Tag Archives: Mental Health

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Principals: Don’t forget to take care of yourself!

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It’s the start of what will be another busy week, and you’ve just opened your computer to find a flurry of emails that need your attention. As you scan through them, you can see that some will be quick responses, but some will involve much more than that. The phone rings, and you learn that one of your teachers has a family emergency and will need to take a couple of weeks off.

You’ll have to figure out coverage, and fast. Luckily, your budget was due this morning to your superintendent, but you submitted it a week early. Wait, nevermind. One of your emails is from your boss, and she was breaking the bad news to you that the school board would like you to go back and find another 2% in budget cuts and you’ll need to update them on where the money will come from tomorrow.

As you look out your window, the school buses are pulling into the driveway, so you decide to make your way to the door to greet them with a smile. Wait, why are three of them walking into the school crying? You’ll have to investigate. Oh, and to top it all off, there is a pandemic going on and several parents would like to speak to you right away because they are not happy with the plans the school has put in place to address pandemic concerns. It’s only 8:30 a.m. on a Monday, and you are already spent for the week.

Principals, does this story sound familiar to you? Even on an average day, the challenges a principal can face can seem daunting. Add a global pandemic into the mix and one piece of bad news can be enough to make principals feel helpless, lost, or ready to throw in the towel. Don’t let yourself get to this point, because your school and your community are counting on you to shepherd them through what has been arguably one of the most stressful and contentious times in all of our professional careers.

As we celebrate National Principals Month, we need to remember to take care of ourselves so that we don’t fall victim to the challenges that will prey on our weaknesses, if we allow them to. As a fellow high school principal, I feel your pain and I offer you these tips to help you keep your focus, momentum, and most importantly, your sanity through all of this.

Find an appropriate work-life balance.

Do you live to work, or work to live? In this Education Week article, Denisa Superville quotes a national survey that found more than half of principals spending 60 hours or more a week on school-related activities, and this doesn’t even count the time that is spent from home thinking about how to handle this load.

For many principals, the brain never shuts off from work, and this is problematic. Principals need to learn to prioritize their time on projects that are most important, delegate, make effective use of their calendars to stay focused, and tame email, which can become such a time drain when left unfiltered.

Focus on the problems and issues that you can control.

This advice is particularly true during the pandemic, when all of us feel as though we have less and less control over most things related to our job and our school. The reality is you simply cannot perseverate over issues for which you have no control. Your time is far better spent on issues that you can make a positive impact with.

What do you do with the other issues? Find the right people who can control those issues, and work with them to make those issues a priority if you believe it will help the greater good.

Take control over how you spend your time.

In this recent post from thoughtLEADERS, bestselling author and speaker Jon Wortmann talks about how a principal can burn out fast if they fail to do this. He writes, “Start recovering faster by planning both the way you work, when you work, and when and how you will get your juice back. If you live by other people’s demands, usually false sense of urgency, and stress reactions, how can you not feel tired, bitter, and a little bit doubtful that your work makes a difference?”

Celebrate victories, even the little ones.

Everyone needs a pick-me-up from time to time. In my school, we made a commitment to start every team meeting and staff meeting by spending five minutes letting participants share some positive news.

One year, I bought a pack of thank you cards to place on my desk. Each day, I vowed to write one thank you note at the end of the day to acknowledge one good thing I witnessed someone doing that helped the community. Taking time to celebrate these small positives builds momentum for a school community to tackle bigger and bigger challenges with bravery and a positive outlook, and this matters.

Focus on your mental and physical wellness.

In a recent National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) blog, Missouri principal Beth Houf offers these tips and tricks for this: Focus on your eating habits, and set a goal to drink more water. Find time in your day for physical activity. Find a support system — a buddy or a family member whom you can share your mental and physical health journey with.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to take a risk and try something new. It could be a yoga class, or a good book that you wouldn’t have necessarily thought would be a fit for you.

Principals, your health matters to all of us. If you can take to heart some of the advice noted in this article, you too will be able to continue to be the inspiration and beacon of light that your school community needs you to be.

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How micro actions produce big changes

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A few years ago, I came across the life-changing book, “The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success” by Darren Hardy, an author and the former publisher of Success magazine. He writes, “The Compound Effect is the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices.” And also, “It’s not the big things that add up in the end; it’s the hundreds, thousands, or millions of little things that separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.”

As a business owner and a coach, I found this viewpoint extremely helpful. Accomplishing big goals can be daunting, so we’re told to break things done into chunks. Even though that’s great advice, it can still feel overwhelming, which is why it’s best to break goals down into small “baby steps” or micro actions. This may seem counterintuitive, because we’re in a hurry to get to the end point and satisfaction of achieving our goal, but it’s far from it.

In our personal lives, this principle may seem more obvious. For example, removing one food from our diet, such as sugar, can make a big impact on our overall health. The same would be true for adding a simple plan to walk for 20 minutes per day.

