In this episode, I’m answering this question that was submitted through Ask BIT:
“I'm changing grade levels this year from sixth to second, I've changed grade levels several times throughout my career and they tend to fall into the ‘must work all the time trap’ at such times. How can I stick to the BIT principles and avoid burning out again even though there will be so much to learn and create this fall?”
I’ve been here too my friend! Last school year I came back to the classroom after 3 years of doing Burned-In Teacher and Google training full time and it was overwhelming! Yes, I had 13 years of teaching under my belt, but I didn’t have any experience teaching Kindergarten.
But before I go into the seven steps you can take when you’re feeling overwhelmed and falling into that “must work all the time trap”, I want to offer you a little bit of advice…
If you are starting something new this year - a new grade level, new district, new position, whatever it may be -, my number one piece of advice to you is lean on your team. When you’re in a new role/position, your team knows more than you when it comes to things like the curriculum and other nuances that go along with that particular grade level, position, etc... I know that this can sometimes seem hard - especially if you have a lot of experience as a teacher - but if you've never experienced that grade level before, ask for help because the fact is you need it when you’re just getting started. I know sometimes our ego and our pride can get in the way but ask! Ask your team about classroom management ideas, if they could share their lesson plans or slide decks with you, or even for ideas on how to set up your room.
I do understand that I was very lucky to be joining a strong, supportive team, and I know that not everyone has that luxury. Maybe you’re joining a team that is completely new or maybe you’re the only person teaching your grade level at your school; if this is the case, don’t be afraid to reach out and find the support that you need.
All right, now back to the 7 steps that I encourage teachers to follow when they are feeling overwhelmed by their to-do list and stuck in that “must work all the time” trap. These steps that I’m sharing are not just for the end of the school year or the end of the quarter; these are steps you can apply anytime! It could be at 1:00 on a Tuesday when you look at your desk and it is a cluttered mess and you have no idea what to do next because to you, everything's important - everything has to be done right NOW. That’s a lie - not everything is the most important and not everything has to be done now.
That’s right - STOP - take a deep breath and prioritize. Take out your journal or a piece of paper and brain-dump everything that you’re telling yourself you have to do. Then, look at your list and determine what has to be done NEXT by asking yourself, “What do I have to do next to set myself up for success”. When I’m struggling with what needs to be done next, I always start with what I need to do for myself, and that’s not selfish, that’s self-care.
Look at your list of to-do’s and, if you feel a task is not worth your time or energy at this time and doesn’t change/impact the learning of our students, then eliminate it. These could be things that you used to think were really important or things that we told ourselves “have to be done” that really don’t. These things rob us of our time and our energy and don’t change/impact the learning of our students. Eliminating also includes your physical clutter. A cluttered classroom/workspace reflects a cluttered mind which can affect your clarity and focus.
To delegate, take things off your shoulders by considering what tasks can you give away - maybe you can give it to another teacher or even to your students. Just remember to have an open mind when it comes to delegation and giving responsibility away, you do not have to shoulder everything yourself.
I am the queen of over-complication, so I understand the challenges that come with simplifying tasks. I know that you want what you do to be perfect and of high quality, but sometimes this quest for perfection can make things really complicated. So, when working on a task, ask yourself, “What if this were easy?” and remind yourself that you can make it greater later and done is better than perfect.
Purposeful productivity comes down to making sure that you’re spending time doing the things that will set future you up for success. Plan ahead and prioritize tasks that are most important.
Get clear about how you want to feel. Determine how you want to feel and write down all of the things that you need to in order to create the space to feel the way you want to feel.
We systematize our lives by creating rituals and routines. Remember, when you build healthy habits, they become routines that then become rituals. Consider the habits, rituals, and routines that you need to set the future you up for success.
So there you have it, 7 steps to stop feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list! If you’d like to know more, check out my book Hacking Teacher Burnout. And for an even more in-depth, check out my course Burned-In Teacher University.