If you’re expecting this to be a therapeutic post, then I hope you find it meets your expectations. If you are hoping it takes the place of actual therapy, then this likely isn’t the post you need. I will, however, structure it loosely like a typical television show therapy session. I always look at basic therapy as essentially a problem-solving session where the patient describes the current situation, and his/her feelings about it, and then the therapist provides expertise to assist in trying to resolve that problem so the patient can move closer to being a positive contribution to society instead of a negative one. (Or the therapist just repeats a lot of what the character says but does so in the form of questions.) That’s my idea of therapy. Now let’s apply it to the stress of educational situations that are not emergencies and do not require the services of an actual therapist or doctor. (One final precaution before we start this climb is that my outlook is heavily tainted by my own annoying optimism and the book Escaping The School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How To Prevail When Others Want To See You Drown by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda. You’ve been warned. Let’s go.
The Current Situation
If we always had perfect days in our world of education, there would not be such a teacher shortage. I personally have more perfect moments than actual perfect days, though I cherish every day I’m given to work with students in the educational field. It’s my calling. But there are always days or moments that bring me down, make me want to look for greener pastures or find a new profession all together. The situation that brings me down each time changes and fluctuates, but how I handle the adversity is what needs to remain the same, or at least maybe the process does. To refer back to a previous post, Got a Mountain to Climb? Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got This., the situations are like the problems faced by my daughter and her companions. Every part of the climb up the mountain has different challenges and pitfalls: thin air, weather changes, temperature changes, snow drifts, inclines, wildlife, and more. Every day spent in education is also an uphill climb with different challenges and pitfalls. Whatever your current situation is, you need to refine the process that helps you deal with it so that you can keep climbing up the mountain.
The Feelings About the Current Situation
Feelings. They sometimes get in the way of productivity and learning, and while I don’t like to indulge those who want to spew negative ones, I do make a point of listening to people when they need a sympathetic ear. I listen, but I don’t encourage negativity. I don’t. I do, however, understand that we all need an outlet for it. We need to let it out so that it doesn’t taint us, but we need to be very particular about how we do this. I generally call my sister who isn’t in education, doesn’t live in the same town, and won’t be talking to the people involved, and vent my frustration of the moment. She understands I’m just letting the negativity out so that I can move forward with solutions and a positive attitude. She just lets me vent, gives me her support, sometimes plays devil’s advocate, and then I’m able to get back to business.
A similar discussion recently happened within one of my Voxer groups. My friend Erin Giblin (@ebgtech) said that she allows herself to be upset and have that emotion, but she internalizes it and doesn’t share the negativity out there with her coworkers or district because it doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t benefit anyone. I agree, so I don’t share mine either, unless it is with my husband. As the tech director for my district (yes, I know I’m blessed), he is aware of the parties involved if I need to vent to him, but he also doesn’t share anything I say with others. We are the safe place (Vegas) for each other. What we say or vent to each other stays with us. We let the negativity loose and then replace it with problem solving ideas or solutions.
Erin says that getting the emotion out so that she isn’t holding on to it is how she is proactive. That resonated with me in our discussion because I feel we as educators need to release the negativity into a safe atmosphere so that others aren’t adversely affected. We need to be proactive not reactive. Make the choice to be angry, cry, or scream but not in your own district. Don’t bring others down with your negative emotions. They have no place in the professional setting. Is this easy to do? No. Do we need to try? Yes. Instead of spewing the negative feelings all around your hall, building, or district, ask yourself what you can do to fix things. Ask for advice and help from colleagues and administrators. (Please note that asking for advice or help is not the same thing as passive aggressive complaining. Complaining is complaining no matter how you dress it up, and it does not benefit anyone. It is part of the problem. Be part of the solution.) Allow others to guide you toward a solution if you aren’t able to come up with one on your own.
Melissa Chouinard-Jahant (@collidingwithscience) commented in the same Voxer discussion that we teachers can’t plan for every contingency. If we could, that would rob us of our spontaneity, freedom, and creativity. She believes we should respond instead of react. Reacting to stress and the situations around us is part of being human. Find a safe way to deal with these negative emotions that won’t affect your work or the people you work with, and then look for ways to solve the problem instead of adding to it. This is why we have #PLNs. Look outside your district if need be, but find your #PLN so that you have the support you need. Be an ally to your #PLN in return. Be Vegas.
One of the best things we can do when coworkers are experiencing negative situations and emotions is to find every way possible to assist them in turning negatives into positives. If you personally can’t provide the assistance they need, direct them toward someone who can. When hiking up a mountain, good but light weight hiking shoes are ideal. Sure, you can wear tennis shoes, but they don’t provide the traction support you’ll need when you are headed back down. It’s easy to loose your footing and slip, or fall. The last thing anyone wants to do is face-plant into a cold wet snow drift. It’s embarrassing, cold, wet, and could be painful. If you’re the expert leading a colleague down their mountain, your expertise is like a great pair of hiking shoes. If they still lose their footing, stand in the way of their personal or professional.downward spiral. You do this by checking on them, caring, and pulling, nudging, pushing, dragging them along the positive proactive paths with you. Care. Listen. Advise your friends or coworkers on ways to implement solutions to whatever it is they are facing. If it is you who is facing adverse situations, challenges, or problems, then be proactive. Release the negative emotions and replace them with positives. Look for solutions. Compliment the students or coworkers who cause the most problems for you. Think of positive things you can say, and eventually with practice, you can become adept at looking at adversity or challenging / frustrating situations with positive lenses. Find things to be grateful for each day. Be grateful for the sandwich your ally packed for your climb. Thank the PLN member who pulls you up out of the snow drift. Show your appreciation for the one who stands in your way as you fall, halting your downward descent or slowing it enough to allow you to regain your footing. Baby steps. Are you ready? You’ve got this because we’ve got this. Don’t hike alone. Find your tribe.