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  • Writer's pictureLyndsay Boysen

Prioritizing Helpful PD Sessions!

As I reflect on my public school teaching experience, I can recall sitting through countless hours of professional development, in-service days, and mandatory teacher workshops every single year. Many of these were at the beginning and end of the school year, the time when most teachers have either had enough and are ready for summer or would desperately like time in their classroom to prepare for their first day. I always found it ironic that school districts would prioritize PD during times when teachers were already feeling burnt out, exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious or stressed. I believe the intention always came from a genuine place, an opportunity to celebrate the beginning or end of the school year, create a new goal or mission for the coming academic year, present cutting edge assessment strategies or even review state test scores for goal setting. However, when I consider the process, I was always stressed about the "one more new thing I needed to implement" or was irritated that I sat through hours of a workshop that I felt was non applicable and irrelevant to my music classroom.

With all of this reflection comes an appreciation for the work of a professional development coordinator. On a smaller scale, I know first hand how hard it is to choose content that would be valuable and broad enough for a variety of teachers. I organize two conferences a year for music teachers in my state and picking through topics and workshop ideas can be incredibly daunting. I desperately want it to be relevant, inspiring and a experience that leaves a teacher energized and motivated to try something new or a make change.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a group of teachers in a professional development setting and it made me realize that although we are inundated with professional development opportunities that challenge us to think about our subject area, curriculum, technology usage and assessment strategies, all of these concepts have one thing in common. They are student centered and are often limited to the analysis of the pedagogical practice of teaching. They rarely address the needs and struggles of teachers, and they certainly don't provide tangible solutions that prioritize stress reduction, encourage teachers to care for themselves and talk about some of the real mental, physical and emotional challenges that are present each and every day in our profession.

During this most recent summer PD session, I brought teachers through some self reflection exercises on prioritizing self care and had them make a list of adjectives that describe how they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally right now (summer self) and how that changes in the school year (teacher self). We discovered as a group that our summer self looks very different than our teacher self. The general consensus was that most teachers felt more relaxed, active, and energized during the summer and more exhausted, stressed and less personally fulfilled during the school year. This is a HUGE problem and one that school districts should be prioritizing in their professional development.

What isn't working?

Did you know that 75-90% of all doctor’s visits are related to stress? The crazy part is that our body reacts the same way, regardless of the type of stress. This stress could be an actual stressful event, something that is anticipated or even stress that may be imagined or perceived. Regardless of the type of stress, our body still reacts the same way...a chronic fight or flight reaction that doesn't make our body feel great.

Our bodies are not designed to thrive in rest and relaxation for two months of the year and then be neglected for the other ten, despite society's glorification of the summer break. On the contrary, the anticipation of returning to school and everything that comes with that can create enormous stress and anxiety. This can manifest into physical and mental health symptoms that can be incredibly detrimental to our overall health and longevity.

What can we do?

  1. Encourage your district and/or colleagues to host professional development workshops and opportunities for faculty and staff that truly help teachers create a healthier, happier balance between their work and personal life.

  2. Take time to consider what makes summer feel so much better, both physically and emotionally.

  3. Integrate activities, hobbies, & social practices from summer into your school year.

  4. Educate yourself on the negative consequences of stress (stress post in the future!!)

  5. Tune into your body! How are you feeling? What can you do in the moment to feel more of those summer vibes?

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