reducing stress

Sometimes, in the moment, it’s just too much. So, take a break!

It is the end of the day. It’s Friday. There are 30 minutes of school remaining. The entire class is a bit late, probably because of some other IB deadlines. They literally straggle in and plop down in their seats. An atmosphere of exhaustion hangs in the air. I know one student is operating on 20 minutes of sleep from the night before.

Making mug racks for part of a CAS project

Earlier in the day these four delivered their CAS presentations. Each presentation was full of activities that the student participated for their Community Action and Service (CAS) portion of their IB program. Impressive was the volume of activities each individual participated in over the past two years. Noteworthy was each individual reflection on his/her involvement, struggles, and what was learned from the experiences. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable, not necessarily an easy task for 16-18 year olds.

In addition to the CAS presentations, the day had been filled with final submissions for internal assessments, Extended Essays, and Theory of Knowledge essays for the IB.  I had perused the Extended Essay titles that morning: what an impressive stack of work. This pile of papers was evidence of what these students have recently produced. It represents long hours, late nights, and commitment to their studies.

IA work

I know the quality of the Biology Internal Assessments. My class has exceeded my expectation by actually heeding my advice over the last two years! They accepted and applied feedback throughout the course. Then, as they prepared their final internal assessments, they helped each other out, pouring over the rubrics and giving feedback to each other as they each finalized their work.  With pride those papers will be put in the mail to be sent off for moderation. Having worked with the students closely, it is clear they put forth their best effort, challenged themselves, struggled, and stretched themselves. And, they thereby grew from the process.

Here they sit. Wiped out. Without a doubt, the plans I have for review are, in this moment, too much. I suggest they can just go home and rest (especially the one with only 20 minutes of sleep) or they can relax for a couple of minutes. The 20-minute guy, who lives literally across the street from the school, replies, “I think I’ll just chill here for a few minutes” and then I realize he’s too tired to even cross the street right now!

I think it was this time last year, when my own children were going through the IB, that I wrote a post questioning whether the IB is worth it.  Right now, all over the world IB students are feeling the crunch and pressure of the rigor of the program.

So, we just take a step back. They share their hopes for university, their favorite form of exercise, and their summer plans. And it feels really good. Their curved shoulders straighten a bit. They smile. And in 30 minutes they are ready to move again. Their homework for the weekend? To relax and to rest. We’ll begin serious review next week.

I stepped back by taking a day for walking around Rotterdam and taking photographs.

Having also succumbed to over exertion, my Saturday was spent on a little “time-out” as well just taking photographs and spending some time with friends.

Over the weekend I received an email from a friend in which she wrote, “So I decided that on Friday I NEEDED to rest. I couldn't not rest. I hit a wall. Mentally, Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. So, I decided to take some time and actually rest and not give myself guilt for it.” It reminded me of my IB students and many who are pushing themselves to their limits.  To all I say, it’s OK to stop and take a step back. Rest and reflect. In the end, this is what will make you stronger and more able to carry on.

Reducing the stress of last minute preparations

Don’t you hate that feeling when you have a deadline and something goes wrong at the last minute, threatening your ability to meet the deadline? It’s a universal experience, isn’t it, to at least once in one’s lifetime, be in a position of frantically preparing for an event last minute?

A teacher has multiple deadlines each day: every time a class is supposed to begin.  Those deadlines involve having copies ready, resources prepared, labs set up, digital resources accessible for students, a lesson plan worked out with formative assessments built in, project supplies on hand, or summative assessments printed out. Oh, and of course, we need to be there smiling and ready to greet the students when they walk through the door. Other deadlines include meetings (agendas prepared ahead of time) and student clubs (agendas or resources prepared). Often teachers are scrambling to have everything ready for each class in a timely manner.  Frequently there are exclamation such as “The printer isn’t working and I need 10 copies now!” or “Oh no, I forgot I was going to give a quiz this morning first block and I need to get that ready” or “I can’t get the supplies gathered in time!”

Personally, it is my goal to eliminate the last minute panic.  Not to say it never penetrates my day, however, there are some built in practices that minimize my experiencing this kind of daily stress.

  • Awareness and Planning: Each afternoon it’s worth my time, no matter how late, to spend a few minutes looking ahead at the next two days.  Sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes an hour. When other obligations summon me, then this practice takes place later in the evening at home. Thus, when advanced preparation for a lesson is required it can be built in to the following days.
  • Reviewing and Recording Formative Assessment: Of course reviewing formative assessment provides a clear picture of where my next lesson(s) will begin and how it will proceed.
  • Reflecting on the day’s lessons and updating my web site: This enables me to fully process the progress each class made on a given day and provides additional clarity of where I will begin and proceed with the next lesson. The web site also keeps students fully abreast of the on goings of the class, providing more student awareness and mental organization on their part for subsequent lessons.
  • Staying late or arriving early to prep for a lesson: This is especially crucial for a science teacher due to experimental set-up and hands-on activities that simply require advanced preparation to run smoothly. It does mean facing empty hallways at the school when all your colleagues have cleared the building. For example, my 8th grade class recently completed an involved chemistry lab. To ensure smooth running of the lab, solutions were prepared the night before and all the individual lab stations were prepared at 7:30 am, an hour before students arrived in my classroom. Yes, it requires carefully reading the lab and making sure each lab team has the proper number of test tubes, stirrers, spatulas, beakers, and other supplies.  It takes time.  It takes patience. 
  • Taking some time evening and weekends: It’s not necessary to spend hours and hours during “off “ times (this mistake I’ve made before but no longer!), however some time to do additional research on topics, revise a project, rethink an activity, streamline a lesson, or add additional formative assessment reap huge organizational and stress relieving rewards as lessons will run smoother.

This is not to say I have mastered these techniques. There are times when it just can’t be faced and then I’m left with the last minute preparation and associated stress. However, overall, generally speaking, these practices are incorporated into my routine.  The results definitely include a smoothly running classroom, no classroom management issues, higher student engagement (as there is no downtime while I’m trying to figure things out whether it’s a technical issue or finding supplies for a lab), more student awareness (I know what’s going on so it’s easier to communicate it to them), peace of mind, and a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom even during intense and demanding activities.