Juggling Our Learning

It seems that my blog entries are not what I originally imagined I would be writing when I Unknown-1first started to think about sharing my learning back in June. I had visions of sharing my success stories of using technology with my students, of helping others start to think about what they are doing with assessment in their classrooms and hopefully inspiring others to make some changes. But as life is never something we can predict, nor can I know what is going to really cause me to want to write and share. I have leaned more towards sharing who I am as an educator and the struggles and successes I have faced with implementing my ideal model of learning.

imagesEarly in December I was hit with a nasty bug. I was off work for just over a week but even once I was up and around the bug did not disappear for over a month. Since that time I have thought a tremendous amount about why I was so run down and what it was about my world that needed to change. My doctor asked me that week if my high level of stress was something that I could control. Yes, was my answer. He shook his head and said quietly, “You need to make some changes.” I can honestly admit that I was burned out.

For many teachers burn out is no surprise. After 22 years of teaching I seem to be working more, and spending less time away from work. I have been reflecting on why this is and what changes I need to make so that I can continue to do what I am passionate about – moving our children forward, helping them achieve their potential.  I have been wondering  if other educators are feeling the same way. I have wondered if there are others, such as myself, who want to do the very best for their students but are struggling with juggling the learning.

This is what I have come to realize – even though technology has changed the face of my Unknown-2classroom, has changed how I look at learning and has definitely impacted the learning of my students in a very positive way, it has also been a major factor in this burn out I now feel.

I am not a digital native, I am an immigrant in every sense. I still prefer to take notes with pen and paper, I still love the feel of a good book in my hands when I read at night, I still like to edit on a hard copy. Yet, I have embraced much of what technology has to offer. I love the freedom of learning, I love the connections I have made with fellow educators around the world, I love giving my students choice in how they learn, what they learn, and how they wish to share their learning. But what has happened to me, personally, is that technology has occupied much of my learning to the extent that I am always feeling I do not have enough time to plan, or to properly assess the learning of the students.

imagesOver the past year I have spent hours with my laptop, my ipad and my iphone around me and really do not accomplish much. I find myself jumping between work emails, student emails, twitter and reading and responding to approximately 10 of my students on-line journals. In the past, prior to this inundation of technology I would have been able to focus on a task and accomplish a goal such as get a plan in place, at least a rough outline of a unit I need to be teaching. This is what I battle on a daily basis. I have never spent as much time as I do now on my job. I regularly work 10 to 11 hours a day (this is at school) and still work most weekends as well. I get up each morning 1and a half hours before heading to work so that I can check in on student emails, parent communication, maybe check in on their websites, on their learning, their homework, read twitter and even look in occasionally at Facebook. All of this has contributed to the feeling of burn out. I have to wonder how many other teachers are doing exactly what I am doing and if they too feel that technology has added, rather than eased the work load.

In the Fall the internet at my school was shut down – actually almost all of Vancouver was shut down. It was a surreal feeling walking through the halls, walking into the office, and being in my classroom. The feel was one of calm. People were having conversations that were not rushed, people made eye contact instead of sideways looks as they typed out emails or sent texts, our principal had time to visit with students and staff alike without having to work at her computer, answer emails, fill in grants and applications or check on communication. The atmosphere in the school was one of calm, staff and students seemed more relaxed even for that one day.

So what does this tell us? How do we embrace 21st Century Learning yet keep the balance that is so very necessary if we wish to continue to be of value to our students and to this profession?

I started the New Year with the word “Balance” at the top of my priority list. I tried to keepimages this in mind as I headed back to work after the Christmas break but it did not take long before I was once again running on full speed. I have made a conscious effort to check twitter less often (but I honestly feel like I am left out of some great opportunities for my learning) and I am making a conscious effort not to surround myself at home during the evenings with work unless I absolutely have to. I am still loaded on weekends though, so I need to work on this! I love the growth I have experienced as I integrate technology into my teaching but I need to learn to set limits and stick with them.

