Be Up for the challenge

It’s the middle/end of July, and many schools are starting to release their plans for the re-opening of schools. To say this is stressful would be to significantly underestimate the huge burden Covid-19 has placed on millions of people. Personally, I realize that no matter how we return to school, it won’t be perfect. It can’t be! There are too many unknowns that can’t be predicted. We can be sure of one thing, though. Our students and their families will need us when school starts.

Just about any person who I speak with is nervous about the future state of education. That’s normal considering the circumstances. Who wouldn’t be scared and even a little tentative, (okay, a lot tentative) about returning. With that said, I’m hoping that all of us are up for educating students. While I don’t have nearly all the answers, and others will offer other suggestions, I’m hoping that what is mentioned below can ease a bit of the anxiety.

Let’s make an honest effort to connect with our kids. Whether it’s virtual, in a traditional fashion, or in some kind of hybrid model, building those connections will reduce stress, ease the strain of starting the year, and even improve our mood. There isn’t enough space in this post to cover all the hundreds of ideas to promote relationships. But the simple act of introducing yourself and telling kids how excited you are to be back is a great start. No matter the setting, building those initial connections with students will be huge, and even necessary. Little things, like learning names, telling personal stories, and just daily hellos, will go a long way in transitioning into the year.

As a parent of two older teens, I’ve long appreciated when teachers have kept me in the loop about their progress. Anyone in education knows how important it is to connect with the parents/guardians of students. Still, today it takes on a special significance since so many unknowns will be happening. Letting parents/guardians know that you care, are here for their children, and will ALWAYS be supportive, may allow those who are scared of bringing their kids back to school to feel just a little better and more comfortable. Phone calls, emails, letters, and even videos if you enjoy doing them are great ideas. Personally, a phone call home is best, but I realize that it isn’t always possible.

Along with those relationships that we’ll be building, our conscious effort to have patience, persistence, empathy, and caring sets the tone for each day. Students will sense our willingness to make a difference when our personal side shows through. Realizing that all of us are unique to education, the easiest ways I’ve found to establish the four traits from above are merely modeling them.

Patience isn’t even a suggestion for these times. If you’re like me, you already saw in the Spring that lacking any patience will be a recipe for disaster. Just by taking a brief step back and recognizing the situation will help us understand the value in being patient. Going right along with patience is that fine line between hassling kids and showing a certain level of positive persistence. I found that if I wasn’t continually promoting students to work hard and stay determined, many would stop! The keywords, though, are “positive” and “promoting.” As a teacher of older students, hassling them, especially when we couldn’t see each other, would be a zero-sum game of frustration. Again, being persistent tells and shows parents and students that you care.

I’m guessing that many of you had similar situations, where you heard about Covid’s impact on students and their families during the Spring. It’s heartbreaking to listen to the stories that have affected so many families. Our ability to empathize can be the difference between students making it through these challenges and just giving up. When we show empathy towards our students, they will also be able to understand the difficulties we are having. It may not seem possible for younger people to show those types of emotions, but in different times, it’s incredible the kindness that you’ll see even in the most budding minds.

Lastly, and most important of all, is just being a caring person. Along with the other three areas, showing a caring attitude will enable and maybe even give hope to those who need it most. Remember, as we help our students and parents, they will reciprocate in kind. Thanks for all you do each day for students and their families. Have a wonderful day!

Exercise: Learning to love it Part one

Key Tips That We All Can Use

Truth be told, I’ve been exercising seriously since the age of 13, or 42 years! During that time, I’ve probably never taken off for more than a month or two. That’s not meant to brag, but to make an essential point. It’s because exercise is something that I’ve learned to love! Whether running, biking, racquetball, lifting weights, or playing sports, I’ve experimented with many forms of movement. Some have stuck, like, strength training, biking, and running. Others have gone by the wayside.  

Based on my practice training students and adults, it’s my experience that many people just getting started with exercise, and even those more experienced individuals need help developing a passion of exercise. This isn’t any major revelation since many of you know this already. My hope is that the five brief tips below can help you find your fitness mojo! More will follow in another post.