In business, there are numerous micro actions that would allow us to feel their impact right away. For example, several years ago I attended a presentation by a professional organizer. She mentioned that when we begin our day responding to emails, we are, essentially, following other peoples’ agendas for how we use our time. This then leads to a reactive mode of “putting out fires” rather than a proactive mode of us deciding how we will spend our time. To be more proactive, the organizer recommended that we use the first hour of our day to clearly set our own agenda and plan for the day, responding to others at a time that fit into that plan. The micro action here is to make a small shift in the way we begin our day.

Another micro action that can have a big impact is to dedicate a set time each day or each week organizing your files, your accounts, your marketing, your desk, your contacts, etc. Clutter in your business can scatter your energy, and when you can’t find something or when it’s disorganized, it can use up valuable time better spent on income-generating projects. Clutter can jam the works on any big project. Ideally, having an established time (either daily or weekly) to focus on organizing different aspects of your business will, over time, make disagreeable large tasks easier to manage.

Speaking of schedules, how many of us make appointments with ourselves? This is a micro action with a big return on a tiny investment. Many people write to-do lists to keep themselves on task. However, while crossing things off may feel good for a minute or two, to-do lists make it far too easy to focus on and judge ourselves for all the things we didn’t get done.

There is a better way that requires only one small step. Instead of writing a list, use a calendar to set up the day and time you want to focus on one of the items on your list. There are a few immediate benefits: 1) It gets the list out of your head; 2) It has a dedicated time which frees up the rest of your time to focus on something else; and 3) You are free to be completely present for one task at a time rather than multi-tasking and scattering your energy.

Small or micro actions also have a ripple effect. Imagine you chose the micro action of reducing the amount of time spent on social media to thirty minutes per day. This small daily action can have a huge impact, especially if you find yourself browsing social media randomly throughout the day. Your focus will improve, your momentum will increase, and you will have space for new ideas.

Impactful and long-lasting results can come from doing small, micro actions. Here are a few more suggestions. Try one or two from this article and see what happens.

  • Take a five-minute stretch break one or two times per day.
  • Have a green juice for lunch once per week.
  • Once per week ask a colleague, collaborator or client to lunch to ask him/her what you can do to improve things.
  • Try a new app that helps you with some aspect of your business.
  • If you have a laptop, take a break from your office or workspace once per week and work instead in a cafe, a park or a co-working space.

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How to choose a health insurance plan for a small business

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Running a small business has a lot of demands, including everything from perfecting your products to fixing an overflowing toilet. But one of the trickiest parts can be finding the right health insurance for you and your employees.

Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with 50 or more full-time employees or the equivalent in part-time employees have to provide health insurance to employees and their dependents or pay a fine, $3,860 per employee in 2020. Consequently, 83.1% of American workers were offered insurance in the first quarter of 2016.

Smaller businesses with fewer employees, however, are exempt. So, should your small business provide insurance? That depends on several factors, like can you afford it and do your employees need it?

If you hire mainly high school or college students who are covered under their parents’ insurance, you probably don’t need to induce them to work with health coverage. But if you have a small team of dedicated adults, they probably don’t just expect insurance, they need it.

According to a 2018 study by Luntz Global Partners for America’s Health Insurance Plans, 46% of U.S. adults said health coverage was the deciding factor in taking their current job, while 56% said it was key to deciding whether to stay in their job.

Other things that are important to employees, according to the survey, are prescription drug coverage, preventive care and emergency care.

But can you afford health insurance for your employees? One of the best options for small businesses, according to healthcare.gov, is SHOP insurance. Nonprofits and businesses with fewer than 50 employees qualify, and they don’t have to wait for an open enrollment period to sign up. Employees can all join the same plan or they can each choose their own, according to their personal needs. Empty-nesters will have different needs than young adults looking to start a family and look for different benefits in their insurance.

SHOP insurance also allows the business to contribute to their employees’ premiums and to decide whether to cover their dependents, plus it offers dental insurance.

If SHOP insurance isn’t available, businesses can contact a health insurance provider, scout them online or go through a health insurance agent or broker, who will compare plans and prices, then let you know your options.

So, bottom line, what’s it going to cost?

According to research by eHealth in 2018, it’s actually cheaper per person to have insurance through a small group than to have an individual insurance plan, with the idea being that more people are paying in to the risk pool so the average is less.

Here are the 2018 numbers from eHealth:

  • The average per-person premium for small group health insurance was $409 per month in 2018, compared to $440 for an individual plan.
  • Small group health plans had an average deductible of $3,140 per year, compared to $4,578 for individual plans.

Small-business owners will need to assess their employees and figure out premiums, deductibles and co-pays. If their employees are relatively healthy, they’re going to want lower monthly premiums and higher deductibles and co-pays, since their employees don’t go to the doctor frequently. But if the employees go to the doctor often and need regular medication, they’re going to want higher premiums with lower deductibles and co-pays.

Benefits, including health insurance, lead to employee loyalty and fewer sick days, studies show, so if you want to build a good, dependable team, coverage is important.

