Hey there Burned-In Teachers and welcome to episode 164 of the Burned-In Teacher Podcast where I'm going to answer this Ask BIT question: What systems do you already have put in place before the school year begins to help you manage your overwhelm?
To answer this question, I’m going to share my top three systems for managing overwhelm both before and during the school year so you are no longer feeling overwhelmed to the point of shutting down. It’s obviously not the beginning of the school year, however, I truly believe that we can always create a new beginning whenever things aren't going quite as we had hoped that they would. We can do a hard reset if we need to so we are able to manage an overwhelming workload.
Over the last few episodes, we've been talking a lot about how we can manage feelings of disappointment, frustration, and overwhelm and ways teachers can manage stress. In Episode 162, I talked about things you can do if the October blues are not staying in October, and in Episode 163 I share an interview with my friend Brittany Blackwell about what we can do to combat our addiction to stress. If you haven't listened to those episodes, I would highly recommend that you go back and check them out because this episode is going to be a great bookend to these discussions.
I have to tell you, this question was actually asked of me by one of my very good friends, Alexis Shepard of the AfroEductor and she asked this question back before the school year started. Part of me thought I should wait until next season - the fall of 2023 - to answer this question, but I think that we can always be reevaluating our systems so we know how to manage our overwhelming workload. We can always be adopting, adjusting, and abandoning our beliefs or our systems if they're not working for us. We can adopt new ideas and ways of doing things for the sake of our own well-being and for the success of ourselves and our students.
I'm going to share with you my top three systems for managing overwhelm before and during the school year. These three tips for overwhelmed teachers are things I keep top of mind all the time when things are or are not going well. Really reflecting on your own systems, or rather lack thereof, for managing your overwhelm before school and during the school year, like right now, is important especially if you're dealing with those October Blues. It's December now, so if they're still following you into December, we got to start to do something different.
The three things that I always come back to are: my core values, prioritizing, and setting future me up for success. I’m always coming back to these three things.
System #1: Core Values
The first thing I do is consider my core values and I have a set of core values for the three areas of my life: my classroom, myself as a teacher, and life outside of school. It’s really important that you are reflecting on your core values.
My Classroom Core Values
The core values for my classroom are calm and simple - these are the words that I want other teachers, administrators, parents, and even my students to use when they describe my classroom. If I want them to use these words, then I need to set my classroom up in such a way to match my core values.
My Teacher Brand:
The next thing that I consider are my teacher core values - these are the words that I want others to use to describe me as a teacher which is kind and joyful. I want to be able to go back to other teachers, administrators, parents, and students and for them to say Wow, she is so kind and she is so joyful like she genuinely enjoys her job! If I want to be known as this, I have to prepare my classroom in such a way to reflect kindness and joy. I have to reflect on:
I have to consider if these things are exuding kindness and joy. I also think about I teaching lessons that teach kindness and joy because, if I'm going to be kind and joyful, I want to work with students who are kind and joyful as well. Trust me, it takes work, it takes intention. I intentionally teach daily examples and ways that we can show kindness and be joyful.
My Personal Core Values
Next, I want to decide on my personal core values outside of school. I'm not just a teacher all day. I'm a human being. I'm a mom. I'm a wife. I'm a friend. My top personal core values are family and health. I consistently have to come back to whether am I keeping family and health front and center when I'm not at school even when I'm at school. My family will always be number one. I would leave my classroom at the drop of a hat if they needed me. And of course, my health. I know that me taking care of my mental, physical, and emotional health is going to help me to be a better teacher. Family and health are always front and center. Of course, there have to be adjustments. You know, that's the definition of balance (which I’ll get into more later!)
Adjusting My Core Values
Finally, the last step of this system that I have for considering my core values is I ask myself: do any of my core values need to be changed or adjusted to match my current season of life?
Now remember at this point we're focusing on the beginning of the school year before school even starts. Every year, I really think about how things changed and ask myself:
Chances are, for me, my core values probably won't need to be adjusted a whole lot. They did change a lot at the beginning of my burnout journey, but typically, they stay pretty much the same.
System #2: Prioritize
All right, here's system two that I really highly value especially before the school year starts. It's prioritizing, keeping the main thing the main thing. If I start my year keeping the focus on what is the most important thing for me to be doing first, then I am really putting my best foot forward. And that means prioritizing the most important thing(s) for the first couple of days of school. In that first week before school starts, when I’m typically in my classroom the most, I want to make sure what has to be done for days one and two is complete so those days run smoothly. That's all I focus on. I choose to focus on those things first before I worry about anything else. This includes making decisions about:
I also think about what we actually do during those two days. I look at my slideshows for those first two days - I teach from Google Slides. I don't know what your style of teaching is, but I use Google Slides as my lesson plans and I create a new slide deck for each week. So these first two days of school have their own slide deck and I can go back into those from last year, rename them to reflect the new school year, and update them with new dates. And then finally, I'm preparing my lessons, I'm making copies and I have at least two or three books ready per day, just as a go-to for if we need something simple if as I'm teaching procedures such as how we sit on the carpet, how we raise our hands, etc… I use Andriana Zurawski’s (The Active Educator) strategies for my classroom management and behavior management. I teach them “The Mighty Three”, and reading books is a great way to do that.
System #3: Set Future Me Up for Success
And finally, the third system is I set future me up for success, and I do this by looking ahead to the upcoming week. As I said, I use Google Slides, so I am always able to use the previous years’ slides by making a copy of them and then adjusting those slides.
