When Will We Get Serious about Teacher Stress?

I’m privileged to work with some of the very best educators around the world. I’m continually inspired and in awe of their expertise, energy and commitment to their craft. They are true artists.  I marvel at these artists and the different ways they approach teaching and learning.

Of late, I’ve become acutely aware of one sad commonality among these very good people. Teachers are stressed. One could argue teachers have always been stressed but I’m sensing something new and disturbing. Today’s headline confirms some of my hunches. I’m sure some will read this article and suggest teachers are weak or lazy or manipulative. However, it’s the increase that needs to be noted. Perhaps teachers are taking better care of themselves and thus are taking time to recover rather than bringing their sickness back to the classroom. If that’s the case I see a problem in a job that requires employees to take that much time off.

In Ontario, mental health and well-being is now a mandated goal. While I applaud that move, several educators questioned the strategies suggested that are designed to deal with the stress the system itself created. “Try these mindfulness activities to deal with the crappy things we do to you”

Teacher mental health and well-being is a crisis to cope with stress or anxiety caused by work. As much as teachers are embracing innovation and new opportunities, these changes are happening as paperwork and demands are increasing as well.  Personnel challenges have always been part of any organization and education is no different. I would argue this might even be decreasing as many districts are recognizing the value of relationships both in the classroom and for the adults as well. If you need something to help combat stress, you can buy Delta-8 gummies for sale here. Visit an online D8 Super Store to explore various thc products. If you’re specifically looking for grandaddy purple strain vape cartridges, you may order them online at Grizzly Herb’s website.

I’ll suggest two areas that are perhaps the biggest contributor to teacher stress. First is increased bureaucracy. We’ve overcomplicated education in so many ways and have become obsessed with data collection. This falls directly on the backs of teachers and principals who would love to devote more time to teaching and learning and less time to data-driven initiatives. I can’t tell you how many educators tell me “If I could just teach…” Every new initiative inevitably comes with additional work. Embedded into this, is the curse of accountability. Along with the monumental task of designing innovative, differentiated learning environments for students, there continues an undercurrent of distrust manifested by a never ending paper trail. While many districts are working to alleviate the perception of this bureaucracy, the workload seems pretty universal.

The second contributor is the number of students with extreme behaviour and learning disabilities and the lack of support for teachers. Inclusion is a proud label districts adopt. They take a stance of being advocates for all children and suggest the way to best support every student is to have them spend as much time in classrooms as possible. While this appears to be the compassionate response, in many cases it’s the opposite.

Assuming every child should have the same experience doesn’t speak to differentiation at all. What currently passes for “inclusion” in many cases is a politically driven agenda that is less expensive and is positioned as the more humane and moral approach. Suggesting a student may not belong in a classroom makes you seem selfish and uncaring.

“There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that takes the moral high ground in terms of their implementation of extreme full-inclusion when it’s failing students, staff, and their families at an alarming rate.”

Read more from this mother of an autistic child.

Teachers should expect to work with and support a variety of children and their diverse needs. However, there are children whose extreme challenges and requirements mean that putting them into a regular classroom with 25+ other students is cruel and unfair to the child, the other students and the teacher. There’s no question we have more and more of these students.

This video shows schools making poor decision on how to deal with students with extreme behaviours.

While this is something most progressive educators would view with horror, I’m going to assume that the educators involved here are not evil but have become desperate. The reality is these students are in need of intervention. The intervention plans most schools have in place may be useful for many students but they don’t help all students and they students they aren’t able to help can cause the most damage to themselves and others.

I realize this is a pretty delicate and political topic. I’m not sure I have a solution but certainly, we need better options than assuming the best place for every child is a typical classroom with an educational assistant or aid. For those looking to explore alternative career paths and make a positive impact in the fitness industry, consider checking out the diverse fitness certifications available at https://www.americansportandfitness.com/collections/fitness-certifications.

I believe all children can learn. And all means all. I don’t believe all children can learn in all conditions. I don’t believe all teachers can teach all kids. To assume so is both ignorant and arrogant. Creating those conditions, whatever they are, is the job of public education. To do it properly is not cheap. Right now, lack of funding has created increased challenges for schools and in some cases, districts are placing undue and this generates workplace stress on teachers.They leave feeling drained and guilty of not doing their job. It’s been great to see schools acknowledge that relationships are the key to great learning environments. Yet investing in relationships is much more challenging and taxing than investing in content. Teachers are embracing this shift but it’s come at a cost. The long-term impact of ignoring this issue is going to come at a great cost to districts, schools, teachers and ultimately students.