Health insurance coverage can be one of the most complex parts of a small-business owner’s jobs, but there is a way to work through the maze and have healthier and happier employees.

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Infographic: The business of fake supplements

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It probably isn’t surprising that 77% of supplements sold online are sold by Amazon — more than the top five specialty retailers combined. But what might be shocking is how many of those supplements are fake, expired, or mislabeled.

This infographic outlines the loopholes that allow third-party sellers to sell unsafe supplements on Amazon as well as tips to avoid them.

Infographic courtesy The Unwinder

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The 3 C’s of healthcare innovation: Curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking

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In the 21st century, myriad buzzwords and concepts have emerged within the healthcare realm, and one certainly stands out from the crowd in terms of its applicability in most any milieu or application, and that’s innovation. Three of the central engines that power innovation can be readily harnessed in the interest of progress and forward movement, and they are curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking — the three C’s of healthcare innovation.

Intrapreneurship and the Three C’s

An acute care nurse is preparing for a bedside procedure that entails strict adherence to the policies, procedures, and best practices that outline the correct execution of the task at hand.

While this nurse has performed this procedure before, on this occasion she notices — perhaps not for the first time — that several of the steps are inefficient, make her task more challenging, and may possibly be exposing the patient to otherwise avoidable risk.

After completing and documenting the procedure per current protocol, a cursory review of the literature reveals that several respected institutions have indeed adopted new evidence-based standards that have yielded as high as a 15% decrease in nosocomial infections for this particular procedure. She prints out several peer-reviewed articles with plans to present them at the next unit-based council meeting.

As a natural intrapreneur, this nurse has applied her curiosity and critical thinking in order to assess a procedure about which she has questions and concerns. An intrapreneur takes “ownership” of their work and refuses to think, “Well, that’s the way it’s always been done.” Rather than proceed without questioning or asking why, she has taken proactive steps to assess the merit of her ideas. As a colleague who will go the extra mile to use her creative capacities for the good of the whole, she is a human asset worthy of nurturing and growing in her ability to lead and innovate.

Science and Art: Innovation and the Three C’s

The science of innovation is relatively simple to visualize and evaluate. A clinician, administrator, researcher, or other colleague uses the power of critical thinking in order to deduce how an issue that needs attention might be improved. An innovative and practical alternative to an accepted procedure might lower costs, boost safety, improve outcomes, or provide other quantifiable or qualifiable benefits.

Scientifically, an innovative idea can be quite pragmatic, readily providing the data that attracts attention and buy-in from key stakeholders like clinicians, managers, accountants, legal counsel, executive leadership, and perhaps the ethics committee.

We can encourage staff to “innovate,” yet what does that truly mean and what are we asking them to do? When we ask for innovative solutions and novel ideas or approaches, we’re asking not just for science, but for art.

The art of innovation is the creativity and curiosity to think outside known parameters and systems by allowing both the right and left sides of the brain to be engaged. But are clinical employees ever given the time to think and explore anything but what the present shift presents? And what could they accomplish if they were allowed such latitude?

Tapping the Fountain

If healthcare institutions want to tap the fountain of innovative thinking that is bubbling just beneath the surface of everyday stressors and tasks attended to by staff, resources can be intelligently set aside for such prudent endeavors. These undertakings may not “make money” per se, but they can lead to significantly positive outcomes if we use measures other than the financial (although cost-savings are always possible, of course).

Multidisciplinary innovation committees can be created and supported in their work. Intraprofessional working groups can also emerge, perhaps as sub-groups of a larger interprofessional body.

Enthusiastic and forward-thinking staff members can be sent on reconnaissance missions to healthcare innovation hubs around the country (e.g., the Ohio State University School of Nursing Innovation Studio or the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing Innovation Accelerator). Retreats facilitated by leaders in healthcare innovation can be planned. Time can also be allotted for staff members to write, do their own research, and confer with colleagues about vexing issues in need of attention.

In order to embark on such creative journeys, healthcare institutions must summon the will to act boldly, ignore or push back against those who look askance at unusual and creative efforts, and forge ahead into a future brimming with the potential for intellectually curious innovators to create and explore. Behemoths such as the healthcare system don’t change without radical action; who will have the will to embrace the challenge?

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Job insecurity and economic uncertainty: How leaders can ease the emotional toll on employees

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This article was originally published in RealLeaders.

The death of a loved one is not the only type of devastating loss that leads to grief. Your own company’s initiatives can also be emotionally traumatizing to employees.

When you understand that any significant change to a person’s current reality can trigger grief, it becomes easier to see how company initiatives can trigger the stages of grief in employees. Cost-cutting and “right-sizing” efforts, from reducing benefits to layoffs, are emotionally traumatizing events for your people. Significant changes in job responsibilities can also be a culprit.

Here is a scenario: Your company has decided to implement a new computer system resulting in a reduction of waste, rebalancing work, changes in job responsibilities, and layoffs. Your boss needs you to “sell” the resulting changes to the team. After the first couple of meetings, you feel the team is not dealing well with the proposed changes. Some people seem to be in denial that the changes will ever transpire. They are saying things like, “We tried this before. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.”

