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#107: Managing Sick Time or Emergencies as an Online Teacher

#107: Managing Sick Time or Emergencies as an Online Teacher

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hanseninterim Associate Dean, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

You never know when an emergency or illness may strike. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies to help online educators prepare for unexpected absences, illnesses, or other emergencies. Learn why it’s so important to keep your class in order, develop a communication plan, provide emergency contact sheet, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging but it can also be rewarding, engaging and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Today, we’ll talk about sick time when you’re teaching online classes. I hope you never get sick when you’re in the middle of a class, that could be a difficult time for you. But, it does happen and, of course, there are other reasons we might have to leave our class, like illnesses or other emergencies. Perhaps we have a brief technology failure and don’t have new technology right away. For whatever reason, there are so many reasons we should prepare for sick time when we’re teaching online and this episode will help you to do that.

First, we’ll talk about keeping your class in order before an illness ever strikes. Then, policies you may maintain so that when someone else teaches your class, students will know what to expect. We’ll talk about grading your work, the actual emergency or illness time, and some personal experiences I have in this area. So, let’s get started.

Tips for Preparing Your Classroom for Sickness or Time Away

First, before you ever have an illness, you want to keep your class in order. What are some of the things that you might do to keep your class in order?

Be Proactive

First, be proactive. Guide your students in what they’re habits should be when they are participating in your class. By being proactive and giving announcements up front, having your class set up for the entire course before it begins and having a regular routine, it will be easy to maintain that class in your absence should you need to be out of class.

You can guide students well in advance of any assignment by giving them some sheets of guidance, maybe examples. You can have a video where you walk through the assignment. And, all of these can be prepared before you ever start teaching your class. After all, you handle these assignments regularly and you know that there are students who tend to struggle with the same things every time. Why not prepare those videos before the class begins so that, should you become ill, your guidance is already there in the classroom?

Keep an Organized Classroom

Then, keep an organized classroom. If you have rubrics in place for your assignments, always have them in a space that students can view them before submitting their work. You might also have them in a place where someone else can see them if they should have to step into your class in your absence and grade that work.

You can have the lessons labeled and everything in order in the learning management system. With the way that learning management systems are designed today, it is very easy to have an organized online classroom, well prepared with all the lesson materials before the course starts, and ready to roll for your students and for the entire session.

Create an Emergency Contact Card

Contact information for your supervisor might be difficult to get if you work at a large online institution that is not very personal with you. However, most places we teach nowadays do contact us and let us know exactly who to speak with should we become ill or have an emergency. Create an emergency contact card and keep it in your wallet, on your board at home where you might keep important things, and share it with any loved ones that are close to you. If you have an accident or an illness and you are not able to communicate with your institution or your students, a person in your life can use that information to reach out on your behalf.

Some important details could include your supervisor’s telephone number, email address and name. If that’s not available, maybe there’s a faculty relations or a hiring department or some other management group at your institution that you can speak with.

If you’re a K – 12 educator, there might be a substitute teacher hotline, a principal, an administrator, a colleague, a friend, someone you can contact or have your family and friends contact in your absence. Keep that information close by, always ready in an emergency.

Provide Students with a Secondary Contact in Case of Emergency

One other tip is to give your students information about who they can contact if you don’t appear in class. Should something happen to you and no one in your life is able to reach out to the institution, students should know how they can reach out when they need help. Perhaps we could give them the information to the department chair, the principal or whoever manages your group. Either way, you always want students to have a secondary contact in case of emergencies, so giving them that information could be useful. You might not give them your supervisor’s phone number, but an email address would suffice.

Maintain Healthy Habits to Keep You Well

And then, of course, maintain healthy habits the best you can to take care of yourself during times where you are well and healthy and all is going as planned. When you maintain healthy habits and take care of the sleep you need, the healthy eating and the rest at times when you’re not working and keep those relationships alive in your life, that will help you to be ready to go when it is time to teach your class so that you’re always at your best. Then, when you should have to reduce that effort, you still have something to give and you have done such a great job up to that point.

Classroom Policies to Develop Ahead of Illness or Unexpected Absences

Now that you’ve kept your class in order, a second area to be thinking about is policies you maintain in the classroom. These policies can be very helpful to you in times of illness or emergencies.

Develop a Communication Plan for Students

First one is a communication plan. A communication plan is when you tell your students how often to expect to hear from you. For example, you might tell them to check the weekly announcements every week and you can prepare standard announcements to have rolling out each week of the class automatically. You can update them with any pertinent information as you go, but having these in place is a wonderful part of your communication plan.

A second part of your communication plan is to let students know how often to expect grading feedback. If they have questions about their grade or would like something explained to them or would like to challenge a grade, giving them a communication plan about how to contact you and who to reach out to is very helpful. This communication plan could also include that information I previously mentioned about contacting a supervisor if you are out of class and non-responsive. It may sound strange to tell students what to do in your absence before you ever have an absence, but in case of an emergency, students do need to know who they could reach out to to get help finishing their course.

And, in your communication plan, I would also suggest posting this in the course where it can be prominently displayed so any visitors to your classroom can also see it. Perhaps in a course announcement or the syllabus or both.

You can follow your communication plan regularly and make sure students are updated about what’s going on in the class, and also use the course messaging system. Many schools nowadays use email as well, which is fine, but in your absence, someone will not have the access to your email. If there is a messaging system in the classroom or a question and answer board, I would suggest using that regularly so students’ exchanges can be viewed by others who might need to step into your classroom.

Follow your communication plan. Once you’ve told your students how you plan to communicate throughout the course, stick to it. If something should happen and you can’t be in the classroom, they will be the first to realize something has gone on and be able to reach out if needed.

And, of course, be clear and present in your course activities. A highly engaged instructor creates a wonderful atmosphere and relationships with their students. If you’re clear and present in the announcements and your grading substantive feedback area and also posting in discussions, it’s going to be obvious that you’re there creating a wonderful learning experience together with your students. If something should happen, another person could look into this and see how you have taught them, what your approach has been, and do their best to continue giving those students a positive experience in your absence.

Maintain a Clear and Quality Grading Strategy

Clear and present grading of students’ work is also essential so that your course is always well-maintained but also anyone who must step in in your absence can see what you’ve done with students to this point. And, I would suggest if you have essays to grade that you provide comments directly on the essays that are written. Also, provide students with the rubric ahead of time. Post it in the assignment area and use it in your grading. This makes your grading very clear and others can understand on which you have based the scoring and the feedback.

Now, when you grade your students’ work, it’s important to use rubrics. Rubrics show various ranges of skill levels achieved, categories that you focused on, and so forth. One of those categories should be the content itself.

