5 Way to Reduce your Mental Load in the Classroom

I am a HUGE proponent of working smarter not harder. My anxiety greatly affects my productivity so I have to make sure that I have procedures in place that are highly efficient or I will put even the most simple tasks off.  This is largely because my brain is full of things to do, and I get overwhelmed with where to start. This is called mental load; the number of tasks your brain is juggling at the same time. As teachers, we have one of the most decision heavy jobs on the planet and our to-do lists change minute to minute.  Our job might not be as physically exhausting as others, but it is definitely mentally exhausting. Because part of working smarter means not reinventing the wheel, I’m going to share my greatest discoveries for how to work more efficiently and reduce my mental load 

Google Forms: Hands down, my favourite tool for testing. If you do not use this for formative or summative assessments, you are missing out on the easiest way to get immediate feedback on students. I can share a link to my online quiz and receive student scores as well as information on each question as soon as the student clicks submit. While this isn’t a good tool for much more than multiple choice, matching or short answer questions, it is a great way for me to check in with my kids and be able to solve any comprehension problems the same day. I recently gave a PD session on this very topic and have shared our presentation with you below (you’re welcome lol).

Unit Plans:  So my first year of teaching, most teachers told me they never created unit plans after university. It’s a lot of work and they felt they were pointless. Thinking that I was taking notes from pros I followed in their footsteps and planned my lessons individually without too much thought on progression what would happen the following week, much less the following months. Boy was this the worst idea.  I missed outcomes and greatly overestimated how much time I had. When it came to the end of the year, I was struggling to get everything covered. It was a mess that just made me even more stressed. That summer, I decided I needed a plan, and I reworked my lessons so that I was set up for my first unit.  I didn’t finish every unit that year, but I continue to build comprehensive unit plans that match each of the units I have to cover. These plans include resources for each less, links to Google Docs or Google Slides I would refer to, even examples I would show my students. It has reduced my prep time drastically, and even when I have no idea what’s going on, I have my unit plan to set me on track.  

Lists: You’re probably rolling your eyes at this one. You have lists. 12 of them in fact. All on different sticky notes attached to your planner, your computer screen, on your phone, in that notebook you take to meetings but don’t look at until you’re in another meeting.  Do you have a list of your lists? I have two ways that I keep my lists up-to-date and easy to find.

  1. Google Keep: If you are a Google school this is a MUST! I love that I can link multiple accounts to a list. That I can colour code them. But most importantly, I can access them from anywhere. On my desktop at work or at home or on my phone. This keeps all my important todos in the same centralized location, meaning when it’s time to get working, I know exactly where to start.
  2. Daily List: I found a perfect tool while I was taking the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek (I highly recommend this course if you are working more than 8 hours a day). I printed off this sheet and put it in a page protector. I use a wet-erase marker to update it, then wipe it clean at the end of the week and start over! This list helps me know exactly what is coming up for me during the week. I have added this to my planner as I don’t have enough space to write down everything I need for each day. This list has helped me stay on top of phone calls, parent meetings, late assignments, and grading. I don’t know how I managed to keep my head on before I found it, but this one is definitely a lifesaver!

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Stay organized: Mess creates stress. You may know where every piece of paper is on your cluttered desk, but your brain can’t stop focusing on all the papers around you while you’re trying to get through your newly organized todo list. UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) discovered a link between high cortisol levels and the number of things in a home. Try and end your day by organizing papers and to-do lists so that you don’t feel overwhelmed when you come in the next morning.  Not only will this help you stay focused during the day, but it will also demonstrate good organization to your students and help reduce their stress in the classroom as well. I revamped my entire filing system over the summer, and my students immediately noticed how much more organized I was. I no longer worry about misplacing papers and I find myself being able to get focused faster, instead of sitting down and wasting 1 minute looking for the tests I need to grade.

Ask for help: If you aren’t collaborating with your fellow teachers, you’re working way harder than you have to. I’m only in my 4th year of teaching, and I would be lost without the resources my colleagues have shared with me. It is so much easier to adapt a lesson to your style than start from scratch. And sometimes another opinion is the difference between a good lesson and a GREAT one.  There is nothing wrong with checking out Teacher’s Pay Teachers for subject related sub plans, just make sure when using resources from people outside your province or state, that the information taught aligns with your curriculum.  

