COVID-19 vs. New Year’s Resolutions?

How to “Make a Difference” in 2021

Of those who make a New Year’s resolution, after 1 week 75% are still successful in keeping it. After two weeks, the number drops to 71%. After 1 month, the number drops again to 64%. And after 6 months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it. In comparison, of those people who have similar goals but do not set a resolution, only 4% are still successful after 6 months.

New Year’s Resolutions Statistics (Updated 2020) from Discover Happy Habits

Although we may be seeing the first signs of “the light at the end of the tunnel” with the distribution of the vaccines, coronavirus still has its grip on us… off-the-chart infection rates, record-breaking hospital admissions, schedule disruptions, restrictions on restaurants and small businesses, mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, precautionary self-isolation, etc. By all accounts, mindfulness, self-care, patience, and a positive outlook for the future are keys to making personal and professional goals as the pandemic rages on…

This article spotlights an age-old but usually neglected perspective – “think first” before you formulate any New Year’s Resolutions! For this to really work, you need a little research and reflection… and then COMMIT TO YOUR GOALS! Read on!

Start Out by Being S.M.A.R.T.

Admittedly, 44+ years in teaching has affected how I view goal-setting – “make it intention!” Adopt the often published S.M.A.R.T. approach to any plan. Make goals that are…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

What goals do you want to satisfy in 2021? “Keep it simple” and S.M.A.R.T. Like lesson plans, write your resolution(s) in behavioral terms… “by the end of this class, the students will…” For example, the easiest way to limit the intake of fried food in your diet is to write on a post-it note, “I will not eat anything fried this week” and place it on your bathroom mirror.

A lot of these resolutions fail because they’re not the right resolutions. And a resolution may be wrong for one of three main reasons: 1) It’s a resolution created based on what someone else (or society) is telling you to change. 2) It’s too vague. 3) You don’t have a realistic plan for achieving your resolution.

How to Make and Keep a New Year’s Resolution by Jen A. Miller (New York Times)

Review the Usual Ones…

According to Brad Zomick in his GoSkills blog, these are the most common New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Learn a new skill or hobby 
  • Live life to the fullest
  • Save more money / spend less money
  • Quit smoking
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Travel more
  • Read more

Just as important to WHAT you choose is HOW you approach it. In his article, Zomick provides a “how-to” roadmap to success, if you follow his steps:

  1. Mentally prepare for change.
  2. Set a goal that motivates you.
  3. Limit resolutions to a manageable amount.
  4. Be specific.
  5. Break up big goals into smaller goals.
  6. Write down your goals.
  7. Share your resolutions with others.
  8. Automate when possible.
  9. Review your resolution regularly.
  10. If you fall off track, get back on quick.

Do these recommendations sound familiar? They should if you are a disciple of the aforementioned S.M.A.R.T plan. Also, the concept of “writing down your goals” should ring a bell if you recall the supposed 1979 Harvard Business School MBA Study on Goal Setting (urban legend?) reviewed by Wanderlust Worker here:

Have you set written goals and created a plan for their attainment? Prior to graduation, it was determined that 84% of the entire class had set no goals at all. 13% of the class had set written goals but had no concrete plans. 3% of the class had both written goals and concrete plans. The results? Well, you’ve likely somewhat guessed it. 10 years later, the 13% of the class that had set written goals but had not created plans, were making twice as much money as the 84% of the class that had set no goals at all. However, the apparent kicker is that the 3% of the class that had both written goals and a plan, were making ten times as much as the rest of the 97% of the class. 

The Harvard MBA Study on Goal Setting from Wanderlust Worker

Whether the Harvard (or Yale) study is fact or faction is probably irrelevant. The point here is that to improve the odds for accomplishing our goals, we need to take the time to write them down, announce our intentions (your spouse or significant-other), and define the details with “action plans.”

The Glass Is Half Full

Have you heard the joke about the identical twins, one an optimist and the other a pessimist?