For example, if you’re teaching a music appreciation class, as I do, there’s a section where we mark about using music terms appropriately. I, of course, have ranges for that but I also mark it and explain to students when they have used the terms well and when they have a misunderstanding. And, I have some different corrective elements that I can put in there to explain what the term means if a student has misunderstood.

The content you are teaching matters the most. Writing style is also important. We want to help students as much as we can learn how to write properly and be able to produce academic essays. But, more than that, we need to know that they understood the subject matter. Unless you’re grading English essays, in any other subject area, grade the content first and be sure to give lots of comments about that content and then provide correction on the formatting, the citation style, and the grammar and other things you might care about.

Never let a student move on out of your class who has very poor writing without correcting that. It would be a shame for a student to go through an entire online degree and not learn how to write properly. English class is really not the only place where we can do that.

If you provide quality grading in your classroom every time, then should something happen to you and you’re not able to finish teaching the course, someone else will be able to look over your grading, see what your approach has been and give those students a quality experience to the end of the class.

You can also ensure that when you have given your students quality grading feedback, they are learning from you. There are things that you can teach them that no one else can, and giving them your best every time when you are at your best is a really great policy to ensure that they learn what they can learn from you.

And, lastly, decide up front what you care about most in grading your students’ work. What ideas and concepts matter to you? Be sure to remark about those ideas when you’re giving the feedback and let students know as much as possible.

Tips on How to Handle Emergencies or Illnesses

Now, let’s talk about how to handle those emergencies or illnesses that occur. Anything could happen, ranging as small as simply having an allergy situation, like I’m having this week, or you might have something like a hospitalization, a surgery, a major illness that keeps you away from your work. You might have an accident. Perhaps there’s a natural disaster or a car accident. I have worked with faculty who have had all of these things happen. I’ve also worked with faculty who had terminal illnesses or major degrading illnesses that took away their ability to teach online at all.

Issue an Instructor Availability Announcement to Students

There are so many things that can happen during our lifetime, independent of our work. Whatever is happening to you, whether large or small, the first step is to let your students know what to expect. I like to call this an instructor availability announcement. Your students need to know that you’re not going to be on your normal schedule, that your regular communication plan has been disrupted, and that they will need a little more patience than usual.

When you give them this plan, it is not important to give them your personal details about the crisis you’re experiencing or the illness. If you are comfortable doing that and you would like to share it in a brief way, it’s of course acceptable to do so. But, I always suggest that faculty keep their private details to themselves when they feel they want to do that.

So, telling your students that you’re going to be out of class for a few days, or unable to interact with them for a few days is totally fine. That instructor availability announcement could say something like, “I will be offline Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. I will check-in Friday and at that time, I will answer any questions.”

And, you could also give a contact information for your supervisor if they have an emergency or a question that’s urgent in your absence. If someone else is going to step into your class while you’re away, it’s helpful to let students know that as well. Introduce the person, give them their email contact information and, of course, help that person know what to expect when teaching your class.

In an ideal situation, when you’re ill, you’ll have a substitute teacher come in and work with you. In colleges and universities, that is rarely the case. Sometimes you might have a colleague that’s able to teach for you, but that is extremely rare. If you’re going to be out only a couple of days, simply putting an instructor availability announcement and returning and catching up when you’re well again is adequate.

If you’re going to be out a longer duration and someone’s going to teach the rest of your class or a period of time for you, you might want to orient that person, if possible, on what you’ve done with your students and what you would appreciate them doing in your absence.

Communicate with Supervisors, Colleagues and Family

Communicate with your supervisor and your institution about your absence. And, of course, if you are not able to do so, be sure to have your family or friends who are contacting your manager for you do this on your behalf.

If you have a colleague that can teach for you in your absence, communicate well with them what you’re going to be doing and when you can be back and how they can reach you if they have any questions. Then, of course, when you’re teaching and you are just gone for a short time, you’ll have to catch up and let students know about your grading timeline when you’re back.

When others are teaching, you will need to know what they are going to do in your absence. For example, in my institution, if another faculty member steps in and teaches for you, they will manage the questions students have and they might engage in the discussions and keep the class basically moving forward. But, the grading will be the instructor’s responsibility when they return from the illness.

In special situations where an instructor is gone for longer than just a few days, that grading might be done by a colleague. But, it depends on the situation and it’s not exactly clear for every single case. It can be helpful to discuss this with others who might be teaching for you, just to find out what to expect and also to help them know how they can help manage your class.

In the worst-case scenario where you cannot finish the class or even tell your students that you are gone, the best thing to have done up to that point and in any case when you’re teaching is just your best work, to be on top of your game when you are healthy and well and when everything is going the best that can be expected.

If you cannot finish the class or even tell your students that you are leaving, be sure to give your colleague or your supervisor the best guidance you can about what you’ve done with your students to that point and then step out of the classroom and allow them to teach it out.

Tips for Supervisors to Manage Faculty Emergencies

Now, I’ve had some personal experiences with each of these scenarios where I have managed online faculty in the School of Education at my university and in the School of Arts and Humanities. There have been so many situations and they’re all different. They range from just a brief illness where a faculty member just let me know and needed me to watch their class, and sometimes I’ve had a situation where a person had a major illness, they were hospitalized and in surgery and unable to communicate with me. And, the way I discovered it was they were simply absent for class more than a day or two.

And, as the supervisor of online faculty, I’m very proactive and I look at their classrooms and I stay on top of that. So, a faculty member’s not going to be away from class for more than a day or two without me noticing and then I’m going to reach out if it takes three, maybe four days and they’re not back in class and I’m going to see what I can do to help them.

If you don’t have someone like that in your situation, it’s especially helpful to reach out and be proactive whenever you can. I’ve had faculty also have car accidents where some major things were happening and they were not going to recover right away and they really could not teach again for weeks. I’ve also had faculty where their technology had failed, their computer crashed, they were not able to get another computer anytime soon. And, in those kinds of emergencies, it can be especially debilitating to you if you do all your work online.

One recommendation for that is to find a place where you can either get a loaner computer, short-term or maybe there’s a computer work station where you can log in, either on a local college campus in a library or in a public library. And then, of course, log off again and clear the cache and the cookies after you’re done using it for your teaching. If you have a family member or friend with a computer that you can use, you can also do that short term in a technology accident.

If you have a health decline that’s actually going to take away your ability to teach online, and I’ve worked with many faculty in those situations as well who either could no longer type, could no longer speak, could no longer maintain the rigor of grading essays for very long, different things, you might be able to work with your academic institution to teach smaller course loads.

You might be able to reduce your typing by using something like Dragon Dictate, naturally speaking. There are a lot of different ways to accommodate health declines or other kinds of setbacks where you’d like to keep teaching but cannot teach to the full load that you might have in the past. And, I would highly recommend considering those and then, of course, deciding if you are able to teach in the future. And, only you have the answer to that. You can think about your own personal situation and decide.