Others seem to be angry, telling teammates that they will not adhere to the new system rules, layouts, and responsibilities. Still, others seem to be bargaining with you. They ask for exceptions to be made to the processes to protect certain aspects of the old systems. Others are upset and depressed by the situation. They know layoffs are coming, and they are worried they will be unemployed when the project is implemented. A few seem to have accepted the new processes and are supportive.

To better understand change and change management, you decide to research how people respond to change in the workplace. After a quick Google search, the images that appear on your computer screen all seem to revolve around or contain elements from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. This surprises you, but as you look at the images and think about your employees, terms begin to overlap and jump out at you, Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

You realize that your employees aren’t sabotaging the effort deliberately; they are grieving. The changes that do not seem overwhelming to you are overwhelming and emotionally traumatizing to your people. You realize “selling” is not what is required. Compassion, open and honest communications, and support are what your employees need from their leader.

As is true when dealing with any grieving or emotionally traumatized employee, this situation will require the leader to engage in the grieving process with each employee. Departmental meetings and project information websites filled with answers to frequently asked questions are not going to help. They will only serve to further add to the grief, as employees will interpret these as an even greater lack of engagement by the company and the leader.

Leading people through these times will require the ability to adapt your leadership style to deal with each employee personally and individually. When done well, this approach leads to the building of trust in both the leader and the company. When you engage and acknowledge what a person is feeling and dealing with, employees will feel more emotionally secure. This security then leads to greater loyalty, higher engagement, and higher morale, which will lead to the initiative achieving its full potential.

Here are some tips for leaders dealing with leading employees through emotionally traumatizing change on the job:

  • Recognize the behaviors you are witnessing are likely the stages of grief playing out in the workplace and not only resistance to change or an attempt to sabotage the initiative. Acknowledge and engage in your employees’ grief process.
  • If there are layoffs, make sure your company is doing everything possible to transition those people fairly, graciously, and generously. Every employee is watching to see how the company treats those who leave the organization.
  • Meet with employees individually and engage them in the awkward, emotional, and uncomfortable conversation about what they are feeling. Often, having a discussion with a genuinely compassionate leader who listens and just being heard will help the employee move to acceptance more quickly. Additionally, these discussions will provide you with insights into how best to address the employee’s concerns.
  • Adapt your leadership style to provide coaching and support each employee’s needs. Strive to lead each employee with compassion.
  • Don’t sell. Communicate the positives and negatives openly and honestly. Employees know when a leader is applying spin to the messages.

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5 real-world triggers that lead to burnout (and what you can do about them)

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This article originally appeared in Real Leaders.

Ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) redefined burnout and added it to the International Classification of Diseases, organizations and individuals have become more open to talking about burnout’s symptoms and potential causes—which, at face value, seem to come solely from the workplace.

Don’t kid yourself. While we can all point a finger at unrealistic workplace demands, difficult managers, and the convergence of work and home life into a not-so-neat bundle, burnout isn’t just “a work thing.” The truth is, all of us can move from burnout to breakthrough if we first recognize common real-world triggers that prompt exhaustion, anxiety, and overwhelm.

Trigger No. 1: Mental self-talk.

Yes, burnout is a condition that stems from working and doing too much, but ask yourself: why do you push at that pace? In every single case study I’ve explored, people realize they’re responding to the voices of parents, ancestors, religious teachers, and others who set standards that may no longer be viable or reasonable. Ask yourself:

  • What do your voices say to you? Is it true?
  • Is this what you believe and want in your deepest self?
  • What is the price you pay? Is it worth it?

Sure, you might be the first one in your family to go to college. You might relish the praise of being a can-do-it-all guy, but if burnout is the result, think again.

Trigger No. 2: Tyrannical technology.

Do you jump to answer every text message ping? Do you shift focus as soon as an email pops up on the screen? Do you check email right before falling asleep? If you do these things, you’re now under the control of a technology tyrant, one that’s has persuaded you to believe that multitasking is a skill of only the most intelligent.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Some researchers suggest that multitaskers are 40 percent less productive. Not only will they need to work longer to get “caught up,” but, according to Stanford researcher Clifford Nass, heavy multitaskers have a hard time regaining focus and sorting out relevant information from irrelevant details.

Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, ironically has long been a proponent of deep focus and digital minimalism (both are titles of two of his six books). Specifically, Newport proposes that limited time with our devices and social media is a way to gain control and attain what really matters. Ask yourself:

  • Do you consider yourself a multitasking genius?
  • Do you have a hard time shutting off at the end of the day?
  • Are you addicted to your smartphone?
  • What would it take to limit all digital devices and social media to only those that are essential?

Trigger No. 3: Broken personal connections.

Last year, Scientific American revealed that a staggering 47% of Americans often feel alone, left out, and lacking any meaningful connection with others. Humans are wired for connection. When loneliness rears its ugly head, emotions of distress, anxiety, and even despair appear. Indeed, one can burn out by thinking no one cares, so work becomes a surrogate for human companionship.

