Not One More Thing | Steve Barkley

Not One More Thing

Fatigue can be a big weight and a burden with negative influence - Fatigue role and impact symbolized by a heavy prisoner's weight attached to a person, 3d illustration

In the past weeks, I have had several school leaders and instructional coaches share with me that the phrase, “Not One More Thing” is a common response they are hearing from teachers as they explore areas for progressing or growing from current teaching and learning practices. Whether discussing coaching sessions, peer observations, teaching strategies, or technology options for teaching and learning there exists a hesitancy to commit to exploring the possibility of change. There is a sense of “holding on,” and hoping to get through the current realities.

I think that Adam Grant’s descriptions of languishing are an appropriate description of what many educators (as well as others) are experiencing. We aren’t depressed but we also aren’t flourishing.

Depressed…………………. Languishing………………….. Flourishing

“You’re not depressed; you still have hope. You’re not burned out; you still have energy. But, you feel a little bit aimless and a little bit joyless. It’s that sense of emptiness and stagnation—like you’re in a void or you’re looking at the world through a foggy windshield.” (Adam Grant)

I was recently engaged in a breakout session as part of an international teachers’ conference. As we discussed current teacher wellbeing, fatigue was mentioned. It was described as a different kind of fatigue than experienced educators knew from the past. Fatigue was a common end-of-the-week feeling that sent teachers into a weekend where some downtime, or family time, or exercise, or nature time replenished them for a return to the classroom Monday morning. Fortunately, some holidays and in some locations a snow day provided extra opportunities to recharge. Teachers are currently reporting that the downtime now has little impact on the sense of fatigue as they return to school on Monday, whether in the classroom or on Zoom.

In a podcast, Coaching for Efficacy, Agency, and Hope, instructional coaching trainer Angel Buckingham shared:

‘The quarantine virtual teaching, which we had never done before, caused our confidence to dip. Because our confidence took a dip, our agency was also affected. We questioned if we had any ownership or control? When we lost some agency, I think is when we fell into a little bit of languishing. I think through reflection, on what worked and what our strengths are, is how we can get into flow. I feel like it’s all connected in a way. And I think that through coaching, we can increase self-efficacy. One of the sources of efficacy is mastery moments.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as, “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Buckingham’s comments align with Grant’s views on elements that are necessary for “flow” (active participation in the real world) In Grant’s Ted Talk video, he identifies three elements that encourage flow:

  • Mastery- at work the strongest factor in motivation and joy is a sense of progress… flow involves momentum…small wins count
  • Mindfulness- focusing full attention on a single task… we need uninterrupted blocks of time
  • Mattering- knowing that you make a difference in other people’s lives… Mattering turns flow into a peak experience.

I am convinced that when teachers are empowered to ignite student passions and students enter learning in “flow,” passion and flow emerge for the teacher. At this point, the hard work of teaching is energizing. Listen to this fourth-grade teacher and her students describe how a project to design a playground that was inclusive for all students led from a math problem, to engagement in fundraising and building the playground.

I encourage folks with secondary students to read Erica Beaton’s article, How to Heal a Divided World: Argumentative Writing That Actually Listens to the Other Side. Beaton shares specific strategies she uses to scaffold students to really listen to the other side. (I found her suggestion of Middle Ground videos on YouTube especially useful)

We have an opportunity when we teach argumentative writing to turn the opposition back into an actual person. We can teach students to sit right next to their adversary on middle ground. We can model how to figuratively (or literally) hold their opponent’s hand and both talk about what we’re afraid of or what we value. We can shift from “winning” an argument to “solving a problem.” (Beaton)

Consider how teachers and students find “mattering” in such learning tasks. Let’s switch the discussion from “Not one more thing” to “What is a thing that really matters?” That is the most likely path to flourishing.

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