Author Archives: Kathryn O'Brien

3 Comments

By this point, every school year, I find myself alone at my desk surrounded by empty Smarties boxes, glazed eyes and about forty tabs open on my screen. Usually, these tabs include my OPP pension calculator with various retirement scenarios including “right now” and Google flights with a blank destination. 

I know the Eisenhower Matrix is a way to organize ourselves, to reconsider what we are doing and how we are doing it. But for me, as I tried to figure out this blog post, I realized I have an internal pattern that connects deeply to the Eisenhower Matrix. It isn’t a healthy one. By late fall, I dive into the “not urgent and not important” quadrant.  I am not speaking to one of its potential purposes of encouraging thinking about self-care, relaxation and catching up on Brene Brown podcasts- I am talking about its darker side. Fancy procrastinating. Burn-out bliss. 

Need to reformat a math lesson to include winking cat emojis? Of course! Spend thirty minutes searching up how to make a moving Halloween bitmoji? No problem! Time blurs. My list of things becomes unwieldy. I feel myself morph from “SuperTeacher September” to “Ogre October”. 

But like all things awesome about Cohort21, this community is helping me reframe my quadrants and what I want in each one. Last week, I met with my group and @derekdoucet gave us a challenge. We had to write our blog for Wednesday (tomorrow). I cleared off the boxes of chocolate, closed my tabs and actually considered this matrix and its relationship to the way I work. 

I realized that I usually spend September in hyperdrive zooming as everything feels “urgent & important”. All the “yeses” I said in September take a toll at this point in the year as energy levels dive, so does my ability to juggle the various roles I’ve taken on or commitments I’ve made. 

Recognizing this pattern is helpful for me. Hauling myself away from my fancy procrastinating today felt liberating. It felt hopeful. As I’ve been writing and thinking, I’ve already begun to shift around things in my mind. I’ve put the spotlight on the important, but not urgent. On finding those rest and reset moments, on building relationships and creating connections. 

7 Comments

Lucky and I learning together

When I opened this blog (for the first time since October), I was surprised I had only written one entry. I had many memories of profound wordsmithing and brilliant insights, but clearly, my sourdough-laden brain and overactive sleeping imagination were off the mark. I wrote one entry to mark this year of pandemic pedagogy.

Summing up the past year and a half of teaching, learning and living:

Each month felt like a year and each week felt like a month and each day felt like a week... and yet, it all went by in a blur. 

This has been a hard year for me, and I say these words while acknowledging my extraordinary privilege. I continued to work throughout this year, my friends and family are healthy, my students had the resources to access their online learning and I am a white, middle-class woman living in an affluent neighbourhood of Toronto.

Early into the pandemic, I listened to a Ted Talk by Priya Parker. She wrote The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters. Her insights into the importance of building community stuck. Creating inclusive and supportive communities have always been essential to my teaching and learning. In March 2020, I was quick to realize that staring at 20 small icons of Minecraft paraphernalia while I lectured myself about healthy digital habits on a Google Meet did not inspire a community. At that point, I was terrified about pandemic pedagogy.

I spent the fall working on my own self-care. I tried to gaslight my feelings of anxiety and burnout. I tried to read those inspirational quotes on my Instagram feed. I tried to bury myself in baking. I tried adding bling to my face guard with gemstones. It didn't work. When the winter break came, I spent most days lying on the couch and checking my pension calculator.

It took the winter return to online learning for me to actively reflect on how I could build community in my grade 3 classroom. My 15 minutes of HeadSpace meditation didn't reveal a transformational moment of educator enlightenment,  I simply realized I needed to feel connected to my class as a community.

The following months have been slippery work. But I have found many things that "work" for 3Oville (as I call my class of 15 hyped-up riddle-telling mavericks). I put my ideas into this slideshow: The Art of Gathering 8-Year-Olds

I'll let the slides do the rest of the talking.

 

10 Comments

From: Moma Magazine
https://www.moma.org/magazine/articles/213

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?