A Candid Conversation: Teaching with Depression

It's taken a long time for me to get up the courage to write this blog post.  It's not something that comes easily or that I take lightly, but it's something that I think is so important, that we need to start talking about it and erasing the stigma.  That's why I'm sharing this with you.

A Candid Conversation: Teaching with Depression

I have depression, and not just your run of the mill depression but bi-polar 2.  This means I have intense bouts of massive chronic depression, but the high waves of feeling good, never hit mania,  I just cycle between exceeding low and okay, all the time.

Add on to that, anxiety, a heightened sense of hyper-vigilance and an intense worry about anything and everything around me.  I question and question and question until I'm paralyzed with fear and driving my loved ones insane with my worry, doubt, fear, and intense questioning.

Finally there is PTSD, and I hate to even bring this one up, because I feel like I do the men and women who serve our country and truly face the horrors of war an injustice when I say I have PTSD, but in some small way, I have my own form of this horrible disorder.  Mine came after several years of being intensely bullied, badgered, and beaten down by some administrators who wanted to see me gone.  They made my life a living hell and made me feel like I was a failure time and time again.  Anyone who spoke up on my behalf was quickly and permanently dismissed and my world and contribution to education was erased in just under two years.  It was horrible and made me hate myself even more intensely than I thought possible.

A mental health word cloud

These three disorders have combined to make one interesting individual.  My husband of 27 years is a saint for putting up with me and all my mood swings, bouts of depression, and feelings of worthlessness.  But I also love hugs, despite having resting B face.  I enjoy time in the mountains, seeing a student when the light bulb turns on, and helping others accomplish tasks.  My passions are in history, geography, and sports, and I love to see the pinnacle of success.  I cry at the blink of eye, I am the sappiest of all, and I love a good romance story. 

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty though, I take medication to help me regulate my moods and it helps to a degree, but without it, I am a wallowing mess.  I also go to out-patient therapy with a licensed counselor.  Early on we saw each other weekly but have since graduated to more time between appointments, sometimes three to four weeks.  I also was being treated by a psychologist, but after 18 months with little to no changes in my overall mood, she graduated me from her therapy and sent me back to my regular PCP.

I also have some coping mechanisms that help get me through rough days and difficult times.  I like to make lists and keep them in my calendar to help organize myself and set goals for the day or week.  I also have a mood tracker - A Year in Pixels - which helps me look for trends, identify troublesome areas, and talk about key points with my therapist.  I find it soothing to read, color, and nap, and may do all three or any one of the chosen activities if I need to decompress or have a moment to myself.  I also listen to meditations when I'm having trouble sleeping or calming down.  I specifically like HeadSpace, but just finding a meditation system that works for you, can help you zone out and keep in touch with your inner self.  Finally, I try to ground myself when I feel the paralyzing fear of anxiety wrapping itself around me.  This is a technique that involves becoming hyper-aware of your senses and what you can acutely see, feel, hear, smell, etc. at that moment, allowing you to free yourself from the fear

Coping mechanisms I found helpful

I'm sharing all this, because I know teaching is a high-stress job.  It comes with high demands, lots of pressure from various stakeholders, and young lives held in the balance.  I'm not the only one who has suffered from depression, anxiety, fear, self-loathing, etc.  It's time we erase the stigma, and that we get help.  It's time that we practice what we preach and that we reach out for assistance from those professionals around us.  It's time that we do what we need to do to be happy and healthy.

I am not a licensed therapist, psychologist, or doctor, and I can't tell you what's right for you, but if you find yourself unhappy, worried, or lost all the time, there are ways to get help and find that part of you that you miss.  Talk to your PCP or use Psychology Today to find a local counselor or therapist that's right for you.

You can start living again!

You can get help and start living again.

I invite you to engage in a healthy conversation.  Ask questions, seek advice, share your story.

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Teacher Appreciation Flipped

Teacher appreciation week is approaching.  In case you didn't know, it's usually the first or second week of May, and it's a time for teachers to be loved-on and appreciated for all the hard work, endless days and nights they put into the job, and countless hours they spend grading, planning, meeting, and teaching children.

Teacher Appreciation Flipped - Honoring Those Who Inspired Us To Become Teachers

This year I have a proposition for the teachers.  While free burritos, chicken, and coffee
are nice, and discounts at stores are sweet, how about this year we try teacher appreciation with a twist.  Call it teacher appreciation flipped, or teacher appreciation 2.0.

Thank whoever inspired you to become a teacher.