In our work-from-home and socially distant world, loneliness becomes even greater. But there are steps you can take. Whether on Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, or other platforms, we can at least see and hear each other. From virtual happy hours, virtual dinners, or candid conversations with a morning cup of java, it’s possible to break this pattern of isolation. Now’s the time to ask:

  • When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a friend?
  • If not, what’s holding you back?
  • Do you know someone who could use a friend?
  • Are you willing to challenge yourself and smile at a stranger?
  • If you’re sharing a space with others, can you put away all smartphones and actually talk with one other? Play a game? Share cooking? Connect?

Trigger No. 4: A caretaking crisis.

Burnout can also flame when juggling the care of a sick family member or aging parents. So much mental anguish, guilt, and even anger can stir up an emotional stew when we’re confronted with the need to care for another. Self-care gets pushed to last on the list. If this situation resonates with you, consider these questions:

  • How often are you “on call”?
  • What resources, if any, do you have available?
  • Do you ask for help? If not, why not?
  • What would it take to allow yourself time for self-care?
  • What will happen if you don’t take care of yourself?

Trigger No. 5: Uncertainty about your life purpose.

From the horror of a World War II concentration camp, Viktor Frankl wrote his classic book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” His conclusion was that man (or woman) can survive anything if he or she has a “why.”

As we face a fast-paced, confusing COVID-19 world filled with economic upheaval and uncertainty, feeling that we don’t matter is a sure-fire way to light the burnout flame. More and more, organizations and individuals are becoming clear that work-life has to be more than a paycheck, a profit margin, or market dominance. Take a moment and think about:

  • Who benefits from the work you do? What would happen if you didn’t do it?
  • How can you bring a special talent (that makes your heart happy) into your work or home life?
  • Are you the person who can find humor in anything and make others laugh?
  • Are you an artist who can leave drawings for others to find? A baker of cooked goods for those who can’t get out?
  • Are you a facilitator who can get a team to speak candidly?
  • Are you the type of person who creates understanding and harmony?

The questions that accompany each of these five triggers are there to prompt your own thoughts. What helps control burnout is breaking free from beliefs and actions that drain your energy and resources. Find your points of control. Build them. And may the force be with you.

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Avoiding burnout in a difficult year

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2020 has been a year full of unforeseen challenges, to put it mildly. You’ve probably had to shift gears repeatedly to deal with the latest curveball thrown your way. If you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and always on alert for the next battle, you’re not alone. Ministry isn’t easy in a typical year, but this year has been anything but typical.

Pastor Carey Nieuwhof wrote this a few years ago in a post about his burnout experience:

“I could get out of bed every day, and I did. I kept praying and reading my Bible. But my speed decreased to a snail’s pace. And hope felt like it had died. My motivation and passion dropped to zero.”

Thankfully, Pastor Nieuwhof was able to emerge successfully out of his burnout experience.

Hopefully, you aren’t to the point of zero motivation or passion for ministry. However, working to exhaustion and trying to do it all is a sure-fire way to get there.

Even in a season as difficult as 2020, burnout isn’t inevitable. Avoiding burnout will require you to make some tough decisions and possibly do things that feel selfish at first.

Here are a few tips to preventing burnout along the way:

No. 1: Lower Expectations

If your church launched its first online service this year due to COVID-19, it’s not going to look as polished as a church that’s been running online services for a decade.

Go ahead and accept that fact and be OK with it. Do what you can to make the online experience run smoothly. Let’s do our work as unto the Lord. Just don’t compare yourself to churches who’ve been doing this for a long time.

No. 2: Be Ruthless with the Calendar

What’s on the church calendar for the remainder of 2020? Granted, there may not be a lot of in-person events planned due to the pandemic. However, you might still have a lot on the calendar between upcoming holidays and efforts to help your congregation and community.

While that’s great, be careful about what you allow onto the schedule. Don’t overbook yourself or your team. Chances are decent that you’ll have to change plans at some point anyway, so the fewer moving pieces to manage, the better.

No. 3: Get Counseling

If you’re not quite feeling burned out yet, why get counseling now? Consider it preventative medicine. If you’d rather not do counseling at this time, then find a mentor and schedule regular times to talk. Everyone else unloads on you — church staff, members of the congregation, critics, etc. You need someone who can be that trusted sounding board for you.

No. 4: Pay Attention to Your Physical Health

How we feel physically impacts our emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Add in a global pandemic with cold and flu season approaching, and we all need to pay attention to how we care for our physical health.

Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Eat healthy foods most of the time. Exercise regularly. Drink plenty of water. These simple steps can help you focus, will ensure you have more energy, and enable you to think more clearly.

No. 5: Refresh Your Spirit

Take time to read the Bible and pray. Reserve time to do this for your own spiritual walk, not for sermon preparation. Even if it’s 10 minutes over coffee in the morning, that’s a good start.