Short Hiatus

Last December I came up with a new business idea.  I decided to start a subscription box for Teachers to help them feel valued and add a little pizzazz to an often thankless job.

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We’re getting ready to go live, but I still have a bunch of stuff to get together behind the scenes so I won’t be posting on here until March.  In the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram @mmekristenfrost or follow our new business @pommebox.  I’m so excited to share this new project with you all!  Check back in March for some sneak peaks!!!!

 

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The Importance of a Mental Health Day

Sorry, this is a long one! If you’re a skimmer, you’ll want to check out the last paragraph for some resources and links that might be helpful if you need to take a Mental Health Day. 

Lack of sleep, for me personally, is the #1 reason my anxiety gets the better of me and this week was rough. I haven’t really gotten a good night’s sleep in a month. Lots of nights on the couch (I hate disrupting my partner’s sleep) just trying to get a few hours of quiet so I can survive the day. If I don’t get enough sleep, I am no longer in full control of my emotions. Now imagine trying to teach 100 different teenagers when your nerves are literally on the fritz. It’s nearly impossible. These are the times when I need to take a day for myself. A mental health day.

This week I ended up taking 2 days off. Tuesday, I slept close to 16 hours consecutively.  I woke up at 4pm startled by my husband getting home from work and disoriented as to how the whole day had gone by and I hadn’t even gotten up to go to the bathroom. When people say that anxiety is exhausting, they mean it.  

If you’re a teacher and you’re reading this, you’re probably shocked that another educator would take a day off when they weren’t suffering an actual plague, let alone 2 days in a row. Missing work is not highly regarded in our field.  We are expected to brave blizzards, hurricanes, flu season, even lice outbreaks. I have heard teachers brag about being able to count their sick days over the course of their career on one hand. In addition to the judgment about taking sick days, missing a day from work means sub plans.  Being sick can sometimes lead to more work than just toughing out the day. And that’s what so many of us do. We just tough it out.

But when someone suffers from a mental illness, they are toughing out EVERY day. Some days are better than others, but most days require extra focus to keep one step ahead of our symptoms.  When I have not had sleep, this focus is non-existent. I am no longer able to remember to take a deep breath before reacting to a disruptive class.  I am unable to let go of the awkward conversation I had 3 days ago that keeps replaying in my mind.  I can’t tune out the hum of the fluorescent lights in my classroom. It’s all there, 10 times louder than the week before when everything seemed under control. After a month of those days, it becomes impossible. Those are the times I NEED a day off.

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But you don’t need to have a mental health disorder to need a mental health day. Teachers are very susceptible to mental overload. They are expected to make more than a thousand micro decisions daily, while keeping 10 steps ahead of their students, juggling parent emails and phone calls and taking care of administrative tasks. This infographic (click for source) really sums up how crazy that sounds. No wonder teacher burnout exists. The workday doesn’t end with the bell. And the week doesn’t always end on Friday. 

As a profession, we need to start valuing the importance of taking care of ourselves.  Sick days, mental health days, personal days, exist so that we are able to be our best in the classroom. Most teachers pray that their students will not come to school when they are sick, so why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be at work when we are ill?

My biggest piece of advice for all teachers is to create emergency sub plans. I leave these in my sub binder and with our secretaries. If you don’t have a sub binder already, that will help you out a lot too. There are some great ideas on Pinterest! Mine always has up-to-date class lists, seating charts as well as everyday rules of my classroom and a copy of my schedule. As a Science teacher, my emergency sub plans usually consist of analyzing a scientific news article or watching a Bill Nye relating to the unit we are working on. Having these preplanned ensures that they days that I am unable to get out of bed only require me to request a sub as opposed to mindlessly creating a sub-plan at 4 in the morning. I really love Monde en Marche or What in the World?. While you do need to pay for a subscription, we share these with FLA, LA, Social Studies and Science teachers, so I definitely feel they are worth the money. Classroom Ready is another option, but I find the questions aren’t as in depth so I have to assign 2 articles. I also LOVE Star Materials. They have FREE worksheets that follow most of the Bill Nye videos, meaning students are actually paying attention and reviewing material we have discussed in class.

Take time for yourself. You will really be thankful you did in the long run. And your students will be so much more receptive to a you that is calm and focused. WIN WIN!

