Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions

Today’s professional development day at school focused on Positive Education and how we can help our students and our communities to flourish. 

One of the aspects I found most thought-provoking was the discussion about positive or comfortable emotions and negative or uncomfortable emotions. It was particularly relevant to many of the things I have been experiencing and observing about life in recent weeks, and I want to share my observations and reflections on those things with you here.

Before I go any further, though, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not a medical or psychological expert or professional. I am, however, a high school teacher of 30 years’ experience, so I have had time and opportunity to make some observations about the things that happen in life and how we deal with them.

More personally, as someone who experiences chronic physical issues and mental health challenges, and who has experienced many conflicting emotions recently due to profound personal loss, I’m confident I know at least a little bit about dealing with adversity, and I’ve learned a few things about the importance of balancing negative emotions with positive ones. 

Both positive and negative emotions can be powerfully motivating.  Fear of failure or embarrassment is as strong, or stronger, in some people as desire for success is in others. 

Negative or uncomfortable emotions can motivate and fuel positive outcomes such as creativity, empathy, and relationship building.

Positive and negative emotions can actually be highly effectivecompanion emotions‘.  I don’t expect that this is a scientific term at all, but it seems to me a useful term that describes how contrasting emotions experienced at the same time can provide some healthy balance and perspective. 

I can testify from the past few weeks that gratitude can moderate grief, and enjoying a few quiet moments in the beauty of nature can transform abject misery into much gentler sadness.  

In different contexts, fear can be a healthy addition to awe or wonder – think of a child at the zoo, for example, for whom interest and desire to engage with the animals should always be balanced with both respect and a little fear or mistrust, so that the child and the animals all remain safe. In yet another situation, a little anxiety or nervousness can actually heighten deliberate preparation and performance if it is paired with intentional and thoughtful preparation, because it can stop one from making rushed or careless errors, or from taking success for granted. 

Life is not about always avoiding the feelings that make us uncomfortable or sad. Hoping to do so isn’t realistic at all, given that there are many situations that we can neither actually control or entirely avoid. 

Instead, it’s crucial that each of us learns to manage those negative or uncomfortable feelings and use the situations in which we encounter them to develop and consolidate our personal strengths and resilience.  Learning to look for the positives in life and choosing to find a balance for the negative experiences or emotions we encounter is how we grow and move forward in life. 

“Whether dealing with a major lifeshattering event or a small bump in the road, we can use gratitude to help boost our happiness and change our outlook. While gratitude won’t change our circumstances, experts say gratitude can change how we feel about them.”

Paula Felps in ‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps 

That’s certainly what I’m seeking to do while working through my grief. It’s okay to take the time to mourn my losses, but I can’t afford to unpack and live there. Finding a constructive way through my pain will enable me to heal, and come out stronger at the other end. 

In being honest about how I feel and what I’m thinking in my posts on this blog, my hope is that my words will help and encourage someone else get through their personal challenges, whatever they are, and to deal with both their circumstances and their feelings.

I have no doubt that knowing we are not the only ones going through grief or pain or whatever trial it is that is burdening us actually helps us to start to heal. That’s why empathy and compassion are so powerful. That’s why the support and love of family and friends is what we yearn for and seek out when things are hard.  

Tonight, as I reflected on these ideas and considered the fact that I had no evidence for my inexpert assertions, I did find a number of articles that show my conclusions are consistent with current science and research surrounding emotional and mental health. 

Of those articles, some were quite wordy and far too academic to be accessible, but I did find two easily readable and very interesting pieces that discuss the ways in which positive emotions such as gratitude and self-compassion can help individuals deal with adverse situations more constructively.  They are:
‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps via livehappy.com
’The Reason You Make Unhealthy Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander via time.com

“Being kind to yourself, as opposed to tearing yourself down, leads to fewer bad feelings and, in turn, healthier actions.”

Dr Fuschia Sirois, quoted in ’The Reason You Make Unhealthy
Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander
, via time.com September 25, 2014

Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions
#emotions #feelings #psychology #thoughts #reflection #personal #blogpost

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

A Reflection on Teaching From Home: Week 1

While online classes may not be ideal, things could definitely be worse.

I wrote in Tuesday night’’s post that the first day of teaching my classes remotely/online was challenging. 

I thought it would be good to follow that up at the end of the school week with my insights after a few more days’ experience.

Things definitely got better as the school week progressed. 

All of my students seemed to relax and interact more normally as the week progressed. I think some of them found it really awkward and a bit artificial at first, and many others— myself included— just didn’t know what to expect. 

I had to make my expectations for behaviour and interactions super clear via email to a couple of kids. 
I actually made an explicit list of what I expected and what they were not welcome to do.  This helped to set boundaries for them, and they changed their attitude accordingly. Things were a lot better after that. 