Whatever happens to you, know that your work is valued to your students and to those that you work with at your school or your institution. As an educator, you make a difference and you matter immensely. I want to encourage you not to be embarrassed if you have a sickness or an illness or an emergency, but to reach out to people around you and communicate what your needs might be. You will be surprised how others can step in and help you and manage your students on the short term at least in your absence and help you make arrangements for whatever needs you might have.

Of course, wrapping all of this up, it’s never fun to be sick when you’re teaching online, but there are so many things you can do to plan ahead before sickness ever strikes or emergencies come, and there are things that you can do to manage those things if you should experience them.

Above all, I suggest that you keep a contact card for your colleagues, your manager, your supervisor, and your institution available where loved ones in your life can reach out and let others know if something’s happened to you, should that be the case. This, at the bare minimum, is really important so that you have an emergency plan as an online educator.

Well, to your health and to your wellbeing, I wish you all the best this coming week and I also wish you a successful experience managing any illness or emergency you might face while teaching online.

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/requests. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#104: Tips to Recognize Burnout and Overcome Overwhelm

#104: Tips to Recognize Burnout and Overcome Overwhelm

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Are you experiencing burnout? Burnout is serious and can impact your health, happiness, relationships, and work. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the signs of burnout including exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. She also discusses ways to rebuild your emotional strength, manage your energy, and find satisfaction in your work again.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

Read the Transcript:

This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining me today. We will focus on how you can recognize burnout and overcome overwhelm through tips from Dr. Jacinta M. Jimenez’s book, “The Burnout Fix: Overcome Overwhelm, Beat Busy, and Sustain Success in the New World of Work,” and other resources.

But before we do that, I’m going to share out three announcements.

Here is a Site to Help You Navigate through Prior Episodes for Help

First, if you’re trying to decide what past episodes to listen to in your online teaching focus, with 104 episodes published so far, you could get lost in this long list of episode topics and strategies. To help you out, I’d like to invite you to visit my website: BethanieHansen.com.

Once you get there, you will find a menu item across the green menu bar at the top of the page called “The Online Teaching Toolbox.” By clicking this menu item, you will find some broad topics listed to help you navigate toward what you’re looking for. You can also access the toolbox using the big button on the home page that says, “find effective strategies right now.”

In future weeks, I’ll keep adding more structure to the website that will help you navigate topics even more quickly and effectively, so that you can read or listen about whatever you need in the moment.

Online Learning Innovation Conference is Coming Up!

Second, I’m announcing that the Online Learning Consortium’s spring conference is coming up. At the time of this podcast, early April 2022, the international conference is just a few days away. The conference is called “OLC Innovate,” and it is focused on new ideas, strategies, and fresh approaches to online, hybrid, and blended education. I’m putting a link to the conference in the podcast transcript, so please take a look. The conference includes virtual presentations as well as live sessions on-site in Dallas, TX. So, if you cannot travel to attend in person, consider the virtual option.

At the conference, you’ll find new ideas, and you will also benefit from specific topics like blended learning, community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, instructional design, online leadership, networking, research, career and technical education, instructional technologies and tools, open learning, and teaching and learning practice.

And your presenters will be excellent educators, leaders, and researchers who have gone through a “rigorous three-stage, double-blind peer review process upon conference proposal submission. Acceptance to present at OLC Innovate is competitive and is a great accomplishment.”

It’s always a good idea to refresh your teaching and stopping by a professional conference like this one might be just what you’re looking for. Not only will you keep growing, but you will have at least one fresh idea you can take with you to try out. If you are attending, I’m presenting a workshop about creating podcasts for education you might find interesting. Dr. Jan Spencer, one of my colleagues at American Public University, is presenting a workshop about three specific areas of online teaching and learning practice. These include the rules of the road for online presence, fun ways to enhance forum discussions, and innovative strategies for creating assignments.

Whether or not you’re able to attend the OLC Innovate conference for April 2022, I encourage you to submit a proposal to present a session, a workshop, or a discovery session for the OLC Accelerate conference coming up with virtual sessions November 1-3, 2022, and live sessions in Orlando, Florida, November 14-17, 2022. The call for presentation proposals is open until May 18, 2022.

Two Consecutive Years with the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast

Third, and most importantly, today’s episode number 104 marks the end of our second year with the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. This means that we have shared tips, strategies, and topics about managing online teaching every week for two continuous years.

There are over 2,000,000 podcasts out there with over 48 million episodes, and those numbers keep growing. And although there are millions out there, many of these have only a handful of episodes and then they dropped. Fewer than 20% of podcasts that start up reach one year of continuous episodes.

Next week’s episode launches our third year, and I invite you to keep listening to strengthen your online teaching technique and help rekindle your sense of purpose in what you do every day for your students.

We have established a strong history and have exciting plans for the year ahead. Episode 105 will feature Dr. Jan Spencer, the Department Chair at American Public University, and Dr. David Ferreira, Provost at Charter Oak State College and part-time faculty at American Public University in leadership and student affairs. The episode will focus on helping students navigate their online education journey, and it’s one you won’t want to miss!

Education is one of the most powerful forces in the world. By seeking education, we begin to dream again. We dream about who we are, and who we can become. What we can do, and what we might be able to achieve that we previously never imagined possible. And when we teach, not only do we help others learn and grow, but we also help them make their dreams come true.

Pursuing an education online can be a scary proposition for students. After all, when we sit in a live class, on a college campus, with a live teacher and classmates all around, this almost automatically puts us into a mental space to focus on learning.

Yet online, our students might doubt their own abilities to focus, to stay on task with the online materials, and to keep working without all of those people in the same room. This is one of the many reasons we support you and your teaching through the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, and why I hope you will share this podcast with anyone you know who could benefit.

Statistics in a recent study suggest that the number one reason that people listen to podcasts is to learn something new. And giving you new tips, topics, and ideas is our goal here. That said, let’s move into this week’s topic to help you get the new ideas you came for.

About Burnout

The Online Teaching Lounge podcast celebrates you, the educator, in this episode. As we close our second year of connecting with you, we realize that you work hard. And teaching online, at times you might feel isolated or alone. Technologies used in online education are marvelous, but they also invite us to keep trying new things, exploring, and making the class and our approaches better. This never-ending quest for excellence can become overwhelming. So many things might be part of that path to burnout as an online educator.

But how do you know whether you’re just getting a little stagnant and need new ideas, and whether you might have burnout?

Dr. Jacinta Jimenez describes three components of burnout. These include exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.

Exhaustion means that you might feel very intense emotional, physical, or cognitive fatigue, and maybe a combination of all three. It’s a lingering state of being tired, and it’s persistent. One of the ways you can know whether you’re exhausted in these ways is that after you get a really good night of sleep or take some relaxing time off, you don’t feel refreshed or replenished. And if you notice this trend over and over, that’s an even better gauge.