See I've wanted to be a teacher since I was 7 or 8 years old.  It happened to me in the second grade when I had Ms. Lopez as my teacher.  She was young, fresh out of college, and we were her first teaching gig.  It was Audubon Elementary in the 1970's, and I was in love.  She was young and vivacious, and full of inspiration and pep.  She treated us like people, not little kids or objects, and she really trusted and put faith in us.  As second graders we ran the school newspaper.  We had pen pals across town, who we wrote to bi-weekly, and we went on field trips everywhere she could possibly take us.  She even took us camping for three days about an hour west of town.  Ms. Lopez inspired me to be a teacher.  She showed me what teaching could be like, and I wanted to grow up to be like her.

Ms. Lopez's 2nd grade class camping.

So my proposition to you, as a teacher, is to take a moment of your time this year, and for teacher appreciation week, to pay it forward.  Write, call, email, or Facebook message your inspiration and let them know how much you appreciate what they did in your life to help you to become a teacher.

My thank you letter to my inspiration.

Have you thanked your inspiration yet?

When I was graduating college, I found Ms. Lopez.  Although she had been let go after teaching my class due to budget cuts, she had continued on in the teaching profession.  She had taught for many years, become a principal, and was now moving to the head of special education for one of the districts in our city.  I wrote to her and just expressed my heart, my sincerest appreciation, and utmost adoration for all she had done to inspire me.

So, who inspired you?  Have you thanked them yet?  Let me know about your story in the comments down below.

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Interactive Notebook Ideas

As many people who know me know, I love interactive notebooks.  I've been working with them for years and refining them within my classroom.  I've also been creating interactive notebook examples for my students to use throughout their own books and getting into the philosophy and construction of interactive notebook ideas.  It had never dawned on me before that many people may not be as familiar with interactive notebooks as I am, and it wasn't until a friend of mine came to me perplexed about what an interactive notebook even was, that I decided to write this blog post and guide and address some of the common issues that many people have with interactive notebooks.  I even wrote THE Guide to Interactive Notebooks, which you can download here.

THE Guide to Interactive Notebooks

Interactive Notebook Ideas

An interactive notebook allows students to be independent and creative thinkers and writers.  It takes class notes and other activities and allow students to process the information presented in class in their own way and in their own style.  Interactive notebooks can incorporate many different forms of learning so that all modalities are being met, and they allow for many creative ideas so that learning is fresh and always changing.

Interactive Notebook Setup

The interactive notebook setup can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish it to be, but I have found over years of experience, that the more time I take at the beginning, the less frustration I have throughout the process.  Therefore, I recommend looking at the pros and cons of each type of notebook and choosing the one that best fits your style and needs.  I've even gone as far as making a notebook from individual sheets of notebook paper as we slowly grew our sheets into a notebook over the course of the school year.  In hindsight, this is a method I would not recommend.

Choosing the right interactive notebook.

Next, there are things like the interactive notebook table of contents, an envelope for pieces and parts of foldable crafts, a bookmark, and page numbering.  Each of these items are effective and helpful in their own right, but none of them are critical to the process if things must get rolling and teaching must commence.  If you'd like help with them; however, I go over each concept in THE Guide to Interactive Notebooks, available here.

The basics of Interactive Notebooks.

Then comes the examples, and the foldable crafts, and the templates that fill the pages; this is where the magic happens.  Interactive notebook examples can include writing pieces from anything from fiction to nonfiction, letters to stories.  They can include card sorts and Venn diagrams, foldable crafts, matching exercises, maps, and more.  There are over 1000 foldable templates for interactive notebooks alone.

The magic inside interactive notebooks.

Interactive Notebook Expectations

Ultimately, however, the effectiveness of the interactive notebook will come down to the teacher and how effective they are at guiding their interactive notebook time.  Just as with any subject, if the teacher is nervous, unsure, or shows an air of disdain, the students will sense that and run with it.  The teacher must be calm and collected, organized and efficient, energized and excited for the interactive notebook to be effective.  No one wants kids cutting and gluing their lives away, so ideas must be implemented appropriately in order to ensure that students maximize their learning time.

If you'd like more information on how to set-up and run your interactive notebooks, I have THE free 13-page interactive notebook guide.  It's available here if you would like more guidance and support with this process.

THE Guide to Interactive Notebooks Available Here

The Free 13-Page Guide to Interactive Notebooks

Let me know if you use interactive notebooks in your classroom and how they work for you.  If you have questions or problems, please don't hesitate to ask.  I am here to help!  Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Download your free 13-page guide today.

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Afternoon Tricks to Ease Your Teaching

As the day lingers, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated.  It can be difficult to remain patient and remember to complete the simplest task, but it was by completing three simple tasks that I made my life so much easier, and I'd like to share them with you too.

