July 20, 2024


Education, What Else?

Pilot Lights, Lighthouses, and Marathons: Channeling Teacher Energy

4 min read
Pilot Lights, Lighthouses, and Marathons: Channeling Teacher Energy
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The Spring Baking Championship is a popular series on the Food Network, and even though this is the ninth season, the most common challenge for the bakers is time management. There is no short supply of articles and memes helping people increase awareness of and build the skill of time management. As an educator, I constantly think about time and instructional pacing. Recently I have needed to consider how to protect my energy – acknowledging all the time in the world will not produce better results.

As an educator, protecting our energy is essential for ensuring we can provide our students with the best possible instruction. Just as the bakers on the Spring Baking Championship need to manage their time effectively to meet each challenge, teachers must prioritize their energy levels to ensure that they can provide high-quality instruction. Failing to protect our energy can result in burnout, decreasing productivity and effectiveness in the classroom. For example, if a teacher constantly works long hours without taking breaks, they risk becoming exhausted and unable to provide their students with the attention and support they need. Therefore, it is crucial for teachers to prioritize rest, self-care, and work-life balance to protect their energy and perform at their best in the classroom.

Everything in nature reminds us of the necessity for complete cycles – including the value of rest. From sunrise to sunset, as the tides ebb and flow, our moon waxes and wanes, and even seasons come and go (spring supports new growth, and winter teaches us to rest). As we continue to reimagine education and make changes, we must be mindful of the conservation, use, and renewal of our energy by considering these three strategies:

1. We must be the pilot light, not a firework.

As educators, we must prioritize our well-being and avoid burnout to ensure that we can continue providing our students the most effective education. Pilot lights provide constant and steady energy, whereas fireworks burn brightly but quickly, leaving nothing but smoke and debris behind. Similar to the pilot light, we must prioritize sustainable and consistent energy to be effective educators. This means taking the time to rest and recharge rather than constantly pushing ourselves to the brink of exhaustion.

Oren Jay Sofer stated, “If we don’t balance the energy we put into doing with time and space to relish simply being, we can burn out. In a society addicted to busyness, taking time to rest is radical.” Embracing this mindset, we can avoid burnout and improve our overall well-being. In addition, by valuing and supporting our educators, we can ensure they have the energy and enthusiasm to continue inspiring and educating our future generations.

2. We must be the lighthouse, not the electricity.

Teachers should focus on being a stable, unwavering presence in their students’ lives, guiding them toward safety and security during turbulent times such as the COVID-19 crisis and school violence. Rather than trying to be the source of energy or power in their students’ lives, teachers should aim to be the steady light that helps students navigate the stormy waters of life.

Olha Samborska reminds us that “educators are first responders when it comes to teaching the skills of stress-management and healing trauma.” By prioritizing teacher well-being and providing optimal support and resources, schools can help teachers create a nurturing and supportive environment that benefits both students and teachers.

3. We must train for (and run) marathons, not sprints.

Instead of thinking of our work as a series of sprints that require a burst of energy followed by periods of rest, we should consider approaching teaching as if we were preparing to run a marathon. This involves taking breaks, getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular physical exercise. We must be conscious about protecting and working with our energy. Our students and families need us to show up daily with a full tank of energy constantly replenished throughout the day.

Energy management recognizes that our energy levels fluctuate throughout the day and that managing our energy effectively can help us to optimize our productivity, creativity, resilience, patience, and overall well-being. As teachers, managing our energy is crucial to maintaining our well-being and effectiveness in the classroom. It is important to be aware of our energy and how to maintain it in order to increase productivity and joy.

There is a growing consensus among experts that time management alone is not enough to achieve optimal productivity and well-being. While time management focuses on maximizing the amount of time spent on tasks, energy management emphasizes how well we use our energy during that time. Time is not a renewable source – energy is. Without intentional energy renewal, we can’t improve student outcomes; we can’t create; we can’t get better or think differently about teaching and learning. Every decision we make creates or takes energy; we must be mindful of how we choose to engage. Wherever our attention goes, our energy flows.

Jen Loescher serves as a regional math coach and trainer at Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program, supporting middle school math teachers. She is a Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow.

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