My students have done some great work this week, and I have been able to give positive and constructive feedback to encourage them. 
This also encourages me: I can do this. The kids appreciate my effort and input. My classes are benefiting from the structure, the lessons and the encouragement I have given them. It doesn’t matter if I feel it’s not the same or not enough, or as though I am treading water. 
I am good enough. My teaching is valuable. I can do this. 

I am so thankful for  my school and its  consistent, uniform approach to the delivery of lessons and learning material. I’m also super glad we have followed the same routines and timetables. 

In times of turmoil and change, schools, teachers and students all have the greatest chance of success when everyone is on the same page and things are kept as consistent and stable as possible

In my discussions with friends and family who teach elsewhere, I have learned that this isn’t happening elsewhere. Timetables and class sizes have changed for some, some have new classes they’ve never had before, and others have no streamlined or consistent method of delivery or assessment. One poor soul is trying to deal with all of those complications and more. 
I am trying to be as supportive of that particular friend as I can be, and have suggested that if the school has left it completely up to him to manage, he might follow the practices my own school has implemented so that his students have some structure and consistency with his classes at least. He’s going to do that, and suggest those same things to his colleagues. 

Teachers worldwide are struggling with the same anxieties, challenges and logistics that I am. 
I am note alone. 
Nor are my students. 

We should not be discouraged if we don’t get through the regular program, or if things don’t always work the way we’d like them to.

Our online classrooms provide valuable connection and communication for the kids. It helps them to feel less isolated and cut off, and gives them regular opportunities to think and talk about life beyond corona. 

Ultimately, my students are safe and healthy at home, and learning every day. Those are blessings that should not ever be taken for granted in this strange coronaverse of 2020. 

I can honestly say I am looking forward to another week of positive, encouraging lessons and interactions after a well-earned rest this weekend. 

Why Teaching From Home Is More Difficult Than You Think

One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome

As a teacher, I know there is no substitute for being in the classroom, engaging with the students and supervising their work, making suggestions or guiding their thinking. When you create a constructive, productive learning environment, students thrive. 

Over the past few weeks, my school has worked really hard to reproduce that in an online learning environment. My colleagues and I have put a great deal of thought and preparation into making our students’ experiences of learning from home in online classes as interesting and beneficial as they can possibly be. From where I stand, we’ve done a great job of preparing for teaching and learning from home, and I really hope that our students and their parents feel the same way. 

Today was our first day of teaching and learning remotely. My students were well behaved and cooperative. Most seem to have coped with the challenges of doing school at home, some of them sharing an environment with their siblings who were also doing their lessons at home, quite well. We got through everything I had planned for those initial lessons. Judging from the work they handed in today, the kids generally worked as well as they usually do in a classroom environment. 

I don’t know how they all felt at the end of the school day, but by the time 3.30pm rolled around, I was exhausted. 

Make no mistake: online teaching is really hard. It’s mentally demanding in ways that physical presence in the classroom is not. It’s harder to hear students when they speak, and it’s harder to be sure that everyone understands what you say or what you want them to do.  Even marking the roll poses new challenges when you can’t simply identify empty spaces in the classroom. Things that have become instinctive for teachers are now impossible, and we find ourselves reinventing pedagogy, teaching, communication, and the delivery of lessons and lesson materials. 

You can no longer maintain classroom management by circulating around the room or standing in strategic places so you can see what kids have on their screens. You can’t just look over a kid’s shoulder and remind them of a principle or fact that they need to consider. You can’t make a teaching point of quickly correcting an error or oversight. 

To an extent, one has to just accept that and move on. If a student is easily distracted or willing to be inattentive, that is understandable: there’s a lot going on,  they’re at school without being at school, they’re in their own environment, and some of them are genuinely anxious about the dangers and the restrictions that Covid-19 has brought about. Really, the best you can hope for is to find a way to gently bring their attention back to the task and try to re-focus them. 

It’s a tricky set of circumstances for the kids as it is, and adding learning at home to the strangeness of social isolation and distancing is a situation that some kids — and some teachers — will undoubtedly find awkward at best. 

Still, it’s good for all of us, kids and teachers alike, to have a routine and a variety other things to think about. It is healthy and constructive use of the abundant time we would otherwise have on our hands at this point in time. 

As tired as I was, they day did end particularly well. After spending 90 minutes with one of my classes this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when three of my students thanked me for the lesson. In the past, wishing each other a good afternoon or a pleasant evening was not unusual, but having students actually thanking me for double English after lunch on Tuesday is totally new. 