Afternoon Tricks to Ease Your Teaching

There's Pride in Ownership

The first trick comes with about 15 minutes left in the school day.  Assign your students chores, just as you would your own kids.  Have 3-4 kids assigned to wipe down the desks, use others to clean up the library, and pick a couple to vacuum or pick up the floor.  Whatever your problem areas seem to be, that's where you need to assign some kids to clean.  It only take 3-5 minutes and the room will be gleaming for you.  Along with the cleanliness, students learn to take responsibility for their environment and many gain pride in doing a job well.

Assign classroom chores because there's pride in ownership.

Mystery Trash, the Game

On days where the floor seems particularly messy I like to play a game with my class.  This is trick number two, and I call it "Mystery Trash."  As the kids are filling out their planner or packing their bags, I take a quick trip around the room and pick 3-5 pieces of trash of varying size, color, and type.  Don't pick them up!  Just make a visual picture of them in your head and then tell the class it's time to play mystery trash.  If it's one of your first times, you'll have to explain the rules to them, but they're pretty simple.  Students pick up all the trash they can see, but before they dump it in the trash or recycling can, they bring it past the teacher first.  As the teacher, I survey their handfuls and look for my pieces of trash I visualized earlier.  Once I see one, I replace that piece of trash with that student's beautiful face.  Keep going until the room is spotless.  It usually only takes a couple minutes.  As kids bring you pencils and markers, glue sticks, and scissors, make sure they place them back in the supply bins and not in the trash.  Grab anything else out of their hands that might need to be kept, and tell them to dispose of everything else.  Once the room is clean, congratulate the winners, and if you'd like, pass out prizes such as class treasures, classroom money, bookmarks, or something easy and affordable.

Play mystery trash to clean up the floor in a jiffy.

Set the Room for Success

Lastly, trick number 3, is to set your room up for the next day before you leave that afternoon.  This can be a tough one!  By the afternoon dismissal and carpool has taken place, I feel wasted, I am exhausted and beaten down and just want to go home for some down time, possibly a nap, and some unwinding.  However, I have found that if I push through and set up my room for the morning, I am much happier the next day.  This includes writing the agenda on the board, changing the schedule on the wall, passing out papers to the student's desks, laying out the lesson materials, and more.  Whatever you might have to do before that first group of kids arrives, do it before you ever leave.  Even better, then you're ready in case you need the dreaded emergency sub.  I tend to be a morning person, and so you might think that I would want to do this all in the morning before the kids arrive, but to have it done and be able to focus on the next tier of tasks was really helpful to my productivity and mindset for the day.  It gave me a feeling of accomplishment before I had even accomplished one thing.

Set up the classroom before you leave each day.

So those are just three quick and simple tasks to do before you leave for the day to make your life easier.  What else do you do in the afternoon to make your life smoother?  Leave me a comment below and tell me all about it.

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Mindfulness in My Classroom: A 6th Grade Teacher's Story

As my school year started, I knew I wanted to make mindset play a key role in my student's day.  Each day a bell ringer greeted my class, and almost every day that bell ringer had something to do with mind set, character education, or ethics.  We discussed how to deal with losing in sports, how to handle getting a bad grade on a test, how to challenge one's self to possess a better character, what to do if you found a lost wallet full of cash.  Yet, it became apparent, pretty quickly, that my class needed something more.

Mindfulness in the Classroom - A 6th Grade Teacher's Story

Behavior - bad behavior, or poor choices - was at an all time high in my class.  Our daily bell ringers, weekly character lessons, school PBS (Positive Behavior System), student affirmations, and classroom incentive program had done nothing to sway the rampant disrespect and disregard I had seen throughout my classroom.  I had tried all of my usual classroom management tricks and nothing had an effect.  That was...until my teaching assistant and I had an interesting discussion one warm October day, when we both shared with one another about our success with meditation and mindfulness on a personal level.

Mindset, Mindfulness, Meditation - Definitions

As we both had been experimenting with meditation and mindfulness, seeing the benefits of calmness, serenity, and focus in our own lives, we thought maybe the class could see those benefits as well.  Within days I started my class on daily meditation, through an app I got on my iPhone, and almost immediately we started seeing results.

I tried the meditation and mindfulness at two different times of the day, after recess, and after lunch, finally settling on sharing our time together after lunch.  We would turn off the lights, turn on the speakers, and listen in to the message of the day.  Some kids would really hone in and focus, closing their eyes, breathing deeply, and working hard to master the techniques being taught, while others would simply color or put their heads down.  Regardless, of how they approached it, the mindfulness and the messages were working, as my behavior issues and referrals declined by approximately 30%, and our lesson content taught in the afternoons increased as well.
Meditation Apps - Headspace & Calm - Our opinions, your choice

Besides trying the meditation and mindfulness at two different times, we also tried two different apps.  These are not affiliate links, just my own experience and the feedback I received from my students.  The first app we tried was called Headspace.  I got this app recommendation from a doctor I had seen, and had only tried the free sample sessions previously.  Once the kids and I got through the 10 free sessions, we then switched over and tried Calm, an app I was recommended by a friend.  The kids immediately had an aversion to the Calm app even though I thought it had more features that they would like.  The students did not like the sound of the voice and felt like it was too rushed.  They also hated the background noise of the waves crashing on the shore.  So we went back to Headspace and I bought a yearly membership.  It's not cheap, just to warn you, although it is tax deductible if you're using it for your classroom.  I thought the investment of less than a $1 a day was worth it, but it can be a lot on a teacher's salary.

