It’s been an extremely challenging time for teachers who have moved from classroom teaching to online teaching while also trying to balance family life when spouses and children are also working and learning in the home. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to Dr. Lisset Pickens, a professor at American Public University and licensed professional counselor about managing work-life balance and managing these new stressors.
Learn about the importance of establishing distinct learning and work spaces at home and setting boundaries so its clear when work and school time is over and the “family button” gets turned back on. Also, hear recommendations for self-care, learning to say no so you don’t overextend yourself, and ways to be creative with your family during the pandemic.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the podcast. Today, I’m here with our guest, Dr. Lisset Pickens. Lisset is a professor at American Public University with an academic background in early childhood education, educational leadership, psychology, and child and family development.
Dr. Pickens is also a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and nationally certified school counselor. She holds certifications in teaching Pre-K through 12th grades, school counseling and educational leadership.
Lisset, thank you for joining me today. I understand that you have quite a bit of experience in online education and you’ve taught in higher ed for many years. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and the experience you have as an online educator to help our listeners get to know you better?
Dr. Lisset Pickens: Yes, I will. And thank you so much for having me, Bethanie. It’s a pleasure to be here. Let’s see. Where do I even begin?
My experience spans from working in the classroom directly with students at the elementary school level. I’ve also worked in the school counseling role and that also was primarily in the elementary school level. And from there I transitioned into higher ed, where I’ve been for quite a number of years. So my background stems between two areas: psychology on one side, and then education on the other.
My degrees are very diversified when it comes to disciplines. I also hold certifications in counseling and as well as in education. I’ve been an online educator since 2006, so it’s been quite a number of years. I’ve seen lots of changes over that time, but I definitely enjoy it.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing your background. And can you tell us a little bit more about what your online teaching experience includes? Is this a lot of classes throughout the year? What’s that like?
Dr. Lisset Pickens: Well, it just varies. Every semester is going to be a little different. I do work full-time in a full-time capacity. I also do some adjunct work. But primarily, it involves teaching online. So actually engaging with students.
I do serve as well as a faculty mentor. So I do assist new and upcoming faculty with getting acclimated to the classroom and the role of whether it’s an adjunct professor or full-time status. So primarily teaching. I’m involved as well in a number of committees. I do serve on the grad council committee. I’m also the co-chair of the psychology club and a variety of other different hats that I wear.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Lisset, thanks for sharing all that. You’re definitely someone that our listeners are going to learn a lot from today. And I’m really excited that you’re here to talk about teaching online and life that we’re managing while we’re doing this.
So I came across a report from the Census Bureau just yesterday. I was thinking about how many people are online right now, with COVID-19 going on for months. And it is indicated right now that 93% of households of school-aged children actually have some form of distance learning right now during COVID-19.
And then of course, we all know that in higher ed, lots of universities have moved to online and they’re already anticipating spring terms being online. This is a big change for a lot of people.
With all these people learning online this means there are also teachers who have moved online and maybe they’re even working with children learning from home. So what’s your perspective about working online and teaching from home?
Teaching From Home Requires Planning and Adjusting
Dr. Lisset Pickens: Well, it has definitely changed the way that we not only manage our professional lives, but also our personal lives. Because of course, what has now happened is at home, you’re not only managing home, but you’re managing work as well.
And then for other individuals who may be in school, as non-traditional learners, they’re managing school, they’re managing work, and they’re managing home. So you’re going to definitely see an increase in the amount of stress that we’re dealing with because honestly, you’re juggling so many different plates, but you’re doing it in your home.
So it’s very important during this time to find a way to organize your home so that when it’s time for doing school, there’s a place for that. When it’s a time for work, there’s a place for that. And then if you have students, your own children that are also working remotely, they also need a space. So having these separate spaces is really critical because it will help to maintain that balance that you’re going to need.
You have to protect that home space as much as possible. So while you may have spaces that are dedicated to working and doing school work, it’s still home. You want to also enjoy the benefits of being at home. So actually taking the time to sit down and figure out the logistics, if you will, of how you’re going to manage these different areas is very critical.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Lisset, as I hear you saying that, you’re describing this real thoughtful approach to setting some boundaries, defining your space. And I would bet that there are a lot of folks out there listening, who haven’t really settled on that yet. What kind of things would maybe be the red flags they might notice where they need to stop and define their space a little bit more, and their time, a little bit more. What comes up?