Unknown-1I would love to hear from others. How have you balanced your learning, your work load in the age of technology? Is this an issue that is bigger and more concerning than just my world? If so, what are some possible answers? How do we keep up with the ever changing environment of learning without burning out? I am tired just thinking about it!

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22 thoughts on “Juggling Our Learning

  1. I am not a huge fan of Prensky’s labels “digital immigrant” vs “digital native”…but I, like you, was born in a time when the internet did not exist and as such often need ‘play time’ with tech before I am comfortable (and I also love a real, paperback book). And you are right, this does take time. I enjoy it though…I guess I find my balance by also spending a good amount of time reading fiction (don’t have to think as hard), watching movies (making my way though netflix one film at a time) and getting out when I can. You are so right…we need to have balance! In the end, our students will be better for it because we will have energy and be there for them!
    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Gallit,
      Thanks for the comment. Yes, digital native, digital immigrant terms have become a duscussion point.
      I am glad you are able to still enjoy those books and movies. I find myself too often falling asleep early in the evenings so do not get much reading done except for bed time. Oh, how I miss that. I have always made it a priority though to fit in Pilates two days a week which helps keep me centred.
      I have to learn strategies of keeping focused when on line rather than being distracted by all new things. One more item to add to my list of things to accomplish.

  2. I enjoyed your honest and heart felt post. Sorry to hear that you hadn’t been well and are feeling a little burnt out. It is certainly good to recognize our limits. I suppose ideally we want to learn how to work smarter not harder. Still working on that myself. Take some time to reflect and try not to be too hard on yourself. cheers

    • Thank you Sheila. It was a very long November and December but thankfully I have been on the mend. It is ensuring a balance between teaching, learning and life.

  3. First off, step back and breath, Stop and see the amazing things that you are doing for you students. So often we get stuck in trying to get better and meet everyone’s needs that we forget to take stalk of the incredible things that we are accomplishing along the way. Seriously lady, you are doing some wicked amazing stuff with those kidlets of yours. But yes, I can relate to this post. I am driven, and sometimes I see it as a total flaw because I’m not sure good will ever be good enough. I like to push boundaries too. There are many moments in my life where I am in way over my head and breathing is all that is getting me through it. I think the key is put the important things in your life in first (like your health, family etc), and then the rest can fit around that. In our profession there will always be more that we can learn, read, share, try but as you’re finding out, we’re of far less value when we aren’t at our best. Take care of yourself. Breath a little more, get outside a little more and know, that an e-mail doesn’t have to be answered right away. It’s kind of like that pesky cell phone, just because it rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Remember that. Celebrate what you’re accomplishing and do what needs to be done to get those important things back in the #1 spot where they belong.

    • Karen,
      Always so insightful, knowledgeable and thoughtful. I truly appreciate your reply as you and I are of much the same fabric. As you said good doesn’t ever seem to be quite good enough.
      I have great plans for when the weather improves which will ensure I do take the time to refresh. My husband, sons and students will thank me for it.
      I am very lucky to have a career that I am passionate about but
      need to as you said “breathe” every once in awhile.
      Thanks again for reply.

  4. Thanks, again for your post! I read it just before I left for the afternoon of kid activities and thought about balance all while I was out. I believe it is so hard because we are passionate, and love what we do! Which is a very wonderful thing. You are right though – a little less work in the evenings and weekends is healthier for you your family and your class too, ultimately. I know I feel like I am missing out if I don’t catch Twitter and miss some new info, however I also feel like I do a better job with a little more focus and a mind that is not going a thousand directions at the same time. It is a constant struggle. I love the tech, but feel pulled in more directions than ever.
    I think being honest and supporting each other about time “off”, whether this is a walk or run after school with colleagues, pursuing just-for-fun reads & films as Gallit suggests, or any other enjoyable experience that gives your mind a rest, but maybe your body a workout would go a long way to help burn out. Last year at my school a few of us started running twice a week after school and while sometimes i struggled with getting out, it made a huge difference to my well-being, this year we haven’t kept it up as faithfully and I feel the affects. This is the wake-up call to get going!
    You are a fantastic teacher, doing great things! Don’t lose sight of that. Thanks for writing this.