Cynicism is an attitude of suspicion where you believe the future is bleak and that other people are acting only out of self-interest. An example of cynicism is when you always think the worst and have a hard time seeing the good in anyone. When you experience cynicism, you have low levels of job engagement. You start to feel detached. And, you are easily annoyed by the people you work with.

And inefficacy is where you’re being unproductive. You are working harder, but you’re producing less. You’re not getting the results you might have gotten in the past. You even start to feel incompetent, like you can’t keep up or be successful. Self-efficacy is an important part of confidence and it means that you can make things happen, and you know you can. Your efforts lead to results. In contrast, inefficacy is the state in which you believe that no amount of effort you put in will get you the results you’re trying to achieve. You don’t see that you have an impact or make a difference.

Although there are these three common components come together to suggest burnout, everyone experiences them in unique ways. For example, you might find yourself having a lot of exhaustion, where someone else might have a lot more cynicism.

Regardless of which aspect seems to weigh heaviest for you, burnout is serious and can impact your health, your happiness, your relationships, and your job. When you’re teaching online, you might find that getting the work done takes longer and longer. Mental clarity and sharpness are difficult to harness when reading through students’ comments and considering how to respond.

Either the online work begins to take up more of your free time, nights, and weekends, and keeps you from enjoying your personal life, or it’s increasingly challenging to get yourself to sit down to being at the work at all. You might even begin to think your students are not learning or getting anything out of what you’re trying to teach them, missing signs of their efforts altogether.

If you believe that you might be experiencing burnout in your work, this doesn’t mean that you lack coping skills or are just bad at taking care of yourself. And it doesn’t mean you’re weak. There are many combined forces that lead to burnout, some in the workplace, some in our own expectations for ourselves, and some in areas that are more difficult to pin down. If you’re experiencing burnout, Dr. Jacinta Jimenez’s five core pulse practices can support you in working through it and recovering.

The five core practices are behavioral, cognitive, physical, social, and emotional. These practices take consistent, intentional effort. And in the book “The Burnout Fix” I’ve referenced for this podcast episode, you’ll find exercises you can read, work through, and integrate into your life over time.

Getting through burnout is not something that can be done quickly or easily. But the positive of it all is that you can find real, research-based, and solid strategies to use that will help you out of burnout and they will also increase your resilience for future challenges and tough times ahead.

There are two of the five core practices I’d like to highlight today because we’ve explored them many times already in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. The first is to “undo untidy thinking,” which means that you’re going to intentionally teach your brain to let go of thinking patterns that don’t help you.

Believe it or not, there are many different kinds of thinking patterns that hurt us. And some of these are common in work groups and families, and we accept that they are true or just the way things are. One of these is “all or nothing thinking.” This would be something like when you’re teaching a class that is going really well, and one student complains. Whatever the reason for the complaint, believing that one student’s complaint ruined the entire teaching experience or makes you a bad teacher, regardless of the positive experience you’re having with all of the other students, this is all or nothing thinking.

It’s often called a cognitive distortion, because it’s not based on fact or truth. Could one complaining student actually be a sign that you’re a bad teacher? Perhaps. But it doesn’t mean that you are suddenly a bad teacher when everything else is going so well. And you would need much more evidence and insight to determine the quality of your teaching beside just one student’s opinion.

Another core practice Dr. Jimenez recommends in her book is to evaluate your effort. This means that you think about your emotional wellbeing and your energy levels. And, you take charge of your time and priorities. In this area, you might have to settle for “B-minus” level work on some things you’re responsible to complete, and you might even need to leave some things unfinished. Perhaps you will have to say no.

Evaluating your effort might feel difficult because many of us believe that we are our work. Or in other words, our work is a reflection of who we are. So, if we’re putting in too much time and not getting the results we want, or putting in too much effort for the smaller things that should take much less, it seems like our fault or a flaw in our character. But that really isn’t true.

One way to begin making changes in effort is to notice where you have high energy, and what drains your energy. And then, you can also think about different times of day in which you have naturally higher and lower energy. With this awareness, you are in a position to begin planning the draining tasks you must do for the higher energy parts of your day, when you are more able to tackle them better. And those things that refuel you or lift your energy can be planned in times where your energy levels might naturally be lower. Focusing on your energy levels and the required effort of your work and life tasks helps you start setting limits and boundaries to avoid overwhelm.

Intentionally setting limits on the time something will take or the effort you can give it helps get things into their proper places again, and it gives you the space to establish priorities.  And if we work with our priorities in mind day in and day out, and re-evaluate those priorities regularly, we can guard ourselves against becoming overwhelmed in the future as we move out of burnout.

Another area of evaluating your effort has to do with your emotional health. Emotions are data that speak to us, and yet many adults don’t recognize what they are feeling or have words to describe it. And many are uncomfortable experiencing these emotions.

Just like strengthening muscles, learning to identify what you’re feeling, reason about what it means for you, and what you’ll do with it, gives you power over your emotional self and builds emotional strength. As you focus on doing this and on managing your energy as well, you will regain a sense of purpose in what you’re doing and begin to feel a sense of satisfaction in your work again.

As we close our second year of the Online Teaching Lounge with today’s focus on identifying burnout and trying some ideas that will help reduce burnout and lead to thriving again, I want to thank you for the work you do each day teaching others online.

As I mentioned earlier in this episode, this can at times feel like isolating and challenging work. But through the power of education, we help people grow and learn, and we even help them make their dreams come true. In your own work to build new habits that reduce burnout and bring you back into alignment with your purpose and priorities, you too will begin to dream again and may even be able to keep moving forward serving many more students in the future, too. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and in the year to come!

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.

#102: Preparing to Teach Your Online Class with Peak Performance, Part 2

#102: Preparing to Teach Your Online Class with Peak Performance, Part 2

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Teaching online can be a challenging experience, and without strong wellbeing habits, teachers risk exhaustion and burnout. Approaching the work with a foundation of specific habits and routines will promote your teaching success and help you approach your work with energy and enthusiasm and a state of peak performance. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help you plan ahead for wellbeing as you teach online in your next class.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We all know that preparing to teach is a worthwhile practice. In fact, as I mentioned last week in part one of this two-part mini-series, preparing has been compared to “sharpening the saw,” by Steven Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people.”

Preparing to teach means to approach an upcoming class with a balanced plan for peak performance in your teaching, while also focusing on healthy wellbeing in your physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual self. By preserving your greatest asset—yourself—you can be at your best in your teaching and keep fresh to adapt as needed.