But before I even do that, I take a step back and take a look at what the week following the first few days of school will look like both personally and professionally. You’re going to get out your personal calendar and your school calendar, whatever calendars you use, and look ahead at your life, not just the school day, to determine how much time you can dedicate to school. This is where I use my Time Management Worksheet to make my time budget for the week and I plan ahead for work-life balance. Work-life balance is not going to just happen unless you plan for it to happen. I know that I am the only one who is going to be able to create a work-life balance in my life. Does that mean life is always perfect? Absolutely not! But at the beginning of the year, I know that I am going to plan on staying at school later than I will after the first month. I typically dedicate more time that I normally would to school during the first four weeks because I'm setting up systems and I am creating momentum that I need to create a sustainable career for this school year. I know that if I don't make school a priority those first few weeks, then life is going to be a little chaotic because I'm not going to be prepared, and I'm not going to have the things ready that I need in order to build that momentum. This is where I really do create a time budget and a time allowance, and I batch and block things together.
Now, I'm in my 14th year of teaching, so this is not something that will come right away if you've never done this before. You have to make time for this to become a habit, but I promise you it is so worth it! Sitting down and deciding how many hours you want to work in the upcoming week, or how many hours you can work, and then really planning that out in your calendar is so powerful in creating balance and sticking to my core values, and living out my personal mission statement. I go back to those all the time: When am I planning time for health? When am I planning time for family? That becomes my “why” to leave. That's a different kind of “why” then you may have heard of before. Typically, we are told to remember our “why” for teaching. That’s not typically where I go. I think about my “why” for teaching and my “why” for leaving.
I’m going to share with you what I do during the year to come back to these systems that I established at the beginning of the school year because I don’t want to lose all the work that I just did. Just because it's October, or November, or December, or March I'm consistently adjusting, abandoning, and adopting to match what my needs are and what my students' needs are in the classroom.
#1: Reflect on Your Core Values
I'm consistently considering my core values in my classroom, as a teacher, and as my personal self. The following are the questions I ask myself ti make sure that I’m still honoring the core values I set for myself at the beginning of the school year.
In the classroom:
My Teacher Brand:
#2: Reflect on Your Prioritization
Once you’ve reflected on your core values and you know that you're making those very clear and visible, then you’re ready to reflect on your prioritization.
Now I say all of this, I’m not in the classroom with you. I know there are things that happen out of our control. I know our planning time gets taken, we get sick or our kids get sick, and things just don't go our way, and that’s why I'm telling you how important prioritization is. If you're setting the future you up for success, it's going to be easier for you to readjust and reprioritize when things happen and don't go your way.
#3: Continue to Set Future Me up for Success
I’m the most stressed and most frustrated and most overwhelmed when I have not kept the main thing the main thing I have not made sure my schedule is tight, my lessons are tight and my stuff is prepared a week or two in advance. I need to continually work at setting my future self up for success by always looking ahead in the upcoming weeks and months. I don't just do this at the beginning of the year, and I don't just do it in December. I do this every single week. I am constantly preparing ahead of time for upcoming breaks, personal appointments, meetings, conferences, absences, etc…
To do this, I schedule an hour every Saturday or Sunday to look at my calendar for the upcoming week of school and the upcoming week or two weeks of personal life. I create the space for myself to plan ahead. I need to prepare for there to be less time to plan, I need to prepare to have less energy; I know that there are ups and downs to those times every single week, so in order to set the future me for success, I am constantly adjusting and readjusting my time budget an time allowances for each week depending on upcoming appointments, meetings, conferences, etc…
When considering how I’m setting my future self up for success, I consider:
Managing overwhelm and stress is a balancing act. It doesn't always go as planned and it doesn't always look super pretty. It has been my experience that the more I look ahead, the less I focus on moments of challenges because that's what they are, they are simply a moment in time. The more we keep our heads up and keep looking ahead, the less we're looking down and staring at our feet that could be firmly planted and rooted in survival mode. I found that I get the most frustrated when I'm focusing so hard on a tiny moment in time that most of the time is completely out of my control, and these three things that I'm sharing with you today, these three systems, are always within your control.
I have some resources for you to support you in implementing these three systems:
The first thing I talked about was focusing on and considering your core values, and to help you with that I’d recommend you check out my Burned-In Teacher Personal Mission Statement Workbook. In this workbook, you will establish your core values and use that to create your personal missing statement, which you can use to keep yourself centered when you start to feel out of balance.
Next, I want to make sure that you will know about the Burned-In Teacher Time Management Worksheet. This worksheet was built to teach you how to budget your time so that you not only have enough time to tackle your to-do list at school, but also have time to do the things that bring you joy and/or that have to be done outside of school. With this resource, you're going to learn how to create a time allowance, learn how to budget your time allowance per day, and then create efficiency and tackle your to-do list by batching and blocking those tasks.
The third resource I want to share with you is the Burned-In Teacher Priority Planning Guide. This guide is going to help you with the day-to-day work of determining your high-priority tasks so that you're able to create a plan for when you'll complete those tasks per day that fit within your time budget and allowance.
I come back to these three things all the time, I’ve bundled these three products together for you because this is about helping you to create a better work-life balance and to avoid overwhelm. If you are a Burned and Unbalanced Teacher, this is definitely going to be a great bundle for you to check out on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Alright my friends, I know if you take these systems and strategies to heart you are going to start to see your overwhelm decrease and your sustainability increase. I want to remind you, this is a marathon, not a sprint. It's going to take discipline and intention and I know you can do it!