!

The Home Office

Over the past two weeks, Liz has been not really thrilled with this “New Normal” of working from home. I think that she envisioned that we would be able to spend more time with one another because we would be literally in the same location, BUT that was not the case. Every morning for two weeks, I would sprawl-out my “stuff” across the kitchen table and hunker down for the day. To my surprise, it was like going to work, except ten times busier! I found that I had to schedule my breaks still as I could work straight through the morning and into the late evening. All the while, I would be sprawled across the kitchen table working furiously and attending so many Google Meetings that I can’t tell when I am in a meeting and not :)…like Inception-style… This is the same experience for educators holding virtual class for students, Principals, Superintendents, and other District Administrators. Now, let me be clear, I am totally blessed to have a job but also know that this environment is not the same as in-person education. My personal and professional focus for this remote learning experiment as been geared at first and foremost balancing our curriculum around the needs and unique circumstances that many of our families are under, while at the same time providing a “good” educational experience for students and families. At the same time, we also need to be mindful of how challenging it is to move to this virtual work environment for many of our educators. One thing we need to do is….

Lead by Example

After reviewing the literally hundreds of resources and ideas from so many talented educators across the country, I have developed my own LIST of the top FIVE things to do in order to make this remote work experience work in terms of balancing your professional and personally obligations, as the lines can be easily blurred!

1. Buy a Desk

So this one is probably the most important tip I can give you. If you do not have a desk….buy one! Really, working at the kitchen table does not work for many reasons. Not only will your back and rear be calling to quits before your day is over, but you need to establish a “dedicated space” for working. I have the added benefit of having an extra room that I can take over with a desk, but many families are utilizing ALL space within their homes. By buying something with the purpose of establishing a work environment, it helps you to psychologically associate that desk with work. Whatever you leave on that desk is like leaving things at work. When you leave the desk, you are no longer at work. This can be a super helpful reminder for not only your own psyche but also for your family members that see you at home every day and wonder why you are not able to talk to them. Special consideration is to spend more money on the chair than the desk…the chair makes a world of difference. Although the work from home photos are humorous, sustainable, they are not.

2. Set a Schedule

This is one that I have struggled with…We cannot work 12 hour days; it just is not doable. If you don’t set your hours and create a schedule, then it will overtake you. Set a schedule, just as you would in the school year, but at the same time, allow it to be flexible not only for your own needs but for the needs of your students and families. In the typical school year, I would answer emails into the night and be always available….as hard as it is….I am really trying to push back on that. Why? BECAUSE NO ONE NEEDS EMAILS PAST 6pm. I used to think I was being productive and staying on top of things by being readily available into the late hours of the evening. Still, realistically, I am a contributor to the cycle of people not being able to disconnect and just watch Stranger Things. Really, take my word, no one wants to hear from us at night, so set the example…I am role-modeling this myself effective today.

3. Keep things in Perspective

For the last two weeks, I have been consistently encouraging everyone to focus on supporting students and families emotionally and socially during this time of crisis. Of course, we have educational responsibilities, but if we let that lead the work that we do, then it will become all that matters. Let the social connections and needs of your students and families lead the work we are responsible for and trust me; it will all fall into place 🙂 Below is a wonderful Hierarchy of Needs for during the COVID-19 Distance Learning Era, sourced from George Couros who sourced it from Jay Dostal.

4. Seek Inspiration and be Inspirational

Okay, so Segwaying from my sourcing of George Couros material. All of us need someone to inspire us, and honestly, I have found that George Couros ignites my educational passion and inspires me to think differently. Not to mention he is a super genuine guy. With that being said, during this time, it can be very easy to lose our inspirational drive as educators, but I would challenge you to seek it out more than ever. Push against the system and use it to your advantage. If you are not typically a “Twitter” user, then start an account and be active. If you have always wanted to start a blog, then as I am trying to “Lead by Example” launch a blog and project your thoughts into the world. In the end, seeking inspiration will cause you to become more inspirational in your practice with others and ultimately impact your students and colleagues, and now is a better time than EVER to sprinkle some inspiration in the world.

5. Shut it Down!

This is my CLOSING tip. DO NOT WORK ON THE WEEKEND! Seriously, same rules apply as I mentioned regarding evenings and setting office hours. Maybe there was a time in the pre-COVID-19 Era when working nights and weekends was OK, but now, we need to disconnect if not for our own sake but the sake of those we work with and ultimately serve. 

The New Normal

It is sad to think that my new professional life is feeling familiar and routine now. Like many educators and educational leaders, the workload in this new environment can feel overwhelming, but at the same time, I remind myself that we are blessed to have a job. I also think about how this new normal is not an ideal situation for anyone involved, especially the students and families we serve. It seems like a distant memory only 2ish weeks ago when we were forced to close schools and ask our educators to move from in-person education to distance education…seriously…the video below portrays this experience for me very well! 🙂

However, even though this new normal really has its downsides, I have witnessed many educators creating innovative and special experiences for their students during this time of scoail distancing. I and many others have gone to social media as a place for professional collaboration and there have been so many incurable ideas and experiences that we have been able to either adapt of contribute to.

But even if we are not sharing ideas, social media is an amazing place to reflect on the memories we had this year.

I have repeated this time and time…..but I will repeat it….social connectedness, relationships, and engagement are the most critical things we can provide for students and families right now. We have an excellent system for continuing our learning during this time, but our focus should be on our connections with students and families. The curriculum is in place as the backbone, but we need to make it come alive with teacher innovation and excitement through those three critical things.

Practice what you Preach…

I am trying my best to communicate in all ways possible and support the great work of our teachers, I am trying my best to communicate in all ways possible and support the great work of our teachers, coaches, and administrators. I am also trying to role-model what I preach, so I have kept my vlogs very fluffy and fun while providing some updates that are not overwhelming. Communication is probably the most essential part of my job right now. Whether it is bi-weekly vlogs and blogs, the countless meetings, or simply having rapid email/messaging turnaround, it is all-important. So make sure that you are communicating in multiple ways, keeping it fun, and most importantly, being genuine. Does everyone read these blogs….hah no…how about watch my videos??…..nope…but I do it for consistency of communication and for it to be there for when someone wants to tune in.

So as you continue to adjust to this NEW normal in your own professional and personal life, take time for lots of reflection, be thoughtful in your communication and remember, sometimes, LESS is MORE and distance learning can still be made into a FUN experience for our students by just being yourself 🙂