Last week, we explored the practical ways in which you can get your class in order before you begin to teach. In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at part two of this two-part topic. We’ll take a deeper look at the personal preparation it takes to really “sharpen the saw.” That will include healthy wellbeing through daily habits, like taking the time to care for your body, mind, spirit, and social and emotional areas, to set you up for peak performance in your online teaching.

Healthy Wellbeing Through Daily Habits

Peak performance means that you’re in a state where you can perform at your best. You feel more confident, like the work is effortless, despite the fact that it is challenging work. You find yourself deep in total concentration on the work that you’re doing, and you’re able to gain some satisfaction from being in the work. While this kind of performance requires preparation, skill, and expertise for the work itself just like elite athletes and masterful musicians invest over time, there is also another investment that sets the foundation.

And that investment is a set of habits that get your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional selves into a condition most likely to promote peak performance. We’ll look at preparing your body for peak performance in your online teaching. And in each area we cover today, I’ll share tips to help you commit to focus on this area and take action.

Preparing Your Body

Getting enough sleep is the first and most important part of preparing your body for peak performance. If we were to treat the brain as an elite athlete treats the body in preparation for competition, focusing on sleep would make a lot of sense. Sleep helps your body and your brain work properly. But even better than that, sleep improves your learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity. And a state of peak performance definitely requires agile use of learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity.

On the flip side, failing to get quality sleep can make you cranky and makes it difficult to focus and take in new information. It presents a whole host of potential health implications, but more importantly it can sap your motivation. And when you’re teaching online, you’re going to be sitting a lot and looking at a computer monitor, which will require energy and focus, both of which are depleted when you are not getting enough sleep.

Drinking enough water. Getting enough water every day is important for your health. Drinking water can prevent dehydration, a condition that can cause unclear thinking, result in mood change, cause your body to overheat, and lead to constipation and kidney stones. Water helps your body keep a normal temperature.

One of the most important reasons to drink plenty of water throughout the day is that water boosts energy. It’s difficult to know when we are running low on water, because we might feel depleted and think that we are hungry, tired, or something else. Drinking water in those moments refreshes the body by feeding cells, especially muscles, and it helps body systems function like digestion.

Exercising daily is the third tip I’m sharing today to help you prepare your body for peak performance in teaching online. Just like sleep and drinking enough water, exercise helps your body function effectively. It also helps you process emotions and regulate your mood by getting active and moving your body. Even going for a walk is exercise and can help you with the regulation your body needs.

Physical exercise is also effective to help you keep your thinking, learning, and judgment sharp over time. And in a state of peak performance, clear thinking is necessary with the ability to change directions quickly.

Preparing Your Mind

One way to prepare your mind to function in a flow state or at peak performance is to regularly plan alone time. This time can be used to rest, to reflect on your day, to think about ideas, to consider new possibilities, or just to be still. This time is an important part of your development and allows you to focus on your own thoughts or needs for a time, so that you can be ready to help others again when you’re with them.

Some people use alone time to mediate or pray, and others use alone time to recharge their energy levels by reducing input. Whatever seems to fit you best, you can schedule time alone for yourself and remember that it’s one of many essential ways to prepare yourself for a high level of performance in your online teaching.

Develop a reflection habit, whether daily or weekly. Reflection on your thoughts and experiences helps you continue learning. And when you reflect on your performance as an online educator, you can also make adjustments while teaching your class. You might notice something small that concerns you, think about it, consider it, and then try a sight adjustment in your next approach.

Regularly reflecting makes you the master of your own thoughts. With so many voices speaking to us throughout the day, and the many people and priorities that beg our attention, giving yourself space to consider what you think makes prioritizing and decision-making easier. A reflection habit helps you to make meaning out of the chaos you encounter. And when you also reflect on what is going well or where you are grateful, it can also increase your happiness and optimism over time, which are more likely to lead to peak performance. To take this idea up a level, add some kind of journaling. Write down your ideas and insights, it makes them last longer.

And the third tip I’m sharing today around preparing your mind for peak performance is to keep learning. Let’s go back to imagining the elite athlete who is competing. This person reflects on their recent performance or even their performance during the warm-up. Perhaps a coach provides observations as well. The entire point of talking about these things is to keep learning to perform better. And to perform well in online work, we too need to keep learning.

Continuous learning makes mistakes less significant. It opens the mind and lifts the attitude. When you keep learning, you’re able to build on what you already know and keep getting better. You can gain a sense of accomplishment through your continued learning and this boosts your confidence, which has a direct impact on how you show up in the online classroom for your students.

Preparing Your Spirit

As we think about “sharpening the saw” to build a solid personal foundation of health and wellbeing for peak performance, it might seem unusual to prepare spiritually. However, your spirit includes having a clear purpose and direction. And seeking a level of clarity and focus in your online teaching to help you manage it well and enjoy it most. It means that you’re aiming for that level of excellence we’ve been calling peak performance.

It’s not just something you do once in a while. Peak performance is a way of thinking and a mindset that guides your choices, decisions, and actions every day. It is an inner commitment that helps you work effectively and efficiently, setting boundaries around this time so that your non-work time is refreshing and protected from overwork. In this way, it requires a sense of purpose, and a direction.

Have hope and optimism. Hope means that you believe in good things to come in the future. And optimism means that the challenges and setbacks are viewed as temporary, localized, and not personal while the positives and rewards are viewed as permanent, pervasive, and personal. To continue learning and developing excellence in your teaching performance online, hope and optimism have to become part of the way you think. Constant doubt and negative expectations will have an entirely different energy and outcome.

Another way to prepare your spirit to fully engage in your online teaching is to serve, contribute, or give back to others. I’m not talking about teaching them online. Yes, that is a kind of service, but it is typically a paid service. The serving, contributing, and giving back I’m referring to here is all about giving freely without expectations. That kind of service to others, to your community, and to people who need help, turns our attention to the needs of others and helps us open up to them. It’s another way to learn to tolerate ambiguity and not have to know everything.

Service reduces stress. It also helps us develop social trust and connection with other people more naturally. It can feed your spirituality by giving you a sense of purpose and meaning that is separate from your professional work and energizing to your life.

Preparing Your Social-Emotional Self

The last area of personal preparation to achieve peak performance in your online work is to build a support network of people you trust, and then set aside ample time to spend with those who are important to you. Learn to receive from others. Surround yourself with people trying to be at their best.

Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate emotions, boost mood, and lead to higher self-esteem and empathy. It can also improve our immune systems. To bring your mind and body into alignment for peak performance, you need to be able to regulate emotions well and control your mood.

Tying it all together, we focus on two areas when preparing to teach online. One is the classroom itself, which we reviewed on episode 101. This includes the specific preparations you put in place to make things run smoothly, and the ways in which you “sharpen the saw” by preparing your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional self for the work you will do.