    • Thank you Lora for all the suggestions. I smiled at the comment about our minds going in a million different directions as my husband tells it me it is a bit like following a ping pong ball when he talks to me.
      The suggestion of after school activities with colleagues is one that I hope to do soon. There are a couple if us who want to walk for 30 minutes two times a week after school; the fresh air would do wonders for body and soul.
      I have found that since me sons are grown up now it is easy to get caught doing things for work. This year will be time to once again find my interests to ensure that balance in my world.
      Thanks again.

  5. Anne,
    Phew! Reading this and the comments make ME tired, too! I have a saving grace – my husband likes to head to bed at 9:00. Yes, it’s past my bedtime now. (But we don’t have school tomorrow!) So I am forced to go to bed early. I told him I’d go to be with him, knowing it’s good for my health. Before we were married in 2011, I’d stay up until 11:00 sometimes, still getting up at 5:00!! (My ex didn’t care what time I went to sleep!)

    Also, I’ve made it “okay” to not be on Twitter each day. Yes, I take some days off. This is a shocker to me, but I find I don’t really miss much. Good things circulate back anyway, so they’re hard to miss. When I decide to put it away, it does me good. WAY less stress in that fashion! I just have to remember that it’s okay if I miss a Twitter pal’s blog post (I almost missed this one, though!). Everyone has to respect that you can’t see and comment on everything. If I’m meant to see something, I will. Twitter really is a big “suck” of my time. I’ll think I’m just checking, and hours pass quickly. I have to limit my time on it, so I can focus more on what I’m doing with my students the very next day.

    One more saving grace? Hugs. My husband gives the best hugs. He makes it so I can only concentrate on him, and leave everything else in the dust. He is what is truly important. With that said, we’re heading to sleep… You should, too! G’night! Thanks for the honesty!

    • Joy,
      Thanks so much. Your post gave me the feeling of a good hug even across the miles. I tend to run full tilt for too long each day and then stop dead in my tracks – this is what I need to change. I, too, am lucky that I have an amazing husband who will put a halt to my dizzying speeds when it is important. (He also gives the best hugs – we are lucky!).
      I am glad to hear that you also take time away from twitter and that you do not feel like you are missing too much..As I said in some of my earlier replies I need to find the balance and one of those ways is for me to keep remembering “go deeper, not wider”.which means not keeping up with twitter and everything new and being okay with it.

  6. Here are a couple of thoughts that I read from your post:

    On this quote: “I have made a conscious effort to check twitter less often (but I honestly feel like I am left out of some great opportunities for my learning)”

    When I first started Twitter, I felt exactly the same way but now I realize that if I leave Twitter, and come back, you will still find great information. If something is REALLY amazing, it will still find its way to you. Take time off as you need it.

    The other thing that I thought about your post is wondering what you have replaced in your work now that you are doing all of these amazing things. Too often we try to do all of the neat technology PLUS what we used to do. That is a recipe for disaster and burnout. What are you taking off your plate?

    What I have also found is that balance is about being able to use technology AND engage in deep conversations. We have to model that we learn openly but also can shut out that world and have the face-to-face conversations without reaching for our phone. I think that as an adult, we have to model this for our students and show the balance that you talk about. That means turning the outside world on and off.

    I know the feeling of being tired and overwhelmed with work, but I also know that this rarely happens for an educator that is not hugely passionate about kids and their role as a teacher. You show this in spades from your post but as others echoed, you need to take care of yourself because we need great educators. We all need breaks and to decompress. You should never feel guilty for setting a time where you decide to turn off from reading student work, whether it is on a piece of paper or a blog.

    Take care of yourself and thank you for your open post.

    • George,
      I really appreciate your comment about great information always finding its way to us. This is my feeling about life in general – things happen for a reason so go with it. Great feeds will find me somehow so let it happen!