Mindfulness wasn't the solution to all my problems, but it alleviated a lot of the headaches..."
Mindfulness wasn't the solution to all my problems, but it alleviated a lot of the headaches I was having.  It also gave me 5-10 minutes to reground and recenter myself before starting to teach again.  I enjoyed emulating and setting an example for my students and I think many of my kids appreciated having the guidance and the security to see that mindfulness is not hokey or stupid or goofy; it's something even adults do.  One of my most difficult students was one of my best exemplars when it came to our daily mindfulness and meditation.

So if you have been dealing with behavior problems in your classroom, or a class that just comes back from specials bouncing off the wall, try mindfulness as a way to calm them down and focus them on learning.  You can use your personal device, a computer, or even just have them breathe deeply in and out for 18 seconds while thinking about where they are and what they are doing in that present moment.  Another idea is to have your students ground themselves in the moment by examining what they can hear, feel, see, touch, and taste.  This not only helps you to focus on the moment and mindfulness, it helps those with anxiety to regain control.

So give these mindfulness ideas a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below.

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The Power of a Greeting

Every day as students enter my classroom, I stand at my door and greet them.  Whether it's with a handshake, a hug, a fist bump, or just a wave, this simple gesture has power beyond measure and it's something you might want to consider adding to your teaching repertoire.

The Power of a Greeting

In 2017, approximately 1.3 million children were homeless at some point during the year. [1]  In addition to this, nearly 438,000 children are in the foster care system in the United States, with 12% of these kids living in group homes or institutions. [2]  This does not even include the children in domestic violence situations (5 million children each year [3]) or in homes where parents are deployed (over 900,000 children have had one or both parents deployed multiple times [4]).

Thus, with at least 6.7 million kids in situations where tensions are high, depression and anxiety are elevated, and connections with loved ones are often missing or strained, a simple gesture of hello in the morning, or whenever your class may be, can help make a connection with a student who may not otherwise get to make a positive connection with an adult that day.  Not only does it allow for a basic connection with a student, a greeting has been shown to build confidence, promote self-respect, and encourage positive feelings about ones self.

Even if you live in an area of affluence where both parents are present and students are well taken care of, a greeting can go a long way to build self-respect, confidence, and respect.  A smile, bright eyes, and a welcoming grin, joke, or gesture can put students at ease and earn you a well-disciplined student for the day.  While simply learning how to correctly shake hands can earn students a lifetime of respect.     

The Power of a Greeting
Besides the statistics, isn't it just obvious that a greeting can warm even the coldest spirit?  I've had the grumpiest students brighten up and become engaged in my class just because I met them at the door and exchanged pleasantries with them.  And I've had the saddest kids and kids traumatized by outside events make it through day after day after day inside my classroom, because I stopped and showed them how much I care before we began each day.  It's just a simple, "hello," or, "How are you doing?" or, "I missed you," and you've shown them that you care, thus making a connection with a student, and allowing many doors of opportunity to be opened.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
There are many ways to implement a morning greeting in your classroom. Here are just a few...

  1. You can simply stand at the door and shake hands as students approach.
  2. You can let students choose their form of greeting (handshake, fist bump, wave, high five, etc.) and greet each student in a way that they feel comfortable.  For a printable resource you can hang outside your room to let students choose their greeting, click here.
  3. You can let each student create their own greeting or handshake and greet each student in a unique way.
  4. If you're really busy, (although not advised) assign a student to greet students for you.  It's better than nothing.

Morning Greeting Printable

So, how do you greet your students?  Comment below, and let me know.

The Colorado Classroom Signature - Brittany

[1]  https://www.icphusa.org/interactive_data/the-united-states-of-homelessness/?gclid=CjwKCAiAyrXiBRAjEiwATI95mVAWHTpnDWkbtoJ-EbeEmnhggMdN7iTJackF11hQAEZ-XSfAjgjdiBoCtTQQAvD_BwE

[2] https://www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/

[3] https://cdv.org/2014/02/10-startling-domestic-violence-statistics-for-children/

[4] https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-military-families

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