  1. Many people start doing too much exercise, too quickly. They go from never working out, to training seven days a week. Then the dreaded soreness hits you like a ton of bricks! This may be common sense to some, but it really is critical to understanding exercise. Your body must have time to adjust when you begin any exercise routine. This is especially the case when you’ve done nothing for in the past. Yes, much of this depends on the intensity, the training, your body, and a variety of other factors. But please, avoid starting out too quickly.
  2. Just the opposite of the above tip; please try to exercise more than one day per week. You can read thousands of journals, articles, and books. You can watch hundreds of videos. The responses to how many days a week will vary so much that it’s confusing to know the answer. My response to how many days isn’t about an exact number, because there can’t be one. Anyone who gives you an exact number, find another person to take advice from. As a general guide, three to four days is a high starting point. This allows for time off but still gets you in the routine of training. Sure, you can do more if you’re loving it. But again, follow rule one!
  3. Exercise should not be just about one body part! It’s always driven me crazy when somebody says, “I’m training biceps today!” Really, your biceps are a tiny muscle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with training biceps, as long as there are other muscles involved. Yes, sometimes bodybuilders will say, “I do biceps, back, and shoulders today!” That’s different. I’m speaking in general terms. Focus on whole-body strength and conditioning exercises, sports, hobbies and anything that works a large part of your frame. I won’t cover the actual movements yet, that’s for another post.
  4. Find a partner, or even better, a group to exercise with. Exercise can be challenging when you get started or even when you get hooked. Peloton as a great example of the benefits of social interaction. Just one caveat. Make sure your goals are your goals, and not somebody else’s. All of us are unique. It’s fine to follow the lead of those you admire. But again, know your body! Which is number five!
  5. Know your body! I’ve learned through many years, how my body adapts to all kinds of exercise. This is paramount for a successful lifetime of wellness. For example, if you start running and have pain all the time; either stop running, see a professional running coach, or find something else. Please keep in mind how every type of movement makes your body feel. If you finish a workout and hated it, are constantly really sore, you might want to consider another option. Finding something you love is so important.
  6. Lastly, please do the following: Ask for help, listen to experts, be open to change, have fun, and enjoy making exericse part of your life!

Thanks so much for reading this post! I genuinely hope it’s been beneficial. Exercise is universally proven to improve mood, confidence, and how we feel. Give it a try!  

One thing seems perfectly clear!

Hope you like the quick summary!

For the vast majority of us, the school year has ended for 2019/2020.  While it’s impossible to know what experience each individual has had, I feel comfortable saying, “this year has been more stressful, anxiety-filled, and challenging than most of us can ever remember.”  For me, this is year 30 in the field of education! I can’t recall a time frame when so many questions have remained unanswered.  Three consistent ones that I’ve thought about and heard from others are:

  1. When is it appropriate for children to go back to school?  
  2. What kind of grading policies work best?  
  3. How can we make learning equitable for all kids? 

Even with all of those challenges, we often miss that one thing that seems perfectly clear: The Power and Necessity of Building Relationships with Students!

When I was in high school, and even in college, there were only a few meaningful connections that I made with teachers.  Luckily though, those relationships shaped my view of why creating lasting memories for students is so important.  I recall, Mrs. Gold, my college Calculus professor, making learning interesting, fun, and I dare say, inspiring. But even more importantly, she truly loved her job!  No matter what obstacles she faced, (I was part of many of them), she always smiled, showed patience, and was able to laugh when so many other teachers would have never understood the fact that we were still adolescents.  Watching her and other outstanding educators teach, helped me to see the value in building those connections with students. I’m sure many of you feel the same.  We realize the true benefits of connecting with children and teens.

Of course, the drumbeat of how do you measure those positive relationships?  How can you apply data to something as simple as a greeting in the morning? What measuring stick do we use for watching our students laugh and smile is always present. Even though it may be hard to quantify in data terms, it doesn’t have to be!  You see, all the studies that are being done about kids being away from school are showing the deep value of relationships with their teachers.  Here is a great example!

Being with our students, whether virtually or in-person helps to create those lasting memories that are often spoken about when seniors graduate.   Even with that knowledge, we must build social, emotional, and physical skills that we know are imperative for EVERY student.  Covid-19 has helped us realize, and not take for granted the true value of being connected with our students.  No matter what situation we get sent our way when school starts, we need to think about ways we can help our students to love the school experience. While there are many factors that can contribute to this, here are three things that can ensure we all flourish.

First, we have to make those connections no matter what the situation.  Sure it will be harder to make this happen if we are in a virtual setting.  But it isn’t impossible.  Using technology has allowed us to see and hear students and their families over the internet.  While this may not be an option for every school, even sending letters home with a personal message will make a huge difference.  For educators who can reach out personally, those initial chats will do wonders that go far beyond the short period of time spent.  Again, data has shown how much learning and even wellness is affected by the loss of the teacher and student relationship.

Maybe we are lucky enough to go back to some kind of traditional setting.  If that’s the case, the relationships we form will be a cornerstone to how the year plays out, even if we happen to have a second wave where students are forced to go home.  Once we start to get students comfortable in class, the second step is setting those really high expectations around effort, respect, trust, managing time, and other “soft skills”(never understood that term!) that are tremendously important for the building of a successful school year.  Again, this isn’t unique teaching.  You probably do this already!

As of this writing, many states are seeing another increase in outbreaks of Covid-19. That can’t make any of us feel confident about what the immediate future might hold. This is why the third step will be so critical for students, their families, and any person in an educational setting. It’s simply being consistent, with positive messages of praise, positivity, and sharing a passion for teaching. I’m going to quickly go back to Mrs. Gold’s example. While she was very knowledgeable about her content area, organized, and detailed oriented, what made me and others in her class want to learn was her constant praise when work was done well. She maintained an aura of positivity that made us want to be better!. Finally, and what I consider most important of all, was her passion for teaching never wavered.  Each one of us knew she wanted to be the best educator.  All of us are capable of those same qualities.  Our students and their families are counting on us to bring that positivity, passion, praise, excitement, and enthusiasm to school.  I believe we can do it together!

Craig Shapiro

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