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By: Lindsay Hayes

As I reflect back on the past couple of months supporting our wonderful students and staff across our school division, I find myself using one particular line over and over, “Its you, you are the strategy.” 

This sentence resonated so much when it was first offered to me. I think it’s because in the world of education we often feel inundated with strategies, tools, resources, and programs. They can feel overwhelming and like another “to-do.” Now please don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for many, many of these wonderful tools, but here’s the thing friends, if the educator in front of the kids that holds the keys to these tools is not ok, or the students that would benefit from the resource is not ok, the “strategies” just DON’T WORK. This is no different across the contexts of our lives.

How many times have you tried a prescribed program designed to help a child read, learn about emotions, social skills, or what have you— only to find yourself super frustrated with the lack of results? How many times in your life have you tried to start a program that you continually find yourself struggling or even failing at? Maybe its a weight loss program, maybe it’s a movement goal, maybe it’s goal about quitting smoking, starting therapy, or getting more organized? Whatever the goal, if the person in front of the goal is carrying too heavy a load, they will more often than not, retreat to old behaviors. Even if they know the particular behavior is not serving them. This is often a time when we revert to thinking that more self-control is needed. Guess what guys??—self-control happens in the blue brain, (the prefrontal cortex, the rational brain– it requires making a choice, it’s a cognitive process) Without the ability to self-regulate, ( keep a sort of balance or communication between the rational and limbic brain) self-control is not accessible. 

The reason that understanding the difference between a healthy stress load and an unhealthy stress load became such a passion of mine is because I lived in a whirlwind-s%$@-storm-stress-cylcone myself. And I have only really been out of it for a few months. Some people might not be proud to put that out to the world–but I am and here is why:

  • Sharing our stories lets people know they are NOT ALONE. (There are so many of you out there that are asking questions, and wanting to feel better. I hear you. And I see you.)
  • There is hope for EVERYONE; all people are capable of self-regulation (getting out of the storms, growing from them and thriving), no matter their age, stage or ability level. EVERY STUDENT, EVERY EDUCATOR. EVERY HUMAN.
  • “The wellbeing of children is inseparable from the wellbeing of the critical adults in their lives.” – Dr. Stuart Shanker ( we do not have the capacity to lead children to calm, if we in fact are not able to feel that calmness in ourselves. *WE ARE THE STRATEGY)

These  ideas have driven my passion for sharing this learning with as many people as I can. As I travel throughout schools in our district I can see the stress loads that people are carrying are increasing each and every year, as are the loads that the children are carrying. There are many different factors contributing to this but for today, I encourage you to look in. If you are in fact the #1 strategy that your students, your kids, your family members, your colleagues or your spouses need, how are you doing? Are you able to bring your best self forward? or is the load you’re carrying so friggin heavy that its getting in the way? We often get so caught up in what the kids are doing–we forget to look at how WE are doing.

This is not about self-criticism or judgement–it’s about having the self-awareness to know when you are not able to be the best you can be, and why.

How do you know if you might be in overload yourself?

  • You are impatient or frustrated more easily than normal?
  • You just want to be home and alone?
  • You have to force yourself to work–and ideas don’t seem to come naturally?
  • You are impulsive: shopping, eating, etc?.
  • You become rigid or polarized in your thinking?
  • You lash out at those around you?
  • You feel tired more days than not?
  • You’re not sleeping well?

These are just a few things to explore within. The absolute key here is not to beat yourself up. It is about helping us to understand that when the brain and body is burning way too much energy on multiplying stressors, the brain gets hijacked by a more primitive area–this is a survival mechanism. Think about it, if the brain didn’t work to protect us, it would let us burn energy until we literally had none left, and died. When we look at it that way–it makes me feel very grateful that our brains work this way–it’s needed for the survival of our species.

For me, I realized I was caught in a stress cycle when I was feeling exhausted all of time, my skin broke out, I had a really hard time sleeping. I cried. A lot. I could practice “self-control” for most of the hours I was at work, and then the lid would come off the pot when I got home. I would either be sleeping, yelling at someone, or eating. These are coping strategies–but strategies that in fact added to the load down the road. 

So what gets you out?

  • Understanding some of the science of the brain, how it functions for us and sometimes malfunctions.
  • Learning how to manage our stress, which in turn has effects on energy and tension.
  • Reflection—every single day, in all of our interactions we are given the opportunity to think a bit deeper about what might really going on.

You are incredible people—working in extraordinary positions in life, who hold powerful influence–how YOU are doing has everything to do with how the people around you are doing.

Calm begets calm, just as chaos begets chaos.

 We are wired for this, and we need YOU. You are the #1 strategy.