      I also had to smile at the section about what have I taken off my plate. I have heard this for years but being the type of person I am, I continue to load up and rarely give up what is already there. Learning something new is always difficult and the technology aspect has been a steep one. I know that in time things will come more easily and I will be better at this balance but in the mean time – you’re right – what am I going to remove?

      I value relationship building and a strong sense of community in my class. This does not happen without work, without modelling, without intentional teaching. You are so very right that we lead by example. I am happy to say that my students get to see me often in with a very collaborative team of teachers who talk daily, share our learning regularly, and build our own relationships. Our students, thankfully,witness this often.

      Thank you for adding insight into how to gain the balance I have been seeking. Some great advice that I can refer back to if or when I start down that path again.

  7. I found myself smiling and nodding slightly as I was reading your post. I can definitely relate to what you’ve discussed. I too feel torn between the traditional ways of teaching and learning and the new technological advances that are happening as we speak. I have only recently started using twitter and I’m already addicted. It has become part of my daily repertoire. I believe that the best way to find a balance is to make sure we make time for everything we find valuable. For instance, as you mentioned there is great value in face to face dialogue and interpersonal relationships. We cannot just wait for the instances when internet access is not available to make that feasible. Instead we have to provide opportunities for students to interact, listen to each other, and have thoughtful conversations. Technology is here to stay and it has definitely transformed the way we learn. But we have to use it selectively in combination with other learning resources that proved to be worthwhile.

    • I totally agree with you. Technology is not going anywhere but it is up to each of us to determine when we feel it is time to turn off and develop face to face interpersonal skills. Twitter is very addicting and time can fly by too quickly; setting a specific time limit to be on line may be the answer to this. Now to stick with the plan! Thank you for your comments.

  8. Oh your story brings back so many memories – of 2009/2010. I was about at the same point as you in terms of experience in the classroom and with classroom technologies. I was so excited about the possibilities edtech was opening for me and for my students, and the changes that were taking place in my classroom kept me motivated and enthused. I believe that during that school year I never went to bed before 1am and a weekend almost never passed where I wasn’t in my classroom or at least glued to my computer – not sure about “always” but this is the term my husband and kids used :-).

    One thing I have surely noticed about the acceptance and integration period for classroom technologies is that it is a curve that takes much longer than anyone anticipates (I myself predicted 3 years for our 1:1 program to be running smoothly and fully integrated – ha!). But that time period also affects the teachers who are implementing it – even the those who embrace it wholeheartedly.

    Looking back, I realize that part of my stress was due to the pressing feeling I had that I MUST go above and beyond, because I believed in what I was doing and was setting an example for others, and I wanted these things to become truly integrated into my practice, not just a flash in the pan. I was building what I believed were strong habits for my practice – blogging for others, tweeting, and all the rest.

    At this point you can probably assume I am more “balanced” since I am writing this with the tone of hindsight – and you would be right. I didn’t do that purposefully – but I should have as I was certainly reaching burnout. What happened to me is exactly what happened to our program. As I became more comfortable, and those habits I was trying so hard to build did indeed become habits, I slowly let some things go a little. Comfort level and some perspective allowed me to realize that I didn’t need to tweet daily, or spend an hour reading my feed. Once my bookmarks library reached 2,000 I felt comfortable with the level of resources at my disposal. I decided to blog once a week – or so (or only when I had something I really wanted to write about) – and not daily. I had set up systems in my classroom (an established course website, student blogs) and did not feel quite the pressing need to force my students to put EVERYTHING on their blogs, nor to reinvent the wheel every time I set up a new course. I also put students into collaborative groups more often, and spent time teaching them good tools to peer edit with – it wasn’t necessary for me to give feedback every single time they did something on their GoogleDocs. It was making them far too dependent on me and they were not looking to their own resources.

    My advice? I’d say you’ve reached a point where you have begun to establish some great habits – now get some perspective. What does not need your attention daily? (there are things you think may, but they really don’t). What is most important? What is not so important? You have established yourself as a leader in this undertaking – and that’s fantastic, because someone must be for practices to take hold and stand a chance! So when you are thinking about your new professional best practices, decide – what are the BEST practices, what are GOOD practices (those don’t have to be done so often) and what are the practices that don’t need your constant attention to survive?