No. 6: Do Something Purely for Fun

Go on a date with your spouse (even if it’s a takeout picnic on the deck at home). Play with your kids. Go fishing, golfing, or read a fiction book. Do something just for the sake of laughing and having a good time.

Ministry is hard work that requires you to be at your mental, spiritual, and emotional best. If you’re feeling the strain, please get some help. Even if you’re not feeling near burnout, go ahead and get started with these tips to prevent burnout from happening.

Your family, staff, and congregation need you at your best. You’ve got to take care of yourself to make that happen. That motivation isn’t the least bit selfish.

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Hydration: One bite at a time

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For months, our attention has been on the pandemic. Though it hasn’t gone away, now is a good time to focus on personal health by simply drinking more water.

We have all heard, “drink a gallon of water a day.” But placing a gallon jug on your association desk can be daunting.

In discussing how hard it can be to chug a gallon, my friend said, “Remember how you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

His advice had nothing to do with elephants or eating. It addressed mindset. You tackle your biggest goals one bite at a time — or in this case, one gulp at a time.

The recommended gallon seems a bit much, especially if you’re addicted to the convenience of coffee and soft drinks. Broken into small quantities throughout the day makes it easier.

Be determined to drink at least a gallon and work up to 100 ounces a day or about 6 of the 16-ounce bottles. Though water is generally tasteless, for health you should drink as much as possible.

The many health benefits of water are encouraging.


Sixty percent of the body is comprised of water. Nearly all metabolic activity occurs with the presence of water. Eighty percent of our lungs and more than 70% of the brain contain water. It is essential to a healthy body.

During activity, excretion of water is lost in the form of sweat or urine. To maintain balanced levels of water in the body, we must replenish the water we lose.

Benefits of water intake include accelerated weight loss, added fluidity of the joints, improved oxygen flow, skin health, digestion, and inhibited ailments like kidney stones, and so much more.

Weight Loss: People struggle with losing weight. A key to weight loss is scheduling. Structure meals and water intake. Drink water 30 minutes to an hour before a meal and up to 2 hours after.

The reason for this is to not allow your body to confuse water intake with meal intake. When you drink water with your meals, you tend to get “full” faster, preventing your body from eating the right amount of nutrients and causing you to get hungrier, sooner.

Joint Health: Know someone complaining about joint pain? Joints contain a lubricant within them that acts as a shock absorber. This lubricant is made up primarily of water. Prolonged dehydration results in the depletion of this lubricant. It can also result in uric acid accumulation which leads to pain and stiffness.

Breathing Regularity: Drinking water is essential to reducing breathing difficulties. If you feel your breathing has slowed or have trouble, increase your water intake. Focus on deep breathing through the nose and exhaling through your mouth.

Oxygen Flow: Blood flow is responsible for the distribution of oxygen throughout the body via the hemoglobin present in red blood cells. Almost 90% of blood fluid is comprised of water. Dehydration in the body affects the composition of red blood cells and reduces the distribution of oxygen throughout the organs.

Skin Health: The largest organ in our body is our skin. When the body becomes dehydrated or doesn’t receive the water it needs, it is visibly noticeable. Prolonged dehydration can cause wrinkles, premature aging, acne, and clogged pores.

Thermoregulation: Thermoregulation is maintenance of body temperature. Water is a contributor to reducing temperature because it helps cool your body down. Overheating can lead to an electrolyte imbalance and heatstroke which may even result in death in an extreme situation.

Body Functions: – Drinking water is not only a preventative measure it can also improve basic functions. Increased energy, improved brain activity and regulated blood pressure are benefits that come from drinking water. From headaches to exercise recovery time, water has a positive impact.

Digestion: The digestive system breaks down the nutrients that one ingests, processing the good and bad fats that enters the body. Drinking water aids in digestion and can reduce heartburn and acidity.

During the pandemic our schedules, habits and routines have changed. Make drinking a gallon of water part of better health. Though health and nutrition are trendy, when it comes to water, it’s simple to drink 64 ounces, one bite at a time.

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Improving in-person and remote instruction: Critical elements

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Remote teaching alone cannot easily and fully create and sustain many of the critical elements needed to meaningfully advance struggling learners’ academic, social, and emotional progress.

These elements include listening and acting with empathy; helping parents successfully address COVID-19’s anxiety producing obstacles and dangers; understanding how to help struggling learners achieve their IEP or section 504 goals; and helping them take well-earned credit for their efforts and accomplishments.

To create, reinforce, and sustain these critical elements, struggling learners need teachers and support staff who express genuine empathy and concern, work with and support parents, and help struggling learners believe they have a good chance of succeeding if they make a reasonable effort to follow their teachers suggestions and instructions.

In line with this, we will discuss three ways to create or strengthen these critical elements.

  • Empathy and congruent actions
  • Support for parents
  • Belief enhancing strategies

Will our suggestions prove 100% successful? No, but they can substantially increase the odds of achieving success. Much depends on the assumptions, understandings, and competencies of all involved. It also depends on the home environment and the quality of support given to teachers, learners, and parents.

