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Taking Care of Ourselves During Challenging Times

Best Practices

1/27/2022 | Sasha Kopp

There is no doubt about it; January 2022 has been an extremely challenging time for early childhood centers. Illness has been rampant, staffing has been a nightmare and everyone feels burnt out. Feelings of being overwhelmed and in a state of unpredictability have been a theme of many conversations I have had with early childhood professionals from coast to coast. There is no quick fix to any of these feelings, and the reality is that we still have a while to go before school settings calm down again. Educators can not change COVID rates or directly impact staffing shortages, but every educator does have control over her or his own actions. Here are a few ways to cope, connect, and build a more resilient personal foundation while working through a challenging time. 

Take Mindfulness Breaks:

Remember to breathe. This may be simple, but breathing helps focus, self-regulate, and can be a tool that helps each one of us make decisions with more clarity and thoughtfulness. Mindfulness moments can be as simple as taking three breaths, closing your eyes and counting to ten, or squeezing a stress ball or fidget toy (adults can have fidgets too!). These techniques are not only helpful for us as adults, but also model to children ways that we can be proactive throughout the day to create a culture of calm and control. 

It is also helpful to include breathing, mindfulness, and yoga into the curriculum. You can do this by incorporating practices during circle time as a proactive measure, modeling to children how to count and breathe during a stressful moment. Educators can incorporate yoga, mindfulness, or outdoor walks as part of the rhythm of the school day. No matter how you incorporate it, taking a moment to be mindful, with or without your students, will have a lasting effect on your mood for that hour, day, or week. 

Be Open with your Colleagues:

Right now is a challenging time for everyone. Both work and personal challenges are consistently part of the mindset of every educator when they walk through the door each morning. It’s important to communicate your thoughts and feelings with co-teachers sharing with your colleagues what you need to be successful that day.

Oftentimes, open communication can lead to creative brainstorming. A co-teacher might remind you of a project you wanted to do, a book you wanted to read, or a walk that would be calming. Open communication can help lead to intentional communication about how to help support a child that needs a little extra 1:1 care. It is important to share with your colleagues to foster a culture of support rather than just vent. Be explicit that you want to share with them what is going on so that together you can have the most successful day or week possible. 

Bring the Children with You:

You aren’t the only one experiencing routine disruption, illness, and overwhelm - the children are feeling it too. These topics can become a developmentally explored curriculum in the classroom with facilitation from educators with children’s personal experiences at the core. There are many good books that include themes of big feelings that you can incorporate in the classroom curriculum. One of my personal favorites is, “Sometimes I am Bambaloo” by Rachel Veil. Children can relate to the experience of feeling Bambaloo and teachers can too! Together classes can create lists or books of moments where they have felt big feelings or what they have done to work through the feelings to re-regulate. Additionally, exploring the concepts of chaos and order through patterning and sorting can help show children that sometimes things feel overwhelming, and then you do one step at a time to make it feel more orderly. 

If someone in your family or close to you is sick, share that with the children in the class, and ask them if they have any ideas about what you can do to help support them. As you teach children about how to support others, they will find ways to support their classmates and their families. Creating a curriculum focused on feelings, community, and care can have positive lasting effects on who children become. It’s ok to pause a curriculum that is focused on literacy and math right now. We all need a lot of support and care and this is an important time to focus on those topics in the early childhood years. 

Teaching right now is overwhelming. There is no quick fix. Yet, the children are still in classrooms each and every day and are sponges absorbing what we teach them and the feelings and atmosphere of our classroom environment. It is important that educators take time to remember to breathe and to work together to create environments with open avenues of communication and feeling sharing. We can only support each other if we share our own challenges with our colleagues and, when appropriate, our students. Our classrooms are our home away from home, and it is important that even though there are challenges, we all continue to take care and support each other and ourselves when we come to school each and every day.

Sasha Kopp is a community early childhood and family engagement consultant for The Jewish Education Project and an adjunct professor at American Jewish University. Sasha has worked in a variety of teaching and administrative roles in early childhood programs in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. You can connect with Sasha through her website at sashakopp.com or through Twitter @SashaKopp.

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