It’s the start of cold and flu season in Ontario. I often joked that I was “immune to getting sick,” having spent so many years around kids and germs, but this year, it got me. I’ve been balancing more than usual this year between teaching, my work at The MEHRIT Centre, having a student teacher, and taking a Teacher Leadership Course through our Board. For a few years now, I’ve done a good job at balancing work demands with my personal life, but I’ve definitely felt as though my balance is off right now. Instead of getting my regular 6-7 hours of sleep a night, I’ve been lucky to get 4 hours on at least a couple of nights a week. I think that these longer days were wearing me down, and that’s when this cough and cold hit … and it hit HARD.
I felt the congestion. I went from a few sniffles to regular sneezes, a runny nose that wouldn’t quit, and full sinuses that made me feel as though my head would explode. Couple this with ears that kept popping, a terrible cough, and the start of a fever. I knew that I could no longer ignore that I was sick. On Wednesday night, I sat through a four-hour Leadership Course feeling as though I’d been hit by a truck. I still managed to contribute to the conversations, but when I stood up at the end of the night, one of the teachers sitting across from me said, “Oh my goodness! You look and sound so sick.” I knew that I needed to do what I try hard to avoid: I had to take a sick day. I was really tempted to call in the job for the next day, but I already had a meeting scheduled after school, and with the late hour, I knew that it was unlikely that the job would be picked up. So I decided to go to bed, attempt to sleep through the night, and see how I was feeling in the morning. If I was still sick, I would book a supply for Friday. That’s what I did. I had to first make it through Thursday though, and I did this, thanks to my learning through Foundations 1.
I was part of the first cohort to take Foundations 1 through The MEHRIT Centre. When I initially signed up for the course, I was excited to learn more about Shanker Self-Reg, but I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did, or be challenged to think so differently. When I first read Calm, Alert, and Learning, I think that I hyper-focused on the biological domain, and how changes to classroom design could help reduce stress, but Self-Reg is about a lot more than blank bulletin boards, low-scents, and dim lighting. It was some of this other thinking that I relied on to get through Thursday.
- I remembered about the importance of Soft Eyes. I knew that I wasn’t feeling the greatest, so at times, it was hard to be as patient as I wanted to be. I could tell that I was becoming dysregulated, especially when my teaching partner, Paula, was on her lunch, it was louder in the classroom next door, and everybody seemed to need me at the same time. At one point, I saw a child encourage another student to get up and leave what she was happily doing, to wander around to something else. This first child seemed to be doing a lot of wandering in the classroom, and each interaction with a classmate, led to another disruption. When I saw this child do this again, I didn’t ask myself, “Why this child? Why now?” I just told her to “stop.” I got her to go and play somewhere on her own, and to stop disrupting others. Then I looked at her face, and I saw the formation of tears in her eyes. I felt terrible. I got down low, and apologized for making her leave her friend. I tried to find out more about what she was doing at this creation space, and increase her feeling of success in this new space. Soon, other children came and joined her, and she seemed happy again. I messed up. I’m human. I also know that I was not at my best. Instead of continuing to feel horribly about my decisions, I needed to forgive myself, and remember that we also need to view ourselves with these soft eyes.
- I remembered about my own need to self-regulate. When adults are dysegulated, there is also an impact on kids. I knew that I was already feeling slightly dysregulated due to lack of sleep (coughing kept me up) and an overall feeling of yuckiness. Thursday was my no prep day, so I knew that I would be spending many hours in the classroom. Usually, I only leave for part of each of the nutrition breaks on this day, so that I can see how the learning unfolds over the breaks. I needed some “me time” though, and a chance to find some additional quiet and calm, so I left for most of both of the breaks. The thinking was that I needed to take care of me, so that I could then help take care/support others.
- I remembered about the importance of co-regulation. Sometimes it’s students that co-regulate us, and sometimes it’s adults. I relied on both. When a student from a few years ago, came into the classroom to get a straw and socialize with some peers, I took his offer of a hug to “feel better.” I also saw this little gift that a child from last year made us back in September. As silly as it may seem, I did give myself a little tickle with the feather, and I did feel better. Finally, I took my teaching partner’s generous offers to do a little less and take a break when needed: even moving from dressing the children for home to supervising the SMART Board story in the classroom. Paula knew that I needed some extra moments to sit down and engage in some less-taxing options, and she gave me both. Self-Reg starts with relationships, and it was these connections with students and my teaching partner, that made such a huge difference on Thursday!
- I remembered about stress behaviour versus misbehaviour. Snow suit season in Kindergarten is never easy, but with the cooler temperatures and early snow, this season came a lot earlier for us this year. While some of our students are very independent with snow suits, some are still learning how to get dressed on their own. Initially, we tried to wait as long as possible to start getting ready for home, but this just resulted in a stressful end to the day. On Wednesday, we began the dressing routine earlier, and it worked so much better. When Paula saw how sick I was on Thursday, she suggested the same, so that we could still have a calm end to the day. I started off in the coatroom helping the kids get dressed. I know that they can all do at least most of this dressing ritual on their own, but come the end of the day, many of the children are getting tired. What should be uneventful becomes stressful. I watched those students that seemed overwhelmed with getting dressed, and I helped them into their snow pants and jackets. I tried to remember that this was a case of stress behaviour versus misbehaviour, and sometimes what the children need most of all, is our support.
Come 3:25, I realized that I made it through the day, sick and all! Thursday wasn’t an easy day, but it was made easier thanks to some nuggets of wisdom from Foundations 1. How does Self-Reg help you make it through some more challenging days? How might the Foundations courses help even more with this? Thankfully a day off with chicken soup and extra sleep made a huge difference for me, and I was reminded that sometimes a sick day is not such a bad thing after all!