Empathy and Congruent Actions

As teachers and parents, we often hear the word empathy. Why? Because it’s important, it’s mighty important. Genuinely empathetic listening and actions can influence struggling learners (and others) and improve relationships.

Empathy, as The New York Times made clear, involves “understating how others feel and being compassionate toward them.” By understanding how struggling learners interpret and feel about the world around them, teachers and parents can better plan instruction that motivates struggling learners to succeed.

In contrast, teachers and parents who fail to show little to no genuine empathy often find themselves in positions of little influence. In such situations, many teachers and parents rely on anger, scolding, and punishment, strategies that easily provoke resentment and retaliation. When struggling learners retaliate, many teachers and parents feel bewildered, remorseful, and anguished. A miserable situation for everyone.

So how can teachers, support staff, and parents demonstrate understanding and compassion?

They can start to address the struggling learner’s immediate needs by:

  • Asking relevant questions, such as “How are you feeling?” or “If I’m not mistaken, you look sad. Maybe I can help you. Would you like to talk about it?”
  • Showing support when support is needed. “It sounds like Mrs. Fay’s homework is overwhelming you. Would you like me to discuss this with her? Maybe she and I can find a solution that the both of you will like.”
  • Making comments that support the learner’s interest. “You and Melissa looked like you were having fun on the basketball court. The two of you took some good shots. Nice going.”
  • Being available. “Freddie, if you need to talk, you can call me between two and five in the late afternoon. Here’s my phone number….”

Support for Parents and Guardians

Many people have said to Danielle Foley, one of the authors, “You’re a teacher. Teaching your kids at home must be easy.”

But as Danielle knows, it’s not.

She knows:

“It’s hard for all parents. Despite my rules and schedule, the distractions pile up. The dog barks, someone’s hungry, UPS delivers a box, the phone rings, a drink spills on the carpet. The list seems endless.

I, however, have an advantage over many parents, especially parents of young children and struggling learners. I’m an experienced special education teacher and mother of a struggling learner. This has made one thing clear: Struggling learners, regardless of age, will need hours of quality attention, attention that many well-intentioned parents can’t give.”

Some can’t because of insecurity, logistics, and dangerous realities: Loneliness; a job loss; an empty refrigerator; an eviction notice; no Internet; one laptop, three children squabbling for it. The result: Anger, fear, depression, and exhaustion. It’s infectious. It quickly infects the children. Thus, to help struggling learners achieve their academic, social, and emotional goals, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, social workers, school nurses, and administrators need to step into the breach. In systematic and well-coordinated ways, they need to provide parents with whatever help they can.

Some parents will need but want little to no help. Some parents — parents whose problems scar their very being — will need and want considerable help. To directly help these parents, school staff can frequently schedule private calls and small-group video meetings with them. By listening to them empathically and applying problem-solving strategies, staff might help them get counseling, get refurbished computers, get free clothing, learn some helpful teaching strategies, find neighborhood food banks, and implement the “Tips” two paragraphs below.

Though staff may well fall short of solving all the problems faced by these parents, their efforts may well provide parents with the information and confidence needed to succeed. This too may infect their children. But this time, it’s positive.

In “9 Tips for Motivating Children to Learn at Home,” the American Psychological Association offers critical tips for parents. Below, in abbreviated form, are five of these tips.

Allow children to choose from an array of learning tasks and provide input into how they will complete their work.

Involve children in planning timelines to complete learning tasks and allow them to monitor their own progress in meeting their timelines.

Give children feedback that is specific, credible, [supportive], and genuine.

Reframe the mistake children make as opportunity to learn and involve them in planning ways to improve their work.

Help students set goals for their work that are short-term, specific, and moderately difficult.

Moderately difficult goals are those well within the struggling learner’s reach. Success requires him to make reasonable but not herculean efforts. When frequently demanded, herculean efforts engender frustration and fatigue, which lay the groundwork for distain and defiance.

For school staff to effectively provide parents and students with whatever help they need, school boards and administrators will need to provide school staff with the necessary resources. This includes training, time, schedules, consultation, and equipment. Although budgetarily daunting in these chaotic times, not doing so will have dire consequences.

Belief-Enhancing Strategies

Functionally, positive self-efficacy is a struggling learner’s justifiable belief that “I can succeed on this task. I have the ability.” If he believes the task is important enough, he’ll probably make a reasonable effort. If he believes it’s unimportant, he might not.

In contrast, negative self-efficacy is a struggling learner’s belief — justified or unjustified — that “I can’t succeed.” History may have taught him that failure and humiliation are inevitable. Thus, he may defy efforts to involve him. As such, he may look mournfully into space as he noisily shakes his chair.

In both instances, self-efficacy is the student’s belief that he can or can’t succeed on specific tasks. Sometimes, students are right.

As it stands, Edwin, a struggling learner, can’t succeed on the assigned task; to succeed, he needs the password, the strategy for success. Without the strategy, and without believing he can succeed, he won’t try. Sheila’s different. History’s taught her that she can succeed. So, she’ll try.