To bring it into your daily habits and make it last throughout your teaching, it’s a good idea to design tiny habits that are simple, small, and achievable, in the foundation areas to maintain healthy wellbeing and balance. This will give you the encouragement you need to avoid overwork and to set boundaries that help you enjoy your online teaching and your life away from work.

Thank you for listening today, and for your work with students online. If you’ve heard something useful today, please share this episode with a friend or colleague. Please, join me again next week for episode 103, an interview with Dr. Jan Spencer and our special guest, University President Dr. Kate Zatz. Until then, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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.

#77: How to Say “NO” When You Teach Online

#77: How to Say “NO” When You Teach Online

How to Convey a Positive “No” When Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

Teaching online effectively takes time and energy, and to manage this well, educators must learn how to say “No.” This kind of focus helps with decision-making, time management, committing to extra projects, and everything else. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the “Power of a Positive No,” by William Ury, to help online educators prioritize and thrive. Learn how to simplify online teaching, get better results, and feel a greater sense of satisfaction from your work.

#73: Starting a Reflective Practice Can Help You Grow as an Online Educator

#73: Starting a Reflective Practice Can Help You Grow as an Online Educator

Starting a Reflective Practice Can Help You Grow as an Online Educator

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Dedicating time to reflect can help educators assess their teaching strategy and find ways to improve and become more effective. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares what reflective practice means, how to get started, and tips for making the most of reflective writing.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m Bethanie Hansen, and I’m very happy to talk with you today about reflective writing. That’s right, reflective writing is one practice that will improve your online teaching quickly.

When you reflect about what you’re doing and think about the habits you’re creating in your online teaching journey, you can then make small adjustments and improve things over time, to save yourself time. Reflective teaching means that you’re going to look at what you do when you’re teaching. Think about why you do it, and think about whether it works.

What is Reflective Practice?

This is an overall process of observing yourself, or self-observation. And, it’s also self-evaluation. When you’re evaluating your own teaching, you won’t be surprised if someone else comes along and evaluates you and sees something similar.

John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” That’s absolutely right. I keep a journal; I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 12 years old. That’s a lot of journaling! I’ve written about many experiences I’ve had, and I’ve also written about thoughts I had, and day-to-day experiences that are pretty mundane. And, I have gone through some of those journals from my earlier life, and I find fascinating things that I wrote. I also remember things afresh because I don’t remember them for real, but I remember them by reading about my experiences as I wrote them. This is been really insight-producing for me, but it’s also helpful as an educator.

Early in my career, when I was a public school music teacher, we were encouraged to write down some reflective thoughts at the end of our teaching day. I found that a helpful way to consider what was going well, as well as what I wanted to fix. I hope you will find this a positive practice to quickly improve your online teaching as well. Here are some things that reflective educators do.

Planning Ahead Makes Reflective Practice Possible

First, dedicate time to reflect. If you don’t plan ahead to set this time aside in your day, you won’t do it. There’s no common time for reflecting, except perhaps when one’s preparing to go to bed. You might have a reading habit, or a journaling habit, at that time, in which case you could add reflective journaling to that routine.

I prefer to do reflective writing about my professional life at the end of the workday, and not at the end of the day. Earlier in the evening is better, because it’s fresh, and I can think about what I did during my workday, and kind of close that part of my day. Dedicate time to reflect by selecting whether this will be a daily habit, a weekly habit, or a monthly habit. Or if you prefer, you might reflect after certain lessons that you’re giving that you’re especially concerned about or excited about.

Reflective Practice Can Help Us Be Intentional

Number two, reflect to make specific teaching decisions. As you reflect on your practice, you’ll be able to see things a little bit more objectively. Some of us are hard on ourselves. We judge our teaching very harshly. Others, we give ourselves a lot of latitude, and we like to acknowledge everything that’s going right.

As you’re reflecting on your teaching, notice where you find patterns. As you notice these patterns, for example, your own teaching is difficult in certain lessons that you’re giving, or you find certain assignments very boring or very difficult to grade, as you notice those kinds of patterns you can make new decisions about the way design your course and about the way you teach the course.

Reflection is very helpful to make specific teaching decisions that improve your teaching and also improve student learning.

Reflective Practice Improves Our Time Management

Number three, reflect about how to approach tasks and challenges. One of the things I do occasionally is note how I spent my time throughout the day.

I will write down how much of my time was spent grading work, how much of my time was spent reading e-mails, how much of my time was spent creating videos to put in my class, and all of those other tasks I do as an online professor. Have you ever done that?

Have you ever written down how you spend your day? When you do that, and you write down the time log, you can think about how to approach the tasks and challenges you face as an online educator and find new approaches.

In fact, as you reflect on the tasks that you do as an online educator, it might even occur to you to research those tasks and find out how other people approach them. The more you think about the way you approach your tasks and challenges, the more you can plug holes in time. Such as where time just slips away from you, or feels kind of wasted. You can pull that in, tighten it up, and make your teaching even more effective.

Reflective Practice Helps Us Consider Our Strategies

Fourth, reflect to consider strategies and andragogy. As you are teaching your course from week to week, or month to month, as you reflect on your teaching, you can consider whether you’re using strategies the way you had hoped and if they went the way you hoped they would. You can also consider what adult learners truly need in the online classroom.

Good principles of andragogy, or andragogy theory, includes ideas like adults having choice in their learning process, adults being able to bring their life experiences into their learning, and many other good principles.

As you think about the principles of andragogy or theory of andragogy and reflect on whether you’re using them in your teaching, or in the design of your course, you might consider new approaches for the future.

Reflective Practice Helps Us Analyze How We Teach

And lastly, number five, reflect to analyze your teaching. Many of the things that I would do to analyze my teaching in a live class would be to notice how I was talking to my students, how I was pacing the lesson, how it was structuring the content, whether we needed a different kind of warm-up activity or closure activity, and that was easy to do, when it was about real time.

When you’re doing it in an asynchronous course, analyzing your teaching in that setting can be a little different. You might need to read through some of the things you’ve written in the class and some of the answers you’ve given your students, or forum replies you’ve posted.

As you look over these things, then you can take out a notebook or a Word document on your computer, and you can type some thoughts about your teaching in those different parts of the classroom.

One of the questions I would respond to when analyzing my teaching was: How did the approach I used land with my students?

  • How did students appear to respond to the approach I used in this particular week?
  • How did students format their assignments for the goals that I put forth for that assignment? Did it land?
  • Does it look like students understood the content enough to answer those questions, or do I need to take some other approach?

Whenever I write about my teaching, it takes some time to think it through. To notice what is really happening in the classroom and how I’m feeling about my teaching. And the more I do it, the better I am as an educator.

How to Make Reflective Practice Work for You

Now that I’ve talked with you a little bit about what reflective teachers do, let’s consider how we do it. This would be the logistical “nuts and bolts” of journaling.

