Managing Overwhelming Expectations

Editors Features September / Out of The Box September / September 17, 2018

Social-Emotional Support (SES)

Teachers need social-emotional support too. FLGI surveys suggest that one of the biggest barriers to teachers migrating from traditional passive instruction to active learning strategies may tie to the need for social-emotional support. Many teachers are simply overwhelmed and teaching on an empty emotional tank. Their deepest social and emotional needs are unmet.

This section focuses on providing the social-emotional support we all need before we even can consider Flipped Learning. This project was developed to be the missing link in the unsuccessful efforts to move more teachers from passive to active learning.

In this section of the magazine, you can either read the transcripts or listen to the episodes of a podcast called Teachers’ Aid, with Jon Harper and Mandy Froehlich. Every topic takes on one of the biggest social-emotional challenges teachers face in search of real answers. We affectionately call this project the FLGI pyramid scheme: Maslow’s pyramid first, Bloom’s pyramid second. Enjoy the transcript below or listen to the entire show at the bottom of the transcript.

Teachers’ Aid

Jon Harper: It’s easy to tell people that they’re doing enough and not to feel guilty. But as a teacher, when you feel as if the person down the hall is doing more or they’re better than you are, how can you let that go?

Dan Tricarico: Well, it’s hard, and you know, Jon, teachers are givers, and they have these huge hearts, and when they feel like they’ve let somebody down, including themselves, they feel guilty, they feel bad. And it’s happened to me. I always tell my daughters, “I’m sorry I don’t have more patience with you; I get paid to have patience with other people’s children.” And we laugh, but I still feel bad. I get home, and I’m kind of spent and tired as we all are, and it takes an intentional reminder to be present with my own kids and not feel guilty.

The other thing I think about is that we’re really not in competition with the teacher down the hall. And I know it gets easy to compare, “Oh, they make better bulletin boards than I do,” or “Oh, they got Teacher of the Year and I didn’t,” or whatever it is, but I like to look at it as I’m not in competition with them, but I’m only in competition with the teacher I was yesterday. All I have to do is be better than I was in the last period, earlier in the day, yesterday, and just try to improve myself. And what other people are doing is really none of my business.

I’m only in competition with the teacher I was yesterday. All I have to do is be better than I was in the last period…


Dan Tricarico: I think the other thing that comes to mind is the idea of permission. I think we need to give ourselves permission not to feel guilt. Sometimes we feel like we’ve disappointed somebody — “ughh” — we feel guilty. But if we say, “Okay, I did my best, I’m human,” give ourselves a little grace and forgiveness, and give ourselves permission to move on, and I think that really would help too.

Mandy Froehlich: So I am, like so many other people working 60 hours a week, and doing everything I can, and trying to do what I can professionally plus personally, and all of those things put together, and I still feel inadequate all the time. How do I deal with that?

Dan Tricarico: Well, you know, any teacher will tell you — and I know you all know this too — that teaching can be a 24-7 job if we let it, and most of us consider teaching a calling and not just a job, so we’re always on.  But it’s really important to kind of learn to keep those boundaries just to keep our sanity.

I think one really important thing that I’ve learned, and it’s going to sound like crazy talk to teachers, is the idea of single-tasking. You know, we all like to think we’re super smart, and we’re multi-taskers, and we can do all these things at once, and sometimes we have to. But what I’ve learned is if you stop and just concentrate on one thing and get it done, you feel this great sense of accomplishment, and then you can move on to the next thing and get it done, and then you get to look back on all these things that you’ve done well.  You feel like you’ve accomplished things, and you don’t feel like you’re not getting it all done, and maybe you can work a little bit less.

The other part of that is something that’s called context switching. And when you’re working on a project or something, and you switch off to look at Facebook or Twitter or email or talk to the kids or pet the dog, science says that it takes many, many minutes — I think last I heard, it was about 20 minutes — to get back into the groove of the project you were working on originally. But if you had just kind of blocked off that time and tackled it and gotten it done, you would have accomplished that thing, and then you actually get more done.