A psychiatrist has one son who is a total pessimist, and another who is a complete optimist.  He decides on an experiment.  For Christmas he fills the pessimist’s room with hundreds of beautifully wrapped gifts, and dumps a heap of horse manure in the optimist’s room. On Christmas morning he sees the pessimist boy sitting motionless at the center of his room, eyeing his gifts suspiciously. But over in the optimist’s room he sees his boy filled with joy, digging happily in the odorous pile. He asks the kid what he’s doing and he answers:  “Daddy, with all this horse dung, there’s gotta be a pony in here someplace.”

The Center for Optimism

It’s time to cheer-up, look to the future, and embrace HOPE for tomorrow!

Are you kidding? You want me to “put on a happy face” after all the pandemic has done? YES!

One remedy for “losing the blue funk” is to reject all “blame and complain” speech or behavior! It is so easy to get caught up in negativity… family adversity or “challenges” of a medical or employment nature, or simply being forced to remain distant from each other, daily news media reports about COVID-19, political dissension and the polarization of viewpoints, angry rants on social media, etc. literally fanning the flames of an unprecedented perpetual global “bad mood!” I even found myself in the throes of periodic bouts of public distemper, griping on Facebook about a Dial for Men product that made my hair dry (my FB friends responded, “Thanks for the heads-up” – ha, ha!), or grumbling about the roll-out of new revisions of WordPress and Constant Contact program editors that are not backwards-compatible nor fail to support the “look and feel” of previous versions. The effect of exposure to or expression of all of these “B” words (badmouth, beef, bellyache, bemoan, bicker, b*tch) is to make you even more bitter… not fostering the “can-do’s” for taking steps towards helping others, self-renewal, or an optimistic attitude.

Do you find your emotions swinging rapidly from sadness to elation to anger or fear during the lockdown? If your mood is all over the place at the moment, that’s completely understandable. This is not a normal situation. It’s a hugely disruptive, sudden change to our daily lives that nobody was prepared for. It isn’t surprising that many people are experiencing unpredictable moods. “It is going to affect everyone’s mood in many, and sometimes unexpected, ways,” reveals psychotherapist Mark Bailey. “Whether it’s worry, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, discombobulated, angry and even perhaps unexpected emotions like relief as we accept some of our current situation, it’s useful to know that as we experience one emotion it doesn’t nullify or negate another.”

COVID-19: How to Manage Mood Swings... by Natalie Healey

Get Inspired by Good Role Models and “Positive Gurus”

Many music educators attend the keynote addresses at state MEA/NAfME conferences to “recharge their batteries.” A few of my favorite “master motivators” are Tim Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, and Fran Kick. As a sample, check out this video (sponsored by MusicFirst) that featured “Dr. Tim” – One Person Can Make a Difference!

Who can have a positive influence on us or serve as a “catalyst for change” to help us realize our resolutions? Practically anyone! I bumped into this provocative article by Professor Dr Ger Graus: Good Role Models – How Has COVID-19 Changed Pupils’ Career Aspirations? He relates these criteria “to elevate a person or profession to role model status” (at least in the eyes of a child) – possibly an excellent framework for creating your plan.

  1. Demonstrate passion for what you do and have the capacity to infect others with it.
  2. Show a clear set of values and live them in their world. Lead by example. Children admire people who act in ways that support their beliefs. It helps them understand how their own values are part of who they are and how they might seek fulfilling roles as adults.
  3. Demonstrate commitment to community. Be others-focused as opposed to self-focused. Freely give your time and talents to benefit people.
  4. Show selflessness and acceptance of others who are different to you. Be fair.
  5. Demonstrate the ability to overcome obstacles. Young people admire those who show them that success is possible.

Someone who has recently become inspirational to me is the wonderfully uplifting Lesley Moffat, probably an expert on the search for “mindfulness” in personal life and even during her band warmups. In my opinion, her transformative stories provide the blueprint for happiness and wellbeing! She now has two published books (you need to read both) – I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress, and if you are still teaching music full-time, you need to peruse her website: https://mpowerededucator.com/. For a good laugh, view her recent “rap” – Moffat’s HamJam for Band – for which she performed for her music students.