Dr. Lisset Pickens: If you are sitting down for dinner and you’re reaching over piles of papers or a computer, it’s probably time to set up some boundaries. And if we don’t do that, what can be impacted is our ability to even function effectively within our various roles.
What we’ll see is chaos, confusion and of course we know this adds to stress. So having those boundaries are very important. We want at the end of the week, for that to truly be a celebration of the end of the week. We’re putting in a lot of time, we’re working with our kids, we’re working from home and the end of the week, you just want to simply spend that time and celebrate your family.
So if there are no boundaries in place, that can look very different. Those lines will be blurred. And then when we get ready to start the new week, we may not find what we’re looking for. It could be a case where our learners at home are not entirely ready for the start of the week. It can really cause additional stress. So establishing these places in your home is very important.
I know for myself, I have two middle schoolers. I have an elementary student and I have a one-year-old. So sitting down to figure out exactly who’s going where, when and how, all within the confines of our home is something that my husband and I really had to sit down and figure out.
Now I’ll be honest and transparent. When everything first started, when the pandemic started and students had to be at home, et cetera, it was chaos for quite some time. Maybe about a few weeks. And what happens is we are stressed out. My son needs a paper. I can’t find the paper, or other things are happening that is not conducive to what we like to see taking place.
So we had to take a step back and figure out exactly where the learning spaces were going to be, where our workspaces we’re going to be. And at the end of the day, we had to commit to turning it off. Once school was over, we turned it off. As long as homework was done, everything was turned off.
And there has to be a time where the family button gets turned back on. Because typically what would happen is your children go out to school. You go out to work and on your way home, you enter the door. That family button gets turned on. You’re looking at dinner, you’re figuring out homework. And you’re spending that time with each other.
But what happens if all of this is taking place within one location, which happens to be your home? So establishing a sound routine and figuring out those spaces are so critical to the effective functioning of your family. All of these things have to be taken into consideration.
Prioritizing the Quality of Your Home Life Brings Creativity
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You’re absolutely right, Lisset. And I love the way you described this as turning it off and the family button getting turned back on. So that sounds like you’re focusing a lot on the quality of your home life. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Dr. Lisset Pickens: Yes. You have to put just as much effort into protecting the quality of your home life as you do anything else, whether it’s work or school or whatever the case may be. Your home life, that’s your support system. That’s your place of comfort. That’s your place of refuge. You want to protect that, but it’s going to be difficult to do that if you do not take the time to kind of map and figure everything out.
Figure out the logistics of the different times when your learners need to be online, the different times when you’re at work. And when you need to turn the computer off, you have to come up with a plan.
One way that I protect the quality of my home life is I make sure that at the end of the week, once everything is done, that, like I said, we turn on that family button. We spend time together. And of course, we’re having to spend a whole lot of time together now, but it’s different.
I think it’s really forced us to be more creative as a family. I think it’s brought us together, just being transparent there. And my children, I think now are, they’re more into ways that they can address different things, but in a variety of different ways.
So, for example, during this pandemic and the quarantine and everything, it was Father’s Day. And typically, what we do on Father’s Day is, of course, we figure out a way to celebrate my husband. So we usually go out to eat. That’s typically what happens.
But during that time, we weren’t able to do that. So my kids came up with an idea, “Well, why don’t we do it outside? Why don’t we figure out what we can do outside?” So that ball got rolling.
And by the end of it, we came up with watching a movie outside while we dine outside. And that was something we had never done before. That was something that we probably wouldn’t have thought of, at least not right away. But what I love about it is that it was my kids who came up with the idea and I just helped to execute it.
So I think the quality of your home life, even though we’re dealing with everything we’re dealing with right now, can be maintained. It can be improved. For me, I know it’s been improved because now we’re doing more things together and we’re finding creative ways to do things together because we’re around each other all the time. So we have to be creative.
What else can you do besides being around each other all of the time? Well, we’re going to think of some different things we can do. We’ve been taking walks around the neighborhood, which typically before this, we would say, “Oh, we can’t do that because we have to go do this, or we have to do that.” And that always got pushed on the back burner. But now in protecting that home life and the quality of that life, we/re making a conscious effort to do some of these things. So it’s been really nice.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Lisset, thank you so much for sharing all of that with us about the fact that creativity has emerged. Some new activities maybe that you would not have thought of before, and also this closeness with your family and really intentionally focusing on that. That is so helpful.