Jon Harper: How do we convince teachers to do that? They have so much on their plate. How do you stay with this one thing? How do you have boundaries? When I’m working on the one thing, I’m thinking about the five other things that I need to do. How do I do that?

Dan Tricarico: Of course you are, and that’s normal, and I think recognizing that it’s normal to feel that way is a big step. And allowing yourself to feel that way. In my workshops, I talk about, “just one thing.” You look at your kitchen calendar and you take off just one thing. And when you take that one thing off the calendar, you’ve created a little bubble, a little window of space, and once you do that enough, you learn how great that feels, and you can fill that space with something you love to do or something that fulfills you. Or my favorite part is, you can fill it with nothing at all. The more you do that the more you feel like the stress and the guilt release because you can breathe and you have a little space and you feel better about it.

Jon Harper: I mean, how do you set them? I mean, I know I’m harping on this one issue, but I think about this a lot because I try to think — I’ve seen different organizers, I’ve seen Michael Hyatt’s ” Three Big Things” — you always hear about, “Focus on your big rocks”. How does Dan set his big rocks, focus on one or two or three things, and the other things just don’t get done?

Dan Tricarico: I’ve started working with a new system, and it sounds very much like what you’re talking about. I have something called a Bullet Journal, and you know, people can Google it, I won’t take up time explaining it. But I do just what you said. I call them MITs — most important tasks. And I got that from somewhere, I don’t remember where, but I’ll write down my whole to-do list in the journal, but then I’ll write MITs, and I’ll pick three. And those are the big things; those are the big rocks I have to get done. Anything other than that is gravy. And then if I get to more of them, awesome. And then I migrate those to the next day, and then from that list, then other things will pop up, but then I pick the three MITs again. Sometimes it’s four; sometimes it’s five. And sometimes I don’t get to all of them. But, you know, if you pick those three most important tasks, that’s a good start I think.

Jon Harper: Okay. I’ve tried to do that recently, and it does work. It’s hard at first, but it does work.

Mandy Froehlich: Well, I think the most important thing to understand about all this, is that it all takes practice. You have to do it. You have to do it repeatedly; you need the right mindset to be in in order to follow through with some of these things. But I think the more that you practice it, the easier it would become.

Dan Tricarico: Yes, and you’re reminding me, Mandy, I was terrible at math but I created my own equation, and I’m gonna share it with you guys for the first time pretty much anywhere. And it’s TS + T = NH. And that’s Tiny Shifts + Time = New Habits.

So in other words, you don’t have to solve world hunger, you just start with feeding one person, right? So Tiny Shifts, plus Time — which means, be consistent and follow through — over time, equals new habits. And that’s just what Mandy was talking about. It is hard, and it does take practice, but if you make those small steps, and you do it over time, eventually you internalize these habits. And then it’s a new part of your life.

Jon Harper: Is it ever okay for me to say, ‘you know what, screw it, I’m not good enough to do all that is expected of me’?

Dan Tricarico: The short answer is no, it’s not okay, because it’s not true. I think you are good enough. It reminds me of a story about our yearbook advisor. She sent out a notice to all the teachers and said, hey, we’re gonna put this in the yearbook, and we want you to finish this sentence: If my students could know anything about what I taught them this year, it would be ____, or if they could take anything away, it would be ____.  And I put, “If they could take away anything that I taught them this year, it would be that they’re okay the way they are.” But I also want teachers to know that. You’re okay the way you are. Most people are doing the best they can at any given moment, and you just need to kind of accept that in yourself, and know that you’re doing the best you can and that not everything’s going to get done. It’s an imperfect world, and you don’t have to do everything.

Mandy Froehlich: So we were just talking about balance, and that it’s easy to say, but something that we have to practice. But it feels like it’s impossible. I have four kids, and I always feel like I’m letting them down, or I’m only doing half of what they need, and I’m interrupting what they need in order to work on something professionally or vice versa, and if I try to excel at either of those, it’s like I can’t do all of it at once. And I think that a lot of people feel that way. What advice would you have?

Dan Tricarico: I think everybody struggles with that. We live in an incredibly fast-paced world, and all of this technology is wonderful, but it really has removed the ability to slow down and to stop, which is one of the downsides to it. I don’t remember where I heard this concept, but I used to talk about work-life balance, and then I realized that’s not really realistic. You’re not gonna have fifty percent work and fifty percent of fun and friends and family and all of that. And this person was talking about the idea of harmony. And they talked about how, if you’re making decisions that are in alignment with your value system and your belief systems and where you want to go and who you are and who you know yourself to be, kind of that self-awareness piece, that kind of no matter how stressful it gets, no matter how much the stress and anxiety and tension rises, you’re gonna be feeling more of a sense of harmony because you know you’re moving in the right direction.

That realization has really helped me kind of calm down a little bit about the whole work-life balance thing. Because even if things are crazy, if I know I’m making decisions that are based on where I wanna go and are in alignment with who I am, I feel better, because the guilt, resentment, and stress come from doing things that we just don’t want to do. You know, we begrudge the committee we were on because we don’t have a passion for it or it’s not who we are. And that disconnect and discrepancy is where the stress rises.

Guilt, resentment, and stress come from doing things that we just don’t want to do.


Jon Harper: One of my major sources of guilt is inactivity. I’m a master procrastinator, and in all honesty, it causes me a lot of guilt. Because what I do is, I freeze, and I don’t do something, and it piles up, and then I feel more guilty. And then I don’t do it, and then I feel guilty. And then when I finally end up doing what I knew I should have done, I feel so much better. It’s like this adrenaline rush. So how do we convince ourselves that small steps forward are indeed, steps forward?

Dan Tricarico: Well, first of all, I want to point out that you’re absolutely right. When we feel guilt, it can be very paralyzing, and we freeze, and we don’t act. And part of that also comes in from that idea of the perfectionism that teachers face. And we don’t want to feel more guilt, so we don’t move, and anything that might be disappointing we don’t want to do. That’s normal. Business people say, “Done is better than perfect.” So if we can give ourselves the freedom and the liberation to just take a step forward, and get a little piece done, and chunk it. We tell our students this all the time, “Don’t do the whole paper the night before,”  but backwards plan. Chunk it down. Make the chunks manageable and at least do one step. And if you do one step, it’s easier to take the next step, and you can kind of level up from there. But the idea is to break out of that inertia, break out of that paralysis with those tiny shifts and those tiny steps.

Jon Harper: Dan, you gave us a lot to think about today, and we talked about a lot. I think if someone can just take away one or two things from today’s episode, they’re going to feel a lot better.



Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.

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1 Comment

on October 12, 2018

This is exactly what I needed to read today…
Before clicking on this article, I was venting to my significant other (who is a para) about all the stresses I am faced with as a teach, and how I essentially bite off more than I can chew my the very nature of my profession. I also mentioned that I might have to wake up early tomorrow and go to school far before my shift technically begins to get work done. Knowing how hard I have been working this week already, she responded in a tone that can only be described as surprised frustration. Seemingly frustrated for me, she empathized, and inquired about specifics. I went on to list the many things I need to get done in the morning, and it just reminded me of the general to-do list I already have on my iPhone “notes” application, which seems to be forever growing. I completely relate to the sentiment that procrastination feels inevitable when being overworked as a teacher. I tend to freeze up when I have too much to do, never knowing where to start. The strategies mentioned in this article are greatly appreciated though. Subconsciously, I aim to get one thing at a time done, but I end up getting distracted and I often switch gears abruptly. Sometimes I have 5 (or so) obligations on my list partially complete rather than completing one thing at a time, and it is frustrating. This text provided positive insight however, reminding me of how I can go about playing catch up when I feel overwhelmed, and how I can truly focus on being the best teacher I can be.

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