Apply the concepts of social and emotional learning (SEL), EMPATHY, and “corona kindness” to yourself and loved-ones! Seek out advice from a few of these experts: Manju Durairaj, Scott N. Edgar, Bob Morrison, and Edward Varner.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. The key components of SEL are self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, self-management, and relationship skills.

Finding Sanctuary – Social and Emotional Learning and Visual and Performing Arts by Edward Varner

Sum it Up – Fox’s “Top-Ten Tips”

  1. Renew your efforts to intentionally reach-out, connect, and engage with people, albeit virtually for now.
  2. Focus on the things you can control.
  3. Remind yourself about the good things in your life and your personal resilience.
  4. Start small and change one behavior at a time.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up when things get a little rocky
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  7. Seek creative new ways to reduce your stress.
  8. Exercise, meditate, go outside, and plan better meals.
  9. Share your experiences with family and friends.
  10. Implement one or two S.M.A.R.T. goals and embrace the “spirit” of self-improvement.

It’s easy to become an idealist when the new year rolls around, but it’s important to remember that New Year’s resolutions are ultimately a tool to help you grow into the person you want to be. Take some time this New Year’s Eve to really consider who you want to be in the future, and then employ S.M.A.R.T. goals to help you fulfill your vision. Making a resolution to live your life with purpose and passion is a beautiful and exciting thing, not something to dread.

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions by Using S.M.A.R.T. Goals by Mary McCoy

PKF

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Resources

Credits:

iStock.com photos (in order): “2021” #1280953227 by phototechno, “SMART Goals” #1134658098 by BrianAJackson, “New Years Goals List 2021” #1266648329 by Olena Sakhnenko, “Half Empty to Half Full” #1128990168 by Fokusiert, “Lead by Example” #849367144 by Michail_Petrov-96, and “2021 Happy New Year” #1273431483 by Weedezign

“Happy Face” VectorStock.com/467693 

Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

This is Part VI in a series of articles on educator health and wellness, following “Stressed Out!” and “Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic.”

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Do you recognize these signs of burnout experienced  by yourself, a coworker, neighbor, or someone you love?

  • Physical: tired, lowered immunity, illnesses, aches and pains, loss of appetite or sleep
  • Emotional: sense of self-doubt, failure, helplessness, loneliness, cynicism, loss of satisfaction/motivation
  • Behavioral: withdrawal, isolation, skipping work, procrastination, frustration, overuse of food, drugs, alcohol

By the time it gets to that third bullet, probably everyone would be aware of the trouble.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Burnout Prevention and Recovery by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson

 

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Gregory S. Perkins and Angela M. Guerriero, licensed Music Therapists from the Tempo! Music Therapy Services, provided much more detailed definitions of self-care in a session at the PMEA 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. (PMEA members may continue to register and view a video of this workshop until mid-September 2020.) You should know and be on the lookout for these terms:

The United Nations defines self-care as the actions that individuals take in order to develop, protect, maintain, and improve their own health and well being. Self-care involves a personal investment in maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, and pursuing a fulfilling, well-rounded life.

Brownout: “A practitioner essentially gives up or performs in a perfunctory manner when confronted with too much stress and too little gratification.” Guy, J. & Norcross, J. (2007). Leaving it at the office: a guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Burnout: “A syndrome of physical exhaustion including a negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feelings.” Keidel, G. (2002). Burnout and compassion fatigue among hospice caregivers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 19(3), 200-205

Recognizing the Need: Self-Care for Music Educators by Gregory S. Perkins, MT-BC, and Angela M. Guerriero, PhD, MT-BC

The Mayo Clinic offers numerous symptoms of “burnout.” How many of these have you “felt” too or noticed in someone else’s demeanor or behavior?

  1. Disillusionment over the job
  2. Cynicism at work
  3. Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
  4. Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
  5. Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Unexplained aches/pains
  8. Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
  9. Changes in sleep/eating patterns

 

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Education Week adds many more danger signs. Are any of these striking close to home?

Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there’s no way to “turn it off,” no matter how badly you want to. It’s deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.

Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.

Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.

Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won’t be enough.

Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.

Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

— Six Signs of and Solutions for Teacher Burnout by Wendi Pillars 

 

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What about the causes of burnout or brownout? Where should we place the blame?