I’d love some comments on this. First, please share any ways in which your school, district is making intentional efforts to combat teacher stress and if indeed it’s working. Secondly, maybe my two examples aren’t your experience. Perhaps you think they are misplaced or maybe you see something else as being a contributor to teacher stress. Finally, if you feel your job has become less stressful over the years, I would be thrilled to hear your story and learn from you. My guess is you’re a rare bird.

What’s Your Unfair Advantage?

I’ve been listening to an interesting podcast series called “Start Up”  It’s a podcast about a company, oddly enough a podcasting company, trying to create a new business. In one of the early episodes, sponsored by our friends at Bitcoin Up im Test, they are looking for investors and one of the potential investors asks them, “what is your unfair advantage?” In other words, what do you offer that is going to make this venture succeed?

Your unfair advantage. I like that and in fact used it in a recent presentation. As Gary Stager says, “one of the best things you can do for your students is to be an interesting person.” I think today this is more important than ever. If you think of teachers who had the greatest impact, I’ll bet there was something unique about them. Something that stood out and set them apart. I thought back to my school experience and the teacher that came to mind was Mr. Einarson. He was my high school Canadian social studies teacher who was a rock and roll historian. The stories and insights he told were quite fascinating to a teenager. It made his class the one you looked forward to. It was without question his unfair advantage.

In an age of ubiquitous content, it’s becoming glaring obvious that relationships are far more important than ever to be a successful educator. I keep hearing words like “scale” and that concerns me. Many reform ideas focus on standardizing and scaling education. I don’t want teachers who are the same and you don’t scale relationships.  When teachers are free to share who they are and what they are interested it has a positive impact on their classroom. A while back I wrote about the need for teachers to be artists and while that is about teaching and learning, utilizing your “unfair advantage” is about the classroom environment.

John Spencer wrote about genius hour for teachers which made me think about how many passionate teachers I know are passionate about teaching but I’m not sure about their interests outside of school. We know how all consuming a profession teaching can be but is creating time for other interest not only important for survival and well-roundedness, it’s important for your students to see that life is rich and interesting outside the walls of the school. While I can talk about learning and education for hours, I love meeting teachers who have strong interests unrelated to school.

Good teachers look for what makes their students unique. The want to know their interests to help them learn and connect to them.I wonder if students were asked “What makes Mr./Mrs/Ms ___________ special?” about all the teachers in your school, what would they say? What would they say about you? What is your unfair advantage?

It Takes All Kinds: Communities

This is the third in a 4 part series. You can read  part one and part two if you like. This one is very specific to my work but hopefully will resonate at some level. This is also cross posted on the DEN blogs.

The truth is this post has already been written, and is the post that got me thinking about this whole series. I’m just going to add a few additional thoughts to what Lance has already said so well.

As a “community manager” my job is create and build community. If it sounds very enigmatic, that’s because it is. One of the problems that our team has discussed is that our current way of assessing community often is related to our DEN STARs. These are the folks within the Discovery Educator Network who have stepped up in some way. In many cases, these are the “rock star teachers.” I know many of them don’t think of themselves that way. I love the fact that becoming a STAR simply requires passion and a willingness to share. And those two things often get repaid with more opportunities to share and soon they get reputations;good ones, but reputations as rock stars, nonetheless. This is all well and good and we applaud these folks. But the reality is the Discovery Educator Network is way larger than the STARs and our goal is not just to make STARs but to support all members of the community. (FYI: A teacher that is in any school or district that has a Discovery Education license is in the Discovery Educator Network by default.)

So we realize not every teacher feels the desire to be a STAR and that’s okay. In building community we want to accept and support all teachers and find ways to acknowledge their work, be there when they need something and help them grow professionally. From webinars to online tutorials to social media to face to face gatherings, we want to provide as many entry points as possible. The ultimate goal for them is not to necessarily become STARs but to use our service and supports to become better teachers. Figuring out all the ways we can do that is essentially the job of the Global DEN team.

I believe every teacher needs to share and I believe passion is a prime ingredient to be successful. But I also believe that sharing and passion can look very different in each person. We want to continue to provide a myriad of ways for teachers to share. That might mean offering a PD session but it might also mean adding a quality resource to the shared school or district folder. Passion does not necessarily have to be vocal or overt. I think passion might mean waving the DEN finger and whooping it up at an event but it also might mean quietly reflecting on how they’re going to engage their students using media the next day. As I read the book Quiet, I’m continually struck by how often our world in very subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways tries to define how we should all be assertive and strut our stuff. The book is a great reminder of how many people are not comfortable expressing themselves in certain ways and these are not character flaws but personal dispositions that need to be honored and valued.