How Social Media Helped Me Through My Anxiety and Depression

This week I noticed a lot of Instagrammers talking about the pros and cons of social media and I thought I would take the time to discuss some of the impacts this has had on my mental health and how social media has supported me through some rough times.

**Before I get started, I would like to point out, that these are my experiences. I am in no way a mental health professional. I am simply sharing tools and practices that have benefited me. I would also LOVE if you would share things that work for you in the comments below. **

I have always loved interacting with people over the internet.  My family moved the summer before grade 9 and the transition wasn’t very easy for me.  I was a super awkward but opinionated teen and I sucked at social interaction.  Internet chatting platforms allowed me to reflect on my conversations and helped me feel more confident. If people liked me on the internet, that meant that I wasn’t totally unlikeable in real life. Now I’d like to point out, that I did not know I had pretty serious anxiety until my 20s. But reflecting back, I displayed signs of anxiety well into my childhood.

Throughout my adulthood, I have noticed that whenever I’m going through a tough time, I turn to the internet. I find it to be a safe space to learn and express myself.  After a rough breakup in 2008, I fell in love with Twitter. I loved the amount of information at my fingertips. I joined a book club, I made some amazing friends and I even reconnected with my now husband. Social media helped me recover from a very long and deep depression. Again, I was still undiagnosed at this point.

During that time, I also discovered blogs. Holy cow did I LOVE blogs. I would read blogs for hours. I fell in love with a group of women who had created an amazing DIY/Styling community and I could not get enough. Then one of them posted an article about finding out about her anxiety (you can read it here – kylaroma.com) and something clicked. Everything she was talking about was a mirror image of my life.  It seemed so obvious. HOW HAD I NOT NOTICED THIS BEFORE? I always thought I was just extremely sensitive and genuinely a bit crazy. And then I just started researching.

2009 marked the year that my doctor and I came to the agreement that I had an anxiety disorder (I have never had an official diagnosis as the wait times in Alberta for Psychiatrists is ridiculous, and I hate the idea of using time that someone else might need) and I started meds.  It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but I stopped having crazy lows and my phobias pretty much disappeared overnight. If it wasn’t for that one blog post, I don’t know how long I would have gone untreated.

In 2010, Bell started a campaign called Let’s Talk Day, a social media day to raise awareness for mental health. One of my friends started sharing her mental health journey on facebook and I felt a little more inspired to keep pushing forward. Shortly after this, I started sharing a few insights into my struggles with anxiety and I was surprised and how supportive everyone was.  I grew up feeling weird and different and through social media, I was once again starting to feel connected and understood. In fact, Let’s Talk Day is Wednesday, January 31st.  I encourage you to follow #BellLetsTalk on social media and help spread awareness and raise money for mental health.

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Recently, I have found great comfort on Instagram.  I joined @makedaisychains through a month of #boringselfcare to highlight how sometimes the small things are worth celebrating when you’re struggling with anxiety or depression.  Sharing those simple drawings connected me to many friends that I discovered were also dealing with their mental health. I have also found positive teachers to inspire me in the classroom.  One of my biggest challenges to date is not feeling defeated by this profession. The idea of being a teacher and being miserable sounds like a great way to uninspire my students. I discovered the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek (which I will talk more about in a future post) that helped me get organized and reduce my workload.  

All of these outlets, communities, and tools would not have been available to me without social media.  I don’t know if I would be ok today if it wasn’t available.  Now it hasn’t all be perfect, I went through I terrible complain about everything phase on Facebook, as well as an unfriend everyone who doesn’t support my brand of politics spree. Even this week I got blocked and am STILL dwelling on it. But reaching out has really helped me feel better.   I have had to learn to unfollow things that get me riled up and curate my feed to feel inspired and motivated. I have had to take hiatuses and even apologize for getting out of control. But overall, social media has really helped me come to terms with my anxiety and depression and I’m really glad to say that today, I am in a good place.

New direction – Mental Health and Teachers

Over the holidays I did a lot of reflecting on what my goal was for this blog. Initially, I planned on sharing resources and lesson ideas, but I’m not really sure that’s where my expertise lies.  I also found that editing resources to share them with the public started to make me very stressed out so I started avoiding creating new resources altogether. This made me reflect on other things that cause me stress relating to teaching and I had a bit of an AHA moment! If there is something I know, it’s teacher stress.