And I’m sure, great ideas for our listeners as well in thinking about, well, how can we balance? How can we self care a little bit more and focus on family time and the time outside of being online?
Three Tips for Online Educators
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And Lisset, you’ve shared with us some great ideas about creativity, closeness with your family, turning off the online work, and also turning back on that family button as we call it.
So if you were to suggest three tips for our listeners today, to help them with balance while they’re teaching online, what would you suggest?
1: Set Boundaries
Dr. Lisset Pickens: Sure. I think having boundaries would be the most critical point. I can’t stress that enough. So when I say boundaries, I mean having some firm boundaries at a certain time where shutting things off, we’re interacting with each other.
In my house, it involves technology. So no phones, no computer, no games. It’s just time to actually interact. We need to check-in with each other. That’s very important. To see how our kids even are processing what is happening.
I have four children, like I said, and each one of them is so different. And what I found throughout this experience is that each one of them, probably minus my one year old, is processing things very differently. For my daughter, who I like to call my social butterfly, she doesn’t meet a stranger. She’s very energetic. So this for her, I can see where it’s kind of changed. And sometimes she would feel a little down but those were the times we made sure we checked in with her. “How are you feeling today? What’s going on? Would you like to do something?” And go from there.
Versus my middle son, he has flourished during this time. He was usually my very quiet child and now he’s engaging and he’s actually doing better remotely than he was in person. So just trying to figure out each child and what’s going on with them.
So I definitely think we can maximize on those opportunities when we have those cutoff times. Just a time to get away from the technology, because of course we’re all using technology right now. We have to for a large majority of the day. So there has to be a time where we turn things off.
2: Take Time for Self-Care
So I would say this will also prevent you from being overextended. You want to establish a healthy schedule. You want to engage in self-care. You want to ensure that you are balancing those plates well, so boundaries are important.
The next thing I would say, and I just briefly mentioned that, was the importance of self-care. We want to avoid burnout as much as possible throughout this time. So we have to sometimes take a step back, even step away and just reflect.
For me, reflecting is listening to music just for a few minutes, just to kind of step away and ensure that I’m checking in with myself to engage in that self-care. So we have to take time for ourselves even during all of this.
And it may look different. Maybe before we would’ve went and gotten a massage, or maybe before we would have went and did something else outside of the home. And maybe now it looks a little different, but again, that’s where we have to be a little creative in how we are addressing a lot of the things that are happening now.
So, for some people, it may be reading a book. Like I said, for me, it’s listening to music. Something else that has come out of all of this, that is somewhat new to me is I finished writing a children’s book.
And that was not even on my radar for some time, but through all of this and making sure that I engage in self-care, I took some time. And every day, just for a few minutes, I write a little, write a little, write a little. Until they started developing into this project. So I think that’s very important.
3: Learn to Say NO
And then the last point would be to embrace the ability to say, “no.” That is a tough one for some people, it was a tough one for me. And honestly it took me a while to get there, but you want to ensure that you do not overextend yourself.
Just because you may be working from home and you’re in a state of comfort, we can work from home comfortably and we don’t have to get dressed up or do anything like that, but it can create a false sense of comfort to the point where we are saying yes to everything.
Your boss messages you, “Hey, can you do this?” And you’re already overextended, but “Sure, I’ll take that on.” Or, a friend asks you to do something. “Sure, I’ll do this.” And before you know it, you’re burnt out. So it’s okay to say no.
And I know it can be difficult because you’re working from home and it just feels like it should be okay to take on more. But again, that’s where my previous point of self-care comes in and why having that balance is so important. So embrace the ability to say no sometimes. And I think by saying, no, sometimes you’re saying yes to yourself.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Lisset, I really appreciated you sharing all these points. Honestly, they’re each effective and useful points and we all need to practice them. And the one that stood out to me, you were talking about self-care, taking time, and that you set aside a little time to write and then wrote a children’s book. Congratulations on the book, by the way!