According to Paul Murphy in his book, Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It, the stress of a few problems may stand out as leading culprits at your place of employment:

  1. Lack of autonomy
  2. Dysfunctional work environment
  3. Inadequate social support
  4. Extremes of activity
  5. Poor work/life balance

But, you have no one else but yourself to blame! You must take responsibility for your own health and welfare. Most of the sources in this blog-post (including a few mentioned in past articles from this “care” category) suggest solutions to better self-care, many of which offer answers to address the issue and CAN BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

Here are a few more self-care tips from PsychCentral:

  • Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
  • Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
  • Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
  • Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
  • Spend enough time with your loved ones.
  • Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
  • Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh!

What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t by Raphailia Michael, MA

 

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We should also review “Five Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout” by Mary Beth Hertz, an Edutopia blog (read the entire article for greater depth and clarity):

  1. Maintain your “other” life.
  2. Be a stakeholder when changes are made.
  3. Find lessons and opportunities in everything.
  4. Nurture peer connections.
  5. Keep it light.

Edutopia, from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a wonderful resource. Most recently, three valuable “streams” of articles have been released on coping with the preparations and stress in the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year:

I also recommend this blog-post of the Regional Education Laboratory Program which describes “teacher well being” as “the reaction to the individual and collective physical, environmental, and social events that shape how educators respond to their students and colleagues.” They discuss how three prominent human behavior frameworks— Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)— can be used to address the challenges that teachers face when adapting to change and identify approaches to support teacher well being.

 

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In addition, the following perspectives come from a variety of self-proclaimed practitioners:

“One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for ‘smoked,’ or ‘going up in smoke.’ This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to ‘let go’ of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.”  — Wendy Pillars

“Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such.” — Raphailia Michael

“Remember that example about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This is where that analogy really comes in to play. It’s time for you to take a good hard look at your self-care versus your care for others and decide if you are in a place where you have a good balance or if you need to make this a priority… Why is self-care… such a critical component of your physical and mental health? Because in order for you to function at your peak, you need to meet the needs your body and mind have for rejuvenation, relaxation, and rebirth. If you are constantly putting out efforts toward other people and events but never taking time to refuel yourself, then you will run out of steam and it will manifest in your body as an illness, weight gain, acne, joint pain – you know the drill – again.” — Lesley Moffat in I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me

“It’s estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it’s no wonder our willpower is gone by five o’clock. We are exhausted.” — Paul Murphy

The term “unprecedented times” has become a hallmark for describing the context in which leaders must respond to changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective responses in education are dependent upon teachers as the front-line workers in classrooms, so it’s essential that administrators take care of teachers. When they do so, they also take care of students.

When teachers don’t have the resources they need, and especially when sustained job demands are high, teachers experience chronic stress — and eventually burnout.

Teachers who are burned out are less effective as teachers, have less supportive relationships with students and, in turn, the students they teach have lower academic and social outcomes.

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Laura Sokal, Jeff Babb, and Leslie Eblie Trudel

 

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We should all read the above blog-post from The Conversation, which offers these conclusions based on a national Canadian education survey conducted in May 2020:

  1. Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
  2. Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
  3. When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
  4. Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
  5. Teachers are concerned about effectively engaging students through remote learning, and professional collaboration can help.

Finally, we’ll end this epistle on “things to do to avoid burnout” with a timely and practical article from Carlee Adams found on the We Are Teachers site: 15 Smart Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout That Really Work. Repeating many of the suggestions above, these “find these” remedies resonated with me:

  • “Find someone you can be vulnerable with…”
  • “When you feel hopeless, find perspective…”
  • “Find your own voice and allow it to change over time…”
  • “Find your people; they get you!”

The bottom line? If you “feel” consistent periods of burnout, brownout, or being bummed out in your career as negative influences to your “calling” as a teacher, you cannot sit back and let things continue “as is!” Most professionals cannot self-diagnose this problem (but, perhaps a family member may clue you in!). If you notice that you are continually having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships or communicating your thoughts to others, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, it may be time to visit your health care professional.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox