How to Be a Flexible and Resilient Teacher During COVID-19

Teaching through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether in-person or online, is sure to require some mindset changes and adaptations. Veteran teacher Lisa shares her thoughts on how to harness the power of resilience and flexibility in your practice this year.

Updated on: September 22, 2020

Resilience and flexibility in teaching during COVID-19

Teachers are one of the most notoriously Type-A personality types of any profession. We are mentally preparing our classrooms for the fall as we close them down each June, often squirreling items away that we can’t wait to showcase next year, adding amazing new products to our wish lists, and making a mental plan of exactly how we’re going to change things up. We actually look forward to going into our building each August to prepare and create a magical new space for our kiddos, and there is really nothing like that final moment of satisfaction when each desk looks exactly the way we want for our kids to walk in on that first day. 

What is particularly difficult this back to school season is that our classrooms cannot look the way we want them to, and realistically, neither can teaching. We cannot let that deter us from continuing to show up for our students and for ourselves, and to do so, we must embody two key characteristics: Flexibility and resilience.

Google offers three definitions of flexibility, all of which are essential for our mental toolbox of strategies we need in order to prevail in teaching and in life given the current climate. These definitions are: “[t]he quality of bending easily without breaking,” “[t]he ability to be easily modified,” and “[w]illingness to change or compromise.” Thankfully, as teachers, we pretty much do each of these definitions on a daily basis as we modify curriculum, change our lessons at the drop of a hat when we realize that the information is not coming across the way we intended, and we certainly know how to bend without breaking! 

Thinking about resilience, the definition of resilience according to the American Psychological Association is: “[t]he process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.” Seems like we’re living right through multiple sources of stress right now, so continue reading to check out some strategies to boost flexibility and resilience as we take on our toughest challenge yet: teaching during a pandemic.

Tip 1: Slow Down

This tip may seem counterintuitive as we are constantly inundated with new technology tools, new protocols, new professional development opportunities, and more, but who can possibly learn hours and hours of new material and actually apply it all effectively without losing their minds? Not me, that’s for sure. I find that when I try to barrel on ahead and try to do everything, I get so overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing! Consider which pieces of the new technology or the hundreds of professional development options are truly going to make a difference in your practice, and work on those. As teachers, we constantly feel like we are not doing enough and that we need to show up in every possible way for our kids, and the reality of showing up for our kids comes from showing up for ourselves! Take a moment to remind yourself that by NOT attending every single opportunity, you will actually be doing yourself and your students a service by being able to fully engage in the opportunities you seek out, and you’ll have more mental capacity to undertake turning those professional development meetings into real plans for your students.

Tip 2: Take Breaks

Similar to the previous tip, set up some personal boundaries to differentiate what is work and what is home, including your physical space as well as your mental space. If your school’s work hours have you with kids from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM, you are not only allowed to take a break at 3, I would encourage you to take a break at 3. I say this as someone who notoriously sits at the computer for at least an additional hour after the work with students is over, so it is really a tip I’m working on myself. Especially if you are working remotely in any capacity, it is so important to force a separation of work and home in order for us to be the most productive and effective teachers we can be! 

Tip 3: Utilize Already-made Resources - Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

I think that there is a combination of pride, grit, perseverance, and excellence that teachers constantly strive to feel and a lot of those feelings come from creating beautiful and innovative new things for our classrooms, such as the virtual Bitmoji classrooms that are popping up, as well as amazing new technology tools to help create interactive spaces with kids through the internet. Sometimes, though, we need to remember that we can (and should) take a step back and utilize materials that somebody else made! I have relied heavily on TeacherVision’s Back to School and At-Home Essentials resources this Fall, which has saved a ton of time and enabled me to focus on more pressing priorities - like learning how to navigate a hybrid model

Tip 4: Call on Your Support System

Make sure that you are not locked away in your classroom or your home for weeks on end! Call your coworkers and laugh about something your kids (personal children or students!) did that day. Video chat with your family that lives in another state and make a point to not discuss school at all. Set up some beach chairs six feet apart in a park with your best friends and know that you’ve got each others’ backs through anything, even if you feel like your head is spinning so fast you’ll never catch up on your work. Your support system can help you handle anything, and you are not alone.

And finally, Tip 5, the most important one of all: Remember that academics come second, and our kids’ and our own mental and emotional health and happiness come first, period.

Lisa Koplik is a fourth-grade teacher at the Greenwood School in Wakefield, Massachusetts. She loves teaching math, reading intense read-aloud books that promote complaints when she has to stop reading, and figuring out educational games to play with her students. Check out her video series on classroom management!

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