I suffer from anxiety and depression and 2016 ended up being one of the worst bouts of depression and crippling anxiety I have experienced to date.  I was ready to quit teaching and become a hermit for the rest of eternity. I couldn’t see past my state of despair. I felt unqualified to teach, I was terrified that I would get fired every time something went wrong in my classroom. And to be honest, I felt like I deserved to get fired. I was barely getting to work on time, my marking pile kept getting bigger and I wasn’t nearly as prepared for my lessons as I needed to be. I was a mess and it wasn’t getting better.

It was during this time, that I really started evaluating my mental health toolkit. The tools I had weren’t working and I needed some new ones, STAT! I scoured the corners of the internet, read books and spoke to professionals until I managed to find tools that actually made a difference in the day to day. Slowly but surely I felt the fog start to lift and things started to seem less daunting.

Finding tools for myself and really starting to discuss my mental health with others was very cathartic. So I’ve decided that this is going to be the new focus of my blog. I’m going to share all of the tools I have picked up over the years so you can start building up your toolkit as well. Not all of the tools I share will work for you, but hopefully, you’ll be able to find something to help reduce the incredible stress that comes with teaching.  I’ve also started discussing these topics with my students and have tons of resources to share with you!  

Stay tuned for a series on How to build your mental health toolkit!

Cheers,

Kristen

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR aka Sorry I Suck at Blogging

First of all, I am so sorry that I have already broken the promise I made in my first post. It was a terrible idea to think I was going to be successful at the beginning of a school year, 5 months before I was getting married. BAD KRISTEN! BUT I’m back and I have some AMAZING things to share with you!

Excuse #1: I got married. I’ll share more pictures once I get them, but here’s a little sneak peek:

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HOLY COW. Getting married in Vegas made for the most hilariously, perfect wedding imaginable, but I will share that in its own post. The biggest take away: if you are getting married, do what YOU want. Your day will be so much better if you make sure your happiness trumps everyone else!

EXCUSE #2: I STARTED A NEW BUSINESS!!!!! I thought that TPT and blogging would fill the creativity void that I was feeling, but while I was getting ready for the wedding, I realized I love curating things ie my welcome bags for the wedding. Now somehow, I never took pictures of them, but they were pretty amazing and SO fun to put together. Suddenly a bell went off and ‘Subscription Box’ started screaming my name. And Pomme Box was born!

I’ve set up social media on FB and Insta, and you should check them out to keep up to date with our launch that is coming VERY VERY SOON! I don’t want to give away too much yet, but this box is designed for teachers filled with supplies, accessories and resources. Super excited for this, so bear with me as I will be putting a lot of my focus on the launch and will still be a little distant.

So that’s why I suck at blogging. I am really working towards making this a habit, so I hope you’ll forgive me.  Coming soon: post on mental health and teaching and a tour around my classroom!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!

Kristen

 

BACK TO SCHOOL PT. 1

Back to school is upon us here in Alberta.  I have already paid a visit to my classroom this summer, despite our official work days starting at the end of the week.  I have a lot to do before the kids come on the 5th, so I thought I would give you a sneak peek of some of the things I’m working on!

I just purchased a Cricut earlier this year to help with wedding decor and decided to give vinyl a try in my classroom. Now I have never been the type of person to ease into a new skill. I like to jump in with both feet.  So this could end in disaster.  Thankfully, YouTube has provided me with many gurus, so I think I will be okay.

Since I teach Science, I decided to spell my name using the Periodic Table. These were SO easy to create!  All I had to do was make a square, cut a smaller square from it, and then add the text.  There is a website that will convert any word you want into elements from the Periodic Table. Check out Periodic Table Writer to get your own name! I chose to do each a different colour because my classroom colour scheme is rainbows.

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I also wanted to add some flair to my whiteboards, so I thought I would start with labels for each homework section (our classes are named by grade and then A-F). Nothing fancy, but much better than worrying about them getting erased all the time.  And I thought I would add announcements because I have an extra box…I have a feeling it is going to be MUCH too big….

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So that’s it for today, but you should follow me on Instagram @mmekristenfrost to see how everything turns out!  I’ll be back in a couple days with pictures of my bulletin boards!