Faculty members at the FSU College of Education are doing their best to support educators as they make the sudden transition to online teaching. Drs. Martin Swanbrow Becker, Erik Hines and Lindsay Jenkins have spent their careers researching important mental health topics, like depression, resiliency and bullying prevention. As we adjust to the effects of the coronavirus, we want to be sure we are supporting teachers both at FSU and around the world. While we have assembled some tips for general wellness while working from home, we wanted to look closely at some advice from our faculty members on resilience, setting expectations and getting through the coronavirus crisis – specifically for teachers.
Through the Transition
The unprecedented move to take education online has understandably created a lot of stressors. Swanbrow Becker is quick to point out the magnitude of this task. “When we take note that the task [teachers and students] face is difficult, we can also practice self-compassion to give ourselves a break and some space to do the best we can,” he says. He recommends the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, an expert on self-compassion. Hines also recommends this piece on self-care for school counselors published by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Throughout the transition period, he highlights the importance for teachers to address their own mental health as a primary concern. “They can’t help others if they are not attending to their needs. This is particularly difficult as we are in the midst of a lot of stressors, where each one independently could cause significant disruption, but having them all together can easily lead to overload,” he says. Swanbrow Becker also observes that transitions of any size are almost always difficult, and the coronavirus has caused some extreme transitions. However, he points out that “even if this situation continues in some form for a long time, we will adjust and adapt to it. Give yourself time to adjust and remember that you will feel more stable over time.”
Life is not normal right now, to say the least. Because of this, Swanbrow Becker says that teachers need to understand that they will not be able to work at the same level as before. “Setting new expectations and priorities will help teachers attend to the most important things,” he says. “Dr. Dennen provided good suggestions here – people first, then content, then technology.” New expectations need to be set not just for teacher output, but also teacher expectations for their students. “Students might not learn quite as much as they would have and other work may not be performed at the same level,” he says. “The goal is to do our best and keep us moving forward.”
With all that in mind, our faculty members have some specific advice on how to deal with the current situation. First and foremost, Swanbrow Becker recommends creating structure and sticking to a schedule. Doing so “will help reduce uncertainty and stress where you have some time to focus on work and then time to focus on other things, such as childcare, your mental health, maintaining relationships.” Another benefit of sticking to a schedule is resisting the tendency to multi-task, which can help keep you more focused.
Swanbrow Becker also recommends connecting with your students. Because teachers have already had half of a semester to run a classroom, he anticipates that most teachers have already developed some kind of connection with their students. To encourage a continuation of that connection, he recommends small group discussions if possible. Jenkins believes that sharing factual information with students can be beneficial to help them understand the sudden changes. “Regardless of age, your students realize that something has drastically changed,” she says. The COVID-19 resource created by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) provides great, age-appropriate materials to help explain the situation. Hines agrees that information is important; however, he suggests that information provided to children and adolescents should be limited so the news and media do not overwhelm them. In particular, he recommends allowing “space and time for expression of feelings around this event.”
Self-Care and Growth
While the coronavirus has undoubtedly caused a serious disruption, Swanbrow Becker believes that it could also provide a moment to slow down and evaluate what’s most important in our lives. “We now have more time to talk to a friend or family member, engage in hobbies, to the extent possible – engage in nature,” he says. Jenkins recommends getting active with students or small children at home. “Go on walks, runs or bike rides,” she says. “You can take sidewalk chalk and draw fun pictures or leave encouraging messages on the sidewalks as you go!” She also recommends taking advantage of free resources on YouTube, like P.E. with Joe.
Taking Care of Students
Young students respond to stress differently than adults, says Jenkins. “They often experience more physical and behavioral symptoms of anxiety such as restlessness and fidgeting; irritability; headaches; stomachaches; sleeping problems; concentration or memory problems; withdrawal; outbursts,” she says.
If you spot any of these signs, Jenkins says that the child is experiencing anxiety, even if they have a hard time describing how they’re feeling. Younger children in particular might not have the vocabulary to be able to convey their state of mind or the trauma they are dealing with. Jenkins suggests guided calming activities, such as the ones put together by Mind Yeti. Hines believes that in addition to using resources to help calm students, teachers and adults should take some time to identify family and friends who make students feel less lonely or anxious.
Strengthen Your Community
While the coronavirus might feel overwhelming, our faculty members also encourage those who feel the calling to help to do so in safe ways. Swanbrow Becker says, “Without dismissing the difficulties we face, there are positive aspects that we can find if we look for them, such as developing greater connection to those we care about,” he says. He recommends considering volunteering to deliver food or donating supplies to emergency services. Hines also sees this as a time for professionals to work together and support one another. He believes that school counselors, for example, can come together and create a support system for friends, families and students who are seeking personal counseling help. “School counselors can serve as a calming influence by listening to student concerns and helping them address their fears,” he says.
If you feel like you need help, there are many professionals are offering online/telehealth counseling, including the FSU Counseling Center. Big Bend 211 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK) are both important resources to be aware of and remember, particularly if you feel like you are facing a crisis.