Dr. Lisset Pickens: Thank you.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah, that is so exciting. And also it goes really nicely with what you just said about your family activities that really turning things off gave you this space to plan together. The fun movie under the stars, outdoor, the father’s day experience.
And it sounds like that same space for creativity is what is helping you to create as well in writing this book. What do you think might change long-term for people when we’re taking this time and having the space that the pandemic has sort of forced us into?
Challenges We Can Anticipate When We Return to “Normal” Work
Dr. Lisset Pickens: I think, and I thought about that recently. What is the adjustment going to be like for some people who now work from home for an extended period of time, what is that adjustment going to feel like? Or even look like? Let’s say they do return to a brick-and-mortar building after this, or their schedules become a little bit more rigorous because things have opened up or things have changed.
And I think at first it will be a little challenging. It will be a little challenging, especially if you have invested the time needed and protected your family space, invested in the logistics of your workspaces at home. And you’ve gotten into the flow of everything. Everything is working pretty well. And now you’re going to have to change again and go back to the way it was. So I think initially it will be challenging.
However, I don’t think we’ll remain there forever. I think out of that challenge, what is going to happen is, hopefully, we’re going to adapt some new practices. We’re going to put new practices in place and we’re going to take a lot of the skills that we’ve developed during this time into those workspaces, for example.
And I think it’s going to produce a more productive professional life, a well-functioning family life. Because this is the rehearsal. We’ve had this opportunity right now to really try different things, trial and error. Try something and if that doesn’t work, figure something else out.
For example, with my three school-aged kids at first, I had everyone working in the same vicinity, the same space. And that was a no-no. That did not go very well. So I had to figure out a new strategy.
So I had my daughter who, like I said, very energetic, likes to interact. What I figured out: she needs a space, all of her own, where if she wants to stand and talk on the computer with her teacher, she can. If she wants to do cartwheels while she’s doing that, she can. But she needed her own space because then my middle son, he’s one who gets distracted very easily. So he needed a quiet space. He needed an area where he can engage and be free of distractions. So I had to move him to a different place.
And then my oldest son he’s kind of like me, he goes with the flow. So he was fine either way, but this is what I’m talking about in regards to trial and error. So we’ve rehearsed this throughout this time and we’ve learned how to protect that family time. So hopefully those are skills and opportunities that we’ll take back with us and we can implement that.
And especially when it comes to saying no and engaging with self-care. Making sure if we set up a time or there’s an event that we have taking place, and someone comes and says, “Hey, do you mind doing this?” We feel comfortable in saying no, because I’ve already committed to something else with my family. Or, I may have something else going on.
Whereas before, that may have been very difficult to do. So I think that it would be challenging at first, but I definitely think this has prepared us for those challenges and that we’ll be okay.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Lisset, thank you so much for sharing your time with us on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast today and for your wealth of knowledge and advice for anyone who is teaching online right now, and especially working with family members at home. Thank you for being here.
Dr. Lisset Pickens: Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it. Thank you.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. And what you shared with us about boundaries, self-care and saying, no, these are all areas that can help us manage the work and to thrive. So to our listeners, we wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching and setting healthy boundaries as well.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey. For more information about our university, visit us at studyatapu.com. APU, American Public University.
Lisset Bird-Pickens, Ed.D. is a full-time associate professor in the Human Development and Family Studies program at American Public University. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from Georgia Southern University, an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from Mercer University, an M.Ed. in School Counseling from The University of West Alabama and an Ed.D. in Education/Instructional Leadership from Nova Southeastern University.
Dr. Bird-Pickens has experience in online learning and has taught at the university level since 2006. She has taught elementary students and adult learners.
Lisset’s academic background is in early childhood education, educational leadership, psychology, and child and family development. Dr. Bird-Pickens is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and nationally certified school counselor. She holds certifications in teaching pre-K through 12th grades, school counseling in K-12, and educational leadership in K-12.
Bethanie Hansen, DMA, PCC, is a Faculty Director and Certified Professional Coach for the School of Arts & Humanities at American Public University. She holds a B.M. in Music Education from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in Arts & Letters from Southern Oregon University and a DMA in Music Education from Boston University.
Bethanie focuses on personal and professional development, self-growth, teaching and working online, and mindset. She is an educator, coach, manager, writer, presenter and musician with 25 years of experience helping others achieve their goals.