I spent the rest of my regular school day responding to the work they submitted, and giving my students some feedback on their ideas and responses. It was nice to be able to 

At 4.15pm, I made myself a cup of coffee and almost cried into it with gratitude for my good but mentally exhausting day, and for the caffeine upon which I would rely for the next couple of hours while I cooked dinner and did everything else I needed to do. 

When dinner was done, I looked at my husband and asked if it was too early to go to bed. 
“It’s 6.15pm,” he said. 
“So probably, then?” I asked. 
“Yeah. Probably.” 

Maybe I’ll just spend the time between now and bedtime thinking about what gift I’m going to buy myself for Teacher Appreciation Week. 
Whatever it is, I will have earned it.

One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome
#teachingfromhome #TeachFromHome #TeachingOnline #teachertwitter

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

The Workers Australia Can't Do Without.

When half the country seems to be working from home, there are some very dedicated people keeping the place going.

As Australia has begun the process of going into partial lockdown in response to the corona virus pandemic, it is becoming astoundingly clear who the country cannot do without. 

Here’s the thing: it’s not the billionaires, the movie stars or rock singers, the football players or the fashion models. 

Don’t get me wrong. They’re important people. But who are the ones we rely on to keep doing what they do so that the majority of the population can actually isolate or socially distance themselves in comfort and safety? Who is actually unable to stop working and stay home in the interests of self-preservation?

It’s the doctors and nurses, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, the people who stack supermarket shelves and work the checkouts, and the teachers. It’s the people who work the service stations and fast-food and takeaway restaurants, the cleaners, the truck drivers, the retail workers… and the list goes on. 

They are the people who are still going to work every day, regardless of their potential exposure to germs – and not just Covid-19, either — and to the frustrations, anxieties and hostility of the general public. 

Most of them can’t work from home. And, with the possible exception of the doctors, most are paid nowhere near what they are worth. 

Teachers could, of course, deliver their lessons online as my own school is planning to do if we are ordered to close the college. That’s not as easy as it sounds, either, especially with younger students. It’s a lot more planning and preparation every day, as the curriculum will still need to be delivered as fully as possible. There won’t be any less marking, either. 

Of course, whether or not schools will be closed is still a matter of debate in Australia. The government doesn’t want to close the schools, because that would mean the people in medical jobs would have to stay home to look after their kids. Who would look after the sick people then? 

So when you are out shopping for groceries and annoyed that the shelves are half empty, don’t take your frustrations out on the store workers: they can’t stack shelves with what has not been supplied. Save the blame for the people hoarding basic goods out of selfishness and greed. They’re the real reason you can’t buy the basics at the moment. And let’s be honest: when those people are at home self-isolating and eating ten people’s worth of pasta and rice, and the loo gets blocked up with all that hoarded toilet paper… they’ll still want the plumber to come out and fix it. 

When you have to wait in a longer-than-usual line to collect takeaway food, don’t give the servers attitude for the delay. They are doing their best under extremely demanding circumstances. And remember, they are saving you the effort of cooking for yourself, so there’s that to be thankful for. 

When you see a medical worker or first responder getting coffee or taking a break, don’t kvetch about them having some downtime. Instead, thank them for the tough job they’re doing, especially if it’s a job you wouldn’t want to be doing during a global health crisis. 

When you hear about nursing homes, hospitals and schools closing their doors and not allowing visitors in, don’t complain about inconvenience or behave like its an overreaction. Thank them for being proactive in taking extra measures to protect the people for whom they have a duty of care. 

When you hear people complain about the inconvenience of social distancing and working from home, remind them that some people don’t have the ability to do so. 

They are the workers on the front line, keeping the country going while everyone else stays home. They should not be on the receiving end of anyone’s bad behaviour.

A Punny Thing Happened In My History Class Today…

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’ve mentioned here before that I enjoy a good pun. Today, to my delight, one of my students came up with a pretty good one, so I responded in kind.

It happened in history, where my students were mapping the three arenas of WWII.

Student A: Syria. Sy-ri-a. *grins* Are you…syyyyyyrias? 
Me: Hey, I was just dam-ask in’…
Student B: That’s SO bad. 

Well, we laughed hard. And then student A explained it to the rest of the class, and they laughed too.

Poor Student B, though. As Student A explained, he put his head on the table and moaned, “It’s like having my dad in the room… twice!”

Still, it it wasn’t enough to stop him from piping up a little later.

Student B: Did you know that it wasn’t just Darwin, Broome got bombed too? 
Me: Yes, the Japanese swept right across north-west Australia…
Student A: Haha! That’s genius! 
Student B: No. NO. That’s awful! 
Me: I didn’t expect you to bristle like that. 
Student B: I’m leaving. *walks out of the room*
Student C: Where’s B? 
Me: *just as B is walking back in* I made a joke and he flew off the handle. 
Student B: No. *walks out again*

It was a fun moment which we all enjoyed, but it also made the facts the students were working with more memorable. Once we’d had a laugh, they all just kept on working.

