From: Moma Magazine

I should read that article on hybrid learning. I should sign up for the PD on using Google Meets. I should talk more to my at-home learners. I should get those reading assessments done. I should stop eating Halloween candy at my desk. I should get my flu shot this week. I should email that parent. I should call my parents. I should fit in another run this week. I should get to bed earlier. I should set my alarm earlier. 

When I returned back to school in August, I found my brain running a constant list of all the things I should do. By the first day of school, that list was waking me up at night. I would lie in bed and run through all the things I should be doing. By the time morning came, I would have subdivided my “should” list into more to-do items. My brain felt like a giant pile of post-it notes, all of them peeling off the walls. 

I spoke to friends, I spoke to colleagues, I spoke to professionals. I realized that I was not alone in my world of “shoulds”. Since the start of the pandemic, it seems that many of us have been in a mental race where we’ve set a pace that is too strenuous for the distance we need to cover.   

I recognized I needed to change, so I returned to an article about managing uncertainty from @MindShiftKQED. It gave me the pillars to the change I needed. 

“Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

Thanks, Yoda. I am reclaiming the Jedi’s words of wisdom. I am choosing to “do not”. I have looked at my professional practice and my personal life and stripped away those things that do not need to happen right now. It means my class spends more time doodling, and math lessons are occasionally replaced with free time outside. It means my home is a bit messier and we are ordering in take-out on weeknights. It means I make calling my mom a priority and it might take a few days to get back to a parent about the curriculum objectives for grade 3. I’m happier “not doing”. My family seems happier too, and so do my students. 

My stress is not my badge of honour 

I read this line in an article about “toxic positivity” @WeAreTeachers. It lept from the screen and I immediately felt stronger from reading it. I will speak my truth. I have taught for over 20 years and this year is my most challenging yet. I feel stressed, I feel burnt-out and I occasionally find myself getting teary when the photocopier doesn’t work. I’m not “ok” and when the situation calls for it, I am being honest about how I am feeling. I am not ashamed that I cannot work at the same capacity I normally do. I am not blaming myself when I need to say “no”. I refuse to wear my stress like a badge of honour. I can be strong and vulnerable. I can make my well-being a priority. 

Find time for joy and renewal

Like many of the recent blog posts @Cohort21, I too have found solace and energy in my connections to others. Without these personal connections, I would feel very lost. Making the time for others has been a priority for me. It means putting off marking those math quizzes so I can hear about a colleague’s weekend. On weekends, it means that some Sundays are for hiking and not for catching up on school work. In my classroom, we have had several impromptu dance parties (thank you, GoNoodle) that brought laugher, movement and a sense of community. Who knew I could learn how to “floss”? I am consciously choosing to do things that contribute to my sense of belonging and happiness. 

We are in the midst of a global health crisis. In the education system, it is a time of uncertainty, heartbreak and stress. Parker Palmer said, “We teach who we are”. Never before has this line resonated more with me. As I prepare to wade through this year, I recognize that I need to abandon my “shoulds” and a facade of “I’m ok”. I commit to finding joy each teaching day, maximizing time for human connections and saying “no” when I need to. Since I began mindfully focusing on these changes, I have reclaimed my heart as a teacher. 

What “shoulds” have you let go of this teaching year?

10 thoughts on “Getting rid of “shoulds”

  1. Hi Kathryn, YES. To all of this! “I am not ashamed that…” As a seasoned teacher that knows what a good year feels like to you, that statement is so important. I’m sure so many educators feel guilt and shame in conjunction with the incredible stress of this teaching year. The self-forgiveness is so key. Thank you for sharing honestly and authentically.

  2. Thank you @kobrien ! This post resonates with me and I am sure MANY other teachers in the cohort and beyond. I love the language of “shoulds” as it speaks to many of the internals asks that we are placing on ourselves but maybe forget to prioritize or better yet let go of. Thanks for sharing. Posts like this are how many of us will get through this year and help chart the course for a healthier new normal.

  3. Such an important message, thanks for sharing! I am still struggling to let go of the ‘shoulds’ and it is really taking a toll on me finding balance. Thanks for the reminder that stress isn’t a badge of honour and its okay not to be okay.

  4. Letting go of all those ‘shoulds’ isn’t easy, especially for educators! We carry a lot on our shoulders at the best of times, but this year a lot of us are reaching a tipping point. Is it strange that I actually feel lighter after reading your post? Letting go of the shoulds, and giving each other permission to do the same, is the best medicine I’ve heard all year. 🙂

  5. All of us, but particularly educators, need to take these wise words to heart. In a year where nothing is as it was before, we need to embrace the moment and learn how not to drive ourselves crazy with meaningless accomplishments. As John Steinbeck once said: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”. These words have never been more true than they are now. Thanks for this @Kathryn O’Brien!

  6. Love this! You’ve provided great insight into how the pandemic has allowed us to shift away from the “this is a battle” or “take one for the team” mindset into something much more balanced and healthy. I hope that this perspective is something that people are able to hold with them when we eventually move into life beyond COVID. Thanks for the honesty and wisdom!

  7. @kobrien

    Looping in your whole support team (below) to ensure they read this great posts. I have passed it along to numerous colleagues at York who have let me know how helpful your framing has been in helping them “see” what they ARE doing instead of what they are NOT. Mindset is everything right now.

    @cfongg @lyorkee @nblair @lmitchell @dnevillell

  8. Hi Kathryn (@kobrien),

    Thank you for this incredibly authentic reflection. Like many others who have commented above, this post resonates with me deeply, especially, the bit about “my stress is not a badge of honour”, and “I can be strong and vulnerable”.

    It is inspiring that you have committed to “getting rid of shoulds” and have reclaimed your heart as a teacher.

    I look forward to seeing where this mindset will lead you (and others you are inspiring) in the year ahead!


    @cfong @lyorke @lmitchell @dneville

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