Are you worried or are you concerned?

Looking at the list of topics below. Notice how your body reacts.

COVID-19. Anti-Black Violence. Racism. Homophobia. Structural inequities. Poverty. Unemployment. Education. Terrorism. Grief and Loss.

Are you worried yet? Are you concerned? Is there a difference? Or do you have no feeling at all about any of them? I have feelings about each one of them, not because they all affect me directly. Each one of them touches the teachers, staff, students and families under my leadership. Therefore they all affect me. I don’t understand all the dynamics of any one of them. I don’t have to. Yet, it is important that I recognize that students, families, and faculty members are each dealing with one or more of these issues simultaneously. The anxiety that we can feel about what is going to happen next can be debilitating. I know that very well personally. I would dare say that you have experienced these feelings at some point in your life too. So, what do we do when we are experiencing anxiety, fear, or worry about the unknown?

There is a difference between worry and concern. Almost every teacher has first day jitters in anticipation of the first day of school. This year, those jitters have turned into flat out fear and worry. They are worried about what school is going to look like in just a few weeks, whether they will be able to handle whatever way they are asked to continue teaching, whether they themselves will be physically safe if they must enter the school buildings, whether their own children and families will be safe. I completely understand and think about these things daily. In the face of all of this, as a leader, it is crucial to remain as steady as possible. Teachers look to us to be a source of calm in a raging storm sometimes known as education. Educators possess a heart for children. If we allow ourselves to remain in a state of worry, then we will often not be as effective as we could be. It’s good to be concerned about our students and what the future holds, but we don’t have the time or the mental space to sit in worry. There is simply too much good, necessary work to do! Here are some ways that I have learned to turn my worry into concern:

  1. Acknowledge – Acknowledge what you are feeling as worry and speak it aloud. Tell someone what you are feeling and thinking. Write it down. Share it with someone who will understand. Say something like “I acknowledge that right now I am worried about ______.” Then do number 2.
  2. Notice – Notice how your body feels when you think about or discuss something that is worrying you. Do you feel tension in your shoulders? Does a headache come on suddenly? Does your stomach begin to do flips and turns? Pay attention to this and make note of it so you can do number 3.
  3. Breathe – Do you ever notice that you stop breathing? Not completely of course, but that you are actually holding your breath unintentionally? I have. When I realized that I was doing that, I was so shocked. My aunt told me that when she realized she was doing it, she learned to intentionally sigh audibly a few times to recenter herself and focus on letting toxins (worry) out and filling her lungs with new air (peace). Not a fan of yoga or meditations? No problem. When you notice your breathing is erratic, stop immediately and take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth until you come back to center.
  4. Refocus – Refocus your attention on someone or something completely different than the issue or topic that is worrying you. Place your eyes or direct your thoughts of something that does not worry you, that makes you smile or gives you pleasure. Most of the time for me, I think about my children (unless it is them I am worrying about!). But even if it is my children, I try to refocus my thought energy onto an aspect of who they are that makes them so unique and beautiful. At work, I try to refocus on my why, or read an inspirational quote, or look back at a positive note that someone wrote to me.
  5. Practice Gratitude – I am not going to sit here and say that it is easy to shift your brain to thing about something good when something feels like it is spiraling out of your control. I will say that each time that I have intentionally set out to change my thought process, it has decreased the amount of time and the level of intensity at which my state of worry operates. From a simple “I am grateful for the sun shining today,” to “I am grateful that neither anyone in my immediate circle nor I have been directly affected by COVID-19” there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for.

It is natural and good to be concerned about something or someone. It shows how we are connected. Concern grounds us in the humanity of ourselves and others. Concern can inform our purpose, our