Opportunities like that don’t happen all the time, but when they do, they are welcome.

Humour is such good medicine, and it makes excellent social glue. It was wonderful to be able to laugh together during a week when the world seems far more uncertain and a lot less enjoyable than it did a couple of weeks ago.

I’m thankful that my students have the confidence to express themselves in my classroom, and that they do it in ways that are clever and fun. It really is a huge blessing to be able to have such great rapport with my students, and these kids make it easy to keep going to work every day.

These anecdotes were retold here with the permission of the students involved.

History isn’t “horrible”, it’s essential….!

Image by Walkerssk from Pixabay

While I agree with the author of this post that, in many places, history is taught differently and with a much more recent focus than in previous years, there are places where a broad spectrum of history is taught well.

In Victoria, Australia, the history curriculum is quite comprehensive in that it includes the study of ancient, medieval and modern civilisations and the issues and events that shaped and defined them.

By the time students at my school finish their compulsory education at the end of Year 10, for example, they will have studied Ancient Egypt, Israel and Babylon, medieval civilisations in Europe and Asia, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, both World Wars, the Civil Rights Movements in the US and Australia, and various elements of life in 20th Century Australia.

Like the author of this post, I am passionate about history, and I strive to make it interesting, relevant and engaging for my students. My interactions and experience with other teachers of the Humanities leads me to believe that this is true of most. We may all have different areas of particular interest and expertise, but we have a common goal: to inspire and teach so that students have an awareness of where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come, and how to apply that knowledge so that we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past in the future.

murreyandblue

Richard III – from ‘Horrible Histories’

“…Imagine knowing the entire list of British monarchs by heart at age 10. Imagine knowing about cavemen courting rituals or what soldiers ate during World War I. Imagine becoming so invested in the life of the infamous King Richard III of England that you joined the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to finding his bones and solving the mystery of what happened to his nephews over 500 years ago…”

The extract above is from this study breaks article which, as you might guess, is all about ‘Horrible Histories’!

It made me think, because I did know my English/British monarchs by the age of 10…by 8/9 in fact. There was a chart on my bedroom wall and it faced me when I sat up in bed. I noticed Richard III even then, because he was so different from the rest. Slender, dark-haired, troubled…or so…

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Classy Humour.

I love the fact that my students have great senses of humour. They’re quirky and fun, and they know they have the freedom to express that in my classes.

Last week, one of my students told me a funny story about what he did in Biology class. To his delight, I appreciated the humour a lot more than his classmates or the Biology teacher had done.

He was more than willing to give me permission to write his story creatively. I decided a Drabble would be perfect for creating a snapshot of that moment in the classroom.

I hope you enjoy his very classy humour as much as I did.

And thank you, James, for making me laugh on a regular basis. You’re a legend.

The teacher stood at the front of the room, textbook in hand, as the students settled down to business. 

“Please open your text book to page four hundred and four, and… yes, James?”

The teacher looked with anticipation at the young man sitting in the second row, hand raised and an awkward smile on his face. 

“That page cannot he found.” 

His classmates looked confusedly at James, and then at the specified page in their own books.

The teacher frowned. “Are you sure? There must be some kind of mistake.”

James’ smile became a triumphant grin. “It’s an error 404.”

***

Credit for this story must be given to my student, James, who actually did this in one of his classes, and gave me permission to write it as a drabble.

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On Verbing

Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.

One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’. 

Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher. 

“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”

“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”

“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”

“You know Shakespeare did it?”

“What?” 

“Verbing. He did it all the time.”

“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.” 

“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”

She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too. 

It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling  fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language. 

It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong

My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”. 

This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red. 

My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean. 

The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.

Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language. 

The Squirrels Have Checked Out.

It’s the last day of term. 

Even though I am, like every other teacher, exhausted and keen for that bell to ring at the end of the day, I am still trying desperately to keep the kids on task and get things finished before then. 

The problem is, they’ve already checked out. 
They just don’t care. 
They’re restless. 
They’re talkative. 
They’re twitchy. 
Their eyes have glazed over with the promise of freedom, of late sleep-ins and no school uniforms or restrictions on their social media life for the next two weeks. 

If you’ve ever watched a squirrel running around in a park or a forest, that is the precise image of the mental and emotional engagement in my classroom today.
One or two are evolving into chipmunks as I watch. 

Except for that one kid at the back, who is working like a champion to get everything completed. 
I don’t have favourites, but today I really love that kid.