Self-efficacy is important but often hard to measure. But like many hard-to-measure things, you know it when you see or hear it repeatedly. For this new task, Luz’s self-efficacy is submerged in deep, swirling water. Two hints make this clear. Hint number one: Repeatedly, Luz says, “I’m confused. I can’t do it. I won’t do it.” Hint number two: She doesn’t.

Here are Luz’s realities. Reality number one: The task is way above her independent or instructional levels. Reality number two: Her behavior makes sense.

So, in a nutshell, why is self-efficacy important? Because, it drives behavior. Often, it’s the critical factor motivating students. At one end of the spectrum, it motivates effort. At the other end, resistance.

In one of our articles one self-efficacy, Dr. Patrick McCabe (now at Mercy College) and I described numerous ways to strengthen the self-efficacy of struggling learners (Self-efficacy: The key to improving the motivation of struggling learners). From this article, here are three ways that teachers and parents can overcome some of the limitations of remote instruction.

Frequently link new tasks to recent successes. For example, as teachers and parents introduce new tasks, they can show struggling learners how the new tasks resemble recent ones on which they succeeded. Teachers and parents can also ask struggling learners to identify three similarities in the older and newer tasks. Identifying similarities helps to strengthen struggling learners’ self-efficacy and willingness to actively engage in the new task. Ideally, he’ll think, “I succeeded then, I’ll succeed now.”

Teach needed learning strategies. If you want to boot up your computer, you need to know the password. In other words, you need to know the secret, the combination. Similarly, struggling learners need to know the step-by-step learning strategy for achieving success on the tasks before them.

If you don’t know your computer’s password, ask your spouse, your kids, or your password program. Most likely, you’ll quickly find the secret. Mastering critical learning strategies takes more time, but it’s not necessarily difficult, especially when the strategies are taught one step at a time; steps are systematically combined; demonstrations are short, crisp, and clear; struggling learners have frequent opportunities to practice correctly; and teachers provide strong support, such as quick, realistic, and motivating feedback.

But if a learning strategy has five steps, is it worth the effort? If the strategy is important, if the struggling learner will use it over and over, the answer is simple: Yes.

And once a struggling learner masters the learning strategy, aka the password, it can serve him well for months, even years. In doing so, it eliminates a major barrier to motivation, to learning, to success.

Availability is one of the nice things about learning strategies. Teachers can make or find videos and directions that they can post on their website, so parents and struggling learners can see and use them whenever they want.

Will learning strategies help struggling learners master whatever tasks they face? No. Truly overwhelming tasks will remain overwhelming.

All activities in which teachers and parents provide instruction, practice, and feedback, must reflect the struggling learner’s appropriate instructional level, the level at which the task is moderately challenging but not overwhelming. Analogously, tasks at this level ask struggling learners to stretch their hands a doable four to five inches, not an impossible four to five yards. A comfortable four to five inches is the level at which teachers need to directly instruct and support struggling learners.

Ideally, with their teachers’ direct instruction, feedback, and needed supports, struggling learners should look at the tasks and think, “If I make a reasonable effort and follow my teacher (or parent’s) suggestions and instructions, I can do this. I’ve done it before.” (For more information on instructional level, please see https://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/he-struggles-with-reading.-how-can-earss-help-him/education; https://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/struggling-readers-missing-ingredients-for-success/education).

Teach students to make facilitative attributions. In other words, teach them to correctly identify and acknowledge what they should take credit for and what they need to improve upon. In teaching this, teachers and parents should focus on these elements: Correctly using the right learning strategy at the right time in the right way, making a reasonable effort to succeed, and when necessary, persevering.

Orlando, a mythical third grader with strong oral vocabulary abilities, incorrectly answered one of five reading comprehension questions about a story at his proper instructional level. When his teacher asked why he did so poorly, he focused on the instructional strategy she had emphasized. He said “I didn’t scan the materials and I didn’t ask what I knew, what I didn’t, and what I wanted to learn. Next time, I’ll focus on all three.”

Though Orlando is mythical, he’s an amalgam of numerous students who benefited from blending self-efficacy with learning strategies.

Today’s Reality

Today, in the era of COVID-19, teachers, support staff, administrators, students, and parents are perplexed by mountains of insecurities and fragile, untested solutions. Nevertheless, it’s vital that all educators and parents make informed, justifiable, and sustained efforts to succeed. Struggling learners, other learners, their parents, and the nation depend upon us. Some hours of the school day will likely give us well-deserved emotional boosts, while others will make us wonder, “How can I do better?”

Because we know so little about COVID-19 and remote instruction, mistakes will happen. Occasionally, they’ll predominate. In a sense, we’re like toddlers learning to walk; at times we’ll stumble and scratch our knees. Nevertheless, like toddlers, we need to persist. Through persistence, monitoring, self-reflection, learning, and adaptation, we may well make this upcoming school year far more successful than last year.

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