So as I and my team try to grow our community, we’re trying to be mindful of the scope of great people who work with our children each day and who have different ways of contributing and engaging with learning. The challenge is finding ways to honor and support them. What I love about our team and our community is the constant exploration of new ideas that in small and sometimes big ways bring more people to feel more apart of our community.

This is very specific to my work at Discovery. If this resonates at all in your world, I’d love to hear a comment but don’t feel compelled, I get it if this doesn’t apply. But read Lance’s post if you haven’t already. His is better anyway.

Glad to be a learner first…after a day of disasters

Today was a disaster on many levels. My colleague and I have been asked to support schools in developing their school websites, we decided to use Joomla and special component called Multi-Site Manager to help look after 40 some schools. While good intentioned and some success, we’ve faced a few issues that while not totally catastrophic have been frustrating for many including us. Today we brought together teams from 12 schools to help them build their school websites. During this time we created their sites and users but inadvertently overwrote the previous schools content and had various issues with the databases.  While we admit and are very up front about not being experts and only facilitators, it’s hard not to feel like you’re letting people down with these issues.

This is not so much to give you the run down of the technical issues, although I’ll provide it but rather to extract some learning and revelations that continue to build about learning in general.

The technical background:
We’ve got some understanding of Joomla/Mambo and felt it was the best choice to accommodate the needs of school websites. We installed it on our server and purchased a multi-site manager component with the ability to quickly create sites and users from one place rather than have 40 separate installs. The issue is we did not have an easy back-up in place and weren’t using the component correctly and inadvertently overwrote site databases a couple of times. Since most schools were developing, this did not cause big issues other than a few pages and content that had to be recreated. Today, however we had a similar experience and several schools lost a lot of content. I certainly don’t have the technical expertise to be supporting this and although my colleague does, we don’t have a bunch of time to devote to learn this well. Our intentions was to learn together with schools. This actually worked to some degree as some schools discover unique ways to manage their site, use flickr as an image repository and pushed us to provide more advanced features that would enable a better site.

The learning
In the midst of the chaos that occurred during our workshop, a principal from one of the schools said to me, “learning technology is so much like the learning in our schools”. He explained to me some frustrations he’s had getting teachers to see that learning is hard to be prescribed. You can’t put everything in a handout or step by step instructions. As we talked about setting up the sites, it became apparent very quickly that every school would soon have different needs and that one easy solution wouldn’t be for everyone. You can’t just show one way and expect it to be learning. How many ways for example can you copy something?  How many ways can you tell a story? What’s the best way to a links page?  What is the best blogging tool? How do you divide 687 into 89?(not the answer by the method) A plethora of answers almost always exists. This bit by bit podcast touches on this as well. I was reminded of Thomas Edison’s famous quote:

If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

As we showed people the calendar component, this principal wanted to know if there was a way to embed a calendar from the exchange server. It would have been easy for me to discourage this since it wasn’t anything to do with the agenda of the workshop. I knew I didn’t know how. So as many worked on using the calendar within Joomla, he began to explore how he might get his calendar from Outlook into Joomla. After a few minutes, he discovered if he exported his calendar into Google, Google created an iframe code he could embed into his site. Now there may be many out there who could come up with an easier, better way but his persistence and willingness to explore and experiment resulted in learning and satisfaction. There were many other experiments today that didn’t work and those are still valuable learning experiences. My good friend Ewan talks about being less explicit and more implicit. Teachers sometimes hate this. “Just tell me what to do”. I can get you started but eventually, you’ll have to figure it out yourself.  Sometimes we’re afraid to say that to students because we still see ourselves as teachers first and not learners. Fortunately for me, I know I’m a learner first and readily admit it.

Ken Robinson asked if mistakes are the worst thing we could make. I hope not because I made a bunch today.

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A CMS for School Districts

I’m soliciting all you geeks out there for some recommendations. Currently our school division website is using Mambo as it’s CMS. It certainly has a lot of great features and components. As a new division we’re hoping to use one CMS and create 45 school websites using a single instance of the CMS rather than having separate installs for each school.

We’d be happy to stick with Mambo but need something that’s quite simple for end users to use. Mambo is fairly complicated from the back end.  Does anyone have a suggestion for a CMS that would allow us to use a single installation of a CMS and create individuals websites off of that? The template would be similar but ideally it would be great if each school had some control over the navigation and css.

So all you geeks out there…what do you suggest?