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At the beginning of April, I read a wonderful blog post by Doug Peterson, where he shared ten things that he learned as a result of COVID-19. Doug’s post inspired me to write one of my own. As our Coronavirus reality continues to exist, and as I seem to spend even more time exploring this reality through a Self-Reg lens, I decided to write another blog post about my learning. This one though is focused on the 10 Self-Reg Things that I’ve learned as a result of this pandemic.

1. Exercise really is a stress reliever for me. I used to bike about half-an-hour a day, and largely because I knew that this exercise was good for me. I didn’t love it. I didn’t look forward to it. But I did it! Now though, I find myself seeking out the opportunity to get on the stationary bike. I’ve even started getting up earlier, so that I can get some exercise in before our morning meeting time. It calms me. It grounds me. And it’s what I really need. Now the struggle for 30 minutes of biking has morphed into an ease of 80 minutes biking. Sometimes even more … I never would have looked at exercise as being a good Self-Reg strategy for me, but in our current world, it’s an option that I rely on a lot.

2. Breaks are necessary. At school, I always seem to be on the go. I often find myself staying in the classroom over the nutrition breaks — for at least some of the time — and while I might be doing some planning and/or organizing materials, I’m still happy to be there for kids. If I needed a break, I took one, but I didn’t always find that they were necessary. Now I do. I have to step away from the computer screen. I need to get up and stretch. I even need a few minutes not looking at emails, replying to messages, and posting work, so that when I come back to all of this, I do so with fresh eyes and a free brain. Breaks aren’t things that I do intermittently during the week, but instead, something that I plan, schedule, and guarantee to happen every single day.

3. I need my own fidget toy. I never really thought of this before, but when I was in the classroom, I always had my iPad with me. My time was spent documenting thinking and learning. The photographs, videos, and transcriptions of conversations almost provided their own fidget possibilities. Now, during our online meeting times, I have to sit and listen. This is hard for me. I often feel the need to jump in with something to say, and I have to cognizantly work on my waiting time. I realized that I needed a fidget toy to help with this. The random drawings, assorted clippings, and multiple notes are my ways of fidgeting.

4. You can have too much social media. Now I realize that this was true before, but I often did look to Twitter and Instagram as ways to unwind. I especially liked scrolling through tweets, clicking on articles, and reading different perspectives. Now Twitter often stresses me out. I become overwhelmed with the amount of bad/scary news out there, and the theories around what this will mean for us. Even when I am on Twitter now, I find myself just looking through my mentions and tweets from a few specific people, instead of the tweetstream. This seems to be the best for my mental health!

5. It’s okay to choose “you” first. Before COVID-19, when prioritizing what to do and when to do it, I often looked at the big picture. What impact might this have on kids, on families, on other staff members, and on me? I want to help people out. I want to be there for students. I want to support families. I still do, but this pandemic has shown me that I also matter. Now to some degree, I knew this before, but in the past, if I was having a bad day or a rough week, I would still try to power through. I’ve come to realize though that I need to be at my best to also be my best at supporting others. So if this means that I have to look at some emails later, post learning at another time, or respond to a question at another point, that’s okay. There will still be time to do all of this. Often too, just a little additional breathing time can make all the difference for me.

6. Social stressors still exist online. I have to really work at connecting with others, and while I have a fantastic relationship with my teaching partner, Paula, it’s easy for me to stay in the cocoon of our classroom. It’s safe and predictable there. At first, I figured that an online classroom would make cocooning even easier. But I quickly realized that the need to connect with other educators as well as with families online, is maybe even more essential than ever before. How can we start these conversations? What will I say? How will we problem solve during the process? We’re now reaching out using different platforms, in new ways, and stressors that I mistakenly thought would disappear have actually increased.

7. I have to remember “why” and “why now?” Stuart Shanker‘s two big questions have been ones that I’ve asked myself before, but I’ve definitely started to ask them even more now. There’s a lot of negative information out there: against teachers, against parents, against administrators, and against policy makers. Depending on the topic of discussion, the negative views vary, but they certainly seem to exceed the positive ones. Sometimes I find myself getting angry, sad, and/or frustrated as I read these thoughts, but the why/why now questions calm me. They help me reframe the viewpoints and my response to them.

8. Stress behaviour multiplies online. When we first started to offer an online learning classroom, I thought that behaviour might improve. Most kids are in their own spaces online. They won’t see everything in the classroom and/or hear everything from next door or in the hall. But there are additional stressors at play online. There’s additional noise in most houses, distractions from siblings, and frustration with technology (muting and unmuting can be a challenge), to name just a few. Online, we’re also missing the proximity that comes in the classroom, where eye contact, a gentle touch on the shoulder, or even a hug can calm and refocus kids. Now interactive activities, with carefully planned questions to engage certain students, become even more essential than before.

9. Saying “hello” is enough. We know that relationships are the backbone of Self-Reg, and when this pandemic began, we were in the middle of the school year. Relationships with kids and families were already formed. But now everybody is at home, many people are scared/uncertain about what to expect next, and stress seems to be at an all-time high. Paula and I are now beginning our seventh week of online learning, with daily online meetings, and the structure of our approach has changed a lot in these seven weeks. As we started to work through what worked and what didn’t, we realized something. For some kids, just saying hello is enough. We have students who attend our meetings every day, and never seem to do what we’re doing. That’s okay though. They’re not there for the instruction, and they’re not necessarily there to share. They’re there for the background noise, the connection with their friends and with their teachers, and that little tiny bit of normal that comes with both. So they might work away on their own things, sometimes even for an hour at a time, and just saying “hello” and saying “goodbye” is enough.

10. Routine matters … maybe even more than ever before! We know that kids crave routine, and even as adults, we also do. Now though, I think it’s routine that helps so many of our children and families feel calmer. For the past seven weeks, we’ve offered our online meeting time from 10:00-11:00 every day. Kids can come and go based on whatever works for them. For most of these weeks, we’ve started the class with our Sound Alphabet SongWe didn’t do this to review letters and sounds, although it can be beneficial for both. We did this because it’s part of the classroom routine that they’re used to at school, and we wondered if singing the song together might help reduce stress and start our collective learning in a way that children know. It was interesting, as we got a few children to unmute their microphones and sing along, and almost every day, students that wanted to do so are those that rarely sing in the classroom. Why? We wondered, could those few minutes of normal — of routine, of structure — be what these kids need the most? 

What’s some of your Self-Reg learning over these past seven weeks? As the school year continues online, I wonder what else I’ll learn in the coming month, and how this learning might impact on planning, on communication, and on connections with kids and with families.

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