    Sorry for the long reply, but your post struck a chord! Don’t worry – in this, like any new venture, you will find your groove! You have established your standards!

    • Wow, what a thoughtful, insightful and inspirational reply – I cannot thank you enough. You have given me some very sage advice which certainly gives me great perspective. I connected with your ‘past’ you – wanting to set a standard, creating everything new, reinventing the wheel each day. No one can do this nor should we expect this from ourselves.Adding perspective is definitely the piece of advice I will ponder. I need to prioritize and stick with what I decide, what is important and what can be pushed aside. One day I may have the need/desire to look back at what I pushed off but possibly not. Thanks again for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully on my post.

  9. I think many teachers feel trapped in this pattern and I used to be in the same situation.
    Regardless of the importance of technology and online networking we should consider our priorities. Social media does shape our perception of time and of values. It subtly triggers this idea of urgency over importance, of “now” over long-term, of novelty over significant.
    I think you should not feel guilty or stressed about SM in any way – ultimately, what you do in class and with your family is by far more important than how often you connect to people online.

    • Thank you for reinforcing what in my heart I know to be true. It is always a long journey to learn new things but we cannot lose ourselves in the process. I must keep reminding myself it is far more important to go deeper rather than wider – a great connection to your “urgency over importance,now over long term, of novelty over significant”. Words to reflect and act on!

  10. I’m sure that there are lots of teachers out there feeling just the same but not willing to admit it. – there is a lot of pressure to be almost permanently connected. I am a big fan of using technology with my class but agree that it has certainly increased my workload, especially as it also part of my brief as Deputy Principal. I was pretty exhausted ( and just a little stressed :-) ) at the end of last year so decided to “disconnect” during the summer break. I didn’t check twitter once and, although I may have missed out on some good stuff, I think it did me good – I now feel more comfortable about not being on there every day! Keep up your good work on maintaining a balance, and know that you are not alone!

    • Thank you so much for your reply. I have been rather amazed at the support I have had for this post. I felt I was taking a risk by sharing my overload but it appears that so many feel similar. I admire the fact you chose to disconnect last summer – I should give this a go on our upcoming spring break. I have a feeling that what I miss will not be earth shattering but what I gain in balance will be much more valuable.

  11. Anne-Marie,
    You have been such an inspiration to so many and you shouldn’t forget that! Please take care of yourself! We all know that kids need amazing teachers like you, and to be amazing, you need to be healthy and well rested. However, I also want to thank you so much for sharing your struggles. I think many teachers appreciate hearing that others are experiencing stress, burn out and illness because of overwork. It is so easy to feel like you are the only one and that there’s something you’re doing wrong. I know I needed to hear this… I have been experiencing much the same thing in terms of health this year, both mental and physical, and am now at a crossroads where I need to make some decisions to help me look after myself. I often feel as though I’m failing my students because I spend so much time on my own learning and not enough on things like assessment (which I used to spend LOADS of time on). Upon feeling guilty, I stress myself out even more, and the cycle continues.

    You have far more experience than me as a teacher, but I thought I’d share 2 questions I am planning on asking myself from now on before adding to my workload: Do I NEED to do this? Do I LOVE to do this? If the answer is no to both, then perhaps it can left for someone else. It’s not much, but it’s a simple way to check in before saying yes.

    Thank you so much for sharing. The one absolute beauty of technology is that sometimes things pop up at exactly the right time!

    Sincerely,
    Beverley

    • Thank you Beverly for your response to my post. The two questions you are now asking yourself are very valid and important. If we do not love what it is we are doing, then is it something we need to focus on. I am glad that my post was good timing for you. I truly believe the world has a wonderful way of presenting things just when we need them. I hope that you are able to feel better soon, mentally and physically, and can continue to give your best to your students. I know they will appreciate this.

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