You might use a coaching journal or a teaching journal of sorts, and you can answer these three questions when you think about your teaching.

  • How did I think like an educator?
  • How did I act like an educator?
  • How did I exercise curiosity with my students and a beginner’s mind like an educator? Like a lifelong learner?

You might use a journal if you like the hardcopy version. I personally do, and I’ve read some research out there about how writing by hand has a much bigger impact than just typing or just dictating. But if you don’t like to write by hand, it’s definitely still worth your time to use one of those other methods.

You might consider getting a spiral notebook. These are cheap. You can find them at just about any store that sells pens and paper. You might consider using Post-it notes, scraps of paper, a three-ring binder with some paper in there, or you could use an actual bound journal, where you’re going to write regularly.

If you’re going to use electronic methods, you might use Microsoft Word, Penzu or another journaling software, a Rocket Book or another kind of e-notebook, pen to computer, or you can dictate to an electronic notepad, such as on your iPad, your iPhone, or your Samsung device.

Technical Reflection

If you’re going to make a technical reflection as you’re journaling or reflecting on your online teaching, consider reflecting about your general instruction and management behaviors that you use, based on educational theory and research. Those things you learned as you are preparing to become an educator.

You can also reflect on the various best practices of online teaching and consider how they might or might not be working for you. And then in the quality of your reflection, think about how you can get into some depth there, and think about really what is and is not working.

A management behavior you might reflect about would be whether or not your netiquette policy is helpful or if you need a netiquette policy. What kind of things you notice about the way students respond in forum discussions? And, how have you tried to help them show up even more academically there?

Reflection In-Action and On-Action

If you’re going to do a reflection in-action and on-action, that would be reflecting while you’re in the online classroom and doing the teaching. Or afterwards, when you’re reflecting about the actions you’ve already performed.

This would be you reflecting on your own personal teaching performance. And you might base your decisions on your own situation. There are certainly some circumstances in which our online teaching may be less than stellar for various reasons; maybe we’re in an emergency situation. Maybe we have a crisis in our family, and we are just trying to get through the course and there might not be back up. So we do the best that we can, but whatever’s going on might be part of your reflection.

Deliberative Reflection

You might also consider a deliberative reflection, and this could be on a range of teaching concerns. You might reflect on how you’ve seen other online educators do things or whether you’d like to observe others.

You could also think about teaching methods, strategies, and management that you’d like to try and intentionally write about those. You can weigh different viewpoints or research findings you read about. You might even reflect on what you learn from this podcast right here.

Personalistic Reflection

And then of course, there’s the personalistic reflection, and this might be about your emotional response or your analysis of the entire teaching experience:

  • How are you experiencing being an online educator right now?
  • What’s tough for you?
  • What’s refreshing and new and wonderful for you?

That kind of personal insight that you look at from day to day or week to week can really help you see how far you’ve come. As you look over it near the end of the course, or end of the session or semester, you might see some growth in your confidence as well as the quality of your reflections.

You can of course do it weekly, daily, or monthly, whatever works for you. But I do also can suggest using at least some kind of beginning and end of the course reflection, so you can think about what’s coming up and also reflect on what has been.

Smaller Reflections Get You Started

And lastly, if you’re not really sure you’re interested in a reflection habit, start small and use a timer. Giving yourself five or 10 minutes to reflect, and focusing on just one thing at a time can help you keep it tightly controlled so it doesn’t end up taking more of your time than you’d like to spend.

Over time, reflection can help you grow as an educator. This is particularly important when you’re teaching online, and you might have fewer peers than you do in a live situation. I hope you’ll try starting a reflective practice about your online teaching this coming week, and I wish you all the best in your online teaching.

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.

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com

Maintaining a high level of productivity can be challenging for online educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides strategies on how to improve your physical and mental energy to increase productivity. Learn tips about how to manage your never-ending “to do” list, why it’s important to unclog your mind, and the value of giving yourself time to work on your personal “heart projects.”

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. It may seem a little odd to you today that we’re going to talk about increasing your productivity as an online educator, but I firmly believe that habits and strategies are what help us get through our teaching job and our teaching career. Many of us enter this profession because we want to make a difference or distill ideas upon others, or perhaps mentor people into our profession or the area that we love the most. Maybe we even want to make a big difference in the world.

Regardless of the reason why you came into this profession, the fact remains that being an educator is hard work. There is a lot to do. There’s a lot of feedback to give others. We must be organized to make that happen. We have announcements, we have content in the classroom itself, when we’re working online. We have follow-ups, personalized outreach efforts we need to do when students are falling behind. Guidance of all kinds. And as I mentioned before, feedback.

Among these many different types of activities, time gets away from us, sometimes. Have you ever said to yourself that you would get back to a task later in the evening? That’s a great sign that productivity tips can help you a lot in your online educator role.

Today, we’re going to talk about some special tips that come from a wonderful book called “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance. It’s “50 Simple Hacks to Organize Your Tasks, Overcome Procrastination, Increase Efficiency, and Work Smarter to Become a Top Performer.”

Not everyone approaches their educator job as if it is a performer productivity type of role. However, we know that unless we keep up with the day-to-day tasks, the endless minutiae of being an administrator of the classroom, we will not be able to have the kind of impact we would like to have.

These tips today are intended to help you. I want to help you really enjoy what you do and make a difference, as you want to do. So let’s jump in and talk about productivity habits. I will share just a few today to get you started. And after this podcast, I do hope you will check out this book, “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance.

Increasing Your Physical and Mental Energy

The first habit I’d like to share with you today is in the area of increasing your physical and mental energy. You’ve probably heard that athletes are always thinking about increasing their energy and bringing protein into the body, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest. It makes a lot of sense that a person who’s out there competing physically would need to do that, right?

Of course, the mind is also one of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal. We can’t have energy, like confidence or focus, motivation, or any kind of productivity at all, if our mind is wandering or not feeling healthy. In fact, there is a lot that has to do with our physical and mental energy that impacts our productivity and our overall effectiveness as educators.

Think about it, if you were really approaching your job as if you have to be in tiptop, physical and mental condition to be an educator, what would you do to reach that goal? I’ve thought about this a little bit, and in the time that I’ve worked at American Public University, I’ve been very fortunate to have the influence of the Wellness Team. Not sure if that’s their title, but early on several years ago, there used to be this little challenge in the employee portal. It was private, no one else could see it. But you had to record your weight at the start of each year. And you had to do some exercises along the way, partially some kind of incentive to have one kind of health insurance over another.

And I’m expecting that it probably had to do with the cost out of my paycheck. And that’s what motivated me. I don’t recall exactly what the situation was, but I do remember that I had to write down how much I weighed and then I had to engage in certain health-related activities like walking, or counting steps, or something like that.

Now, when you think about it, even just becoming aware of your own physical activity level, your physical fitness, your overall health, and your bodyweight does something to you. It was a few years of doing that, and pretty soon I realized I needed to make major changes. In my own situation, I did lose 95 pounds and I have successfully maintained that for the past four to five years. And it all started with that awareness every year that was part of the health insurance plan of just working at American Public University.

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*About this image: My professional faculty photo, taken by American Public University Systems (2015, on left) and an informal photo taken at home (2020, on right)

If I took it further and thought about it every year and recorded my efforts to become a mental athlete as an educator, I would take it a lot further and increase my goals in physical and mental wellness. Over time, I want to become more confident, more focused, more productive, and more happy with myself in my role and in the work that I do with my students.

In essence, it is the everyday habit that one puts into their physical and mental abilities that come together to summatively create the performance and productivity we have in the online classroom.

There are some high-powered physical and mental energy hacks that Torrance shares in his book. And I’d like to share these with you here.

Tackle What You Dread First

First, he talks about tackling what you dread the most. It’s going to give you energy to deal with the less critical things or the less enjoyable things throughout the day because you’ve done the most difficult one.

Visualize Before You Go to Bed

Second, you’re going to visualize before you go to bed, and the thoughts that you take to bed matter. So your mind is going to get in a mood for sleep. And you’re also going to think about or visualize the type of things you’re going to be doing when you’re waking up that are pleasurable to you. So you’re actually predicting a positive day for the next day and thinking about the energy you need to begin the day.

Now that second hack there, thinking about it before you go to bed, I personally do that a lot. That’s one of my own habits. I’ll make a to-do list about the things I want to do the next day. And I’ll think about how I need to wake up.

Then in the next morning, when I wake up, I’m actually laying in bed sometimes feeling very tired and not at all interested in getting out of bed. And I’ll remember what I’m going to do first thing in the morning. And then I’ll purposely choose to jump out of bed and give myself some energy so I can get moving.

Sometimes it’s really hard. And other times it’s very easy because the motivating task is so interesting to me. Whatever you do, visualizing before bed can set the tone for the next day, but make sure it’s something positive you’re visualizing, and you’re seeing action and the motivation that you’re going to need.

Unclog Your Mind

Third, unclog your mind. So Torrance suggests that we all have a never-ending to-do list. I don’t know if you have one, but I know I do. And it can sometimes make me feel like I never really finish things. There’s always another list tomorrow and sometimes one list can go through a week or two without completely getting wiped out.

If you can unclog that list by writing it all down, setting it aside, turning off technology, and letting go of emails and all those things, at some point you’re going to have a little bit of space to think more clearly, be more mentally alert, and be able to set limits around your time.

Unclogging your mind is also going to help you think about what you can take off of your list. If you do write it down and realize it’s been there a while, maybe it doesn’t even need to get done at all, or maybe it could be delegated. There’s possibly another solution if you find that something is on your to-do list for a very long time.

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

The fourth productivity hack is getting the right amount of sleep. Believe it or not, the amount of sleep you get every day actually impacts your mental and physical functioning. Over time you can actually have long-term health effects that are negative if you’re constantly cheating yourself on the sleep.

Now, if you have dragged your work out throughout the day, especially when you’re only working online, if all of your energy is put into that, it can feel like you can never really let go and never really get enough sleep.

Think about what kind of environment you need. What kind of bedding will be most comfortable for you? Is the pillow nice and cool or warm, however, you prefer it? Would there be something you could do before bed to relax you, like a warm bath or some people even drink warm milk, or cocoa, or something like that? Is it helpful for you to read a book before you go to bed? One thing that I’ve heard a lot is no caffeine and no alcohol in the later hours of the day because both of those tend to impact the quality of your sleep throughout the night.

And then, of course, avoid screen time, two hours before bedtime. You can wear these blue-light-blocking glasses that will help you to actually reduce the impact of the screen on your eyes. And you can also buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon that’s going to help you have an experience with bright light, first thing in the morning to really set your time clock and your circadian rhythm.

These are good things to think about if you’re still having problems getting high-quality sleep, but getting enough sleep is definitely essential to give your brain the energy it needs and your body, the energy as well to get through the day.

Pursue Your “Heart Project”

Next, spend a good day chunk of your day pursuing your heart project. A heart project is something you really care about. It’s in your own goal area. It might be what Torrance calls your ultimate passion. When you focus on these things you care most about at some point during a day, this is going to give you a lot of joy, it will refresh you, and help you feel totally revitalized and energized.

So if you have a lot of grading to do, and you’re not a big fan of grading, do the grading, but be sure to give yourself time for this passion project, or heart project. You need reasons to get out of bed in the morning. And if this is it, give yourself the time after you’ve done some of the more difficult tasks of your online teaching job.

Some of the other tips mentioned here in the body and mind category are to have a sense of gratitude and to have a positive outlook on life generally. You also want to think about eating the right foods. Believe it or not, the things you put into your body impact your energy level and your mental functioning.

There’s a thing called inflammation. If you’re not familiar with this, certain foods can actually cause your body to react in a way that inflames your cells and parts of your body. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates and sugar, some people react very poorly to that. You might have puffy eyes or a puffy face and mentally feel quite sluggish and tired. This will make it more difficult to be productive as an online educator, or in any other field.

Think about how healthy food makes you feel. And even if it is less enjoyable than some of those more high carb, or high sugar foods you might crave, think about how you might be able to incorporate these healthy foods to enhance your mental alertness.

Eating more calories early in the day instead of at night can also give you more energy. And then, of course, more fiber, fruit and vegetables, and protein and minerals and vitamins. These things can all add to your energy level and clear up your mind so you can think clearly and be more productive along the way.

Be Active and Find a Physical Exercise You Enjoy

And then lastly, be active, enjoy what you’re doing physically. You might be inspired through exercise, which will help you sleep better and relieve stress as well as boosting your brain. But you might also find a new habit that you could enjoy, like going for a run, short walk, working out with someone else, biking, or even dancing.

My personal favorite is putting on my noise-canceling headphones, some really peppy upbeat music, and walking on my treadmill for 30 minutes or more sometime in the middle of the day. Whatever it is that helps you to physically get active. When we’re working online, we’re sitting a lot and we’re much more prone to want to sit a little bit longer so that we can just get through what we’re trying to do that day.

If you break it up instead, you’ll find that you have more energy and you can even be more productive. So take breaks. Think about the food you eat and the exercise you do as ways to fuel the mind as well as the body.

There are many other productivity hacks and habits in this book by John Torrance. I hope you’ll check it out and try those that I’ve shared with you today, as we all work towards being more productive online educators. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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.

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