During this time, I feel like I’ve lost all control. Things that were constant sources of certainty have been turned upside down. And the realization that we will never go back to “normal” is starting to sink in.
Though our sense of normalcy is forever changed, we are seeing glimpses of consistency return. The biggest example of this for educators is schools starting the reopening process for in-person learning. Some schools have already opened, some are starting hybrid models, and others are beginning to think about making the transition in the future. Wherever your school or district is within this trajectory, think about how you can prepare yourself mentally for this transition. This change has the potential to be challenging and anxiety inducing for everyone, families and students included.
The Ken Blanchard Companies put out an article about how to lead yourself through challenging times. This time pushes you to think about how you can be your own leader and stay strong through challenging times. During this potentially anxiety-inducing situation, school leaders and teachers need to find your inner leader and inner strength.
Here are ways teachers and leaders can emotionally lead yourselves through this transition to in-person school:
Tip #1: Flip the Script
We assume we don’t have control over a lot of things. But is that really true? How can we flip the script on those assumptions and reflect on parts of this we do have control over?
Are you worried about your students not washing their hands and your room staying clean? Create fun routines around cleaning in your classroom during different points of the school day. Are you worried about students not understanding you with your mask on? Get a mask with the clear covering over your mouth (or ask your admin if there is room in the budget to order for staff) so students can at least see your mouth.
Trying to focus on the things you can control your situation and context will help shift your mindset to a more positive one instead of thinking about the things you can’t control.
Tip #2: Understand How You Regulate Emotions and Anxieties
There are endless circumstances that can evoke negative emotions and create anxiety for leaders and teachers when thinking about returning to in-person school during a pandemic. Those emotions are valid and real. Knowing that those things will come up, understand how you best manage your emotions. Do you need to take a meta-moment to step back, pause, imagine your best self? Does it help to practice gratitude every day? Do you need to find new stress management and emotional regulation strategies that work for you? Before going back to in-person school, make sure you have some tactics to take care of yourself and feel regulated during this time.
Tip #3: Plan Proactively
Logistically, there are a lot of health and safety procedures and protocols that need to be proactively planned. This is an obvious one to think through, and probably the most important. Proactive planning for these safety measures can help lower anxieties about the risk of a COVID outbreak and keep your mind a little more calm. But proactively planning even the little things in your day, like your morning routine or weekly meal plan, can help feel productive and in control during challenging times.
Partnering with parents during this time will help make this transition easier is also crucial. Give parents directions and ideas of things that would help them prepare their students so the transition is smoother. Have parents help students practice longer periods of mask-wearing at home, send home the new classroom culture changes (i.e. no high-fives, no welcome hugs, no hallway transitions, etc.), and give parents tips on supplies to stock their child’s backpack with. Working proactively with parents will make your community stronger and your students more prepared.
There’s also a term called “Proactive Coping” that involves anticipating causes of stress and doing something in advance to prevent them or decrease the negative impact. Research shows that people who use proactive coping report higher levels of positive affect during the day. Think through all the things about returning to school that seem stressful or may be a trigger. Start action planning about what you will do if those triggers or stressful situations happen. Having a game plan proactively reduces the negative emotional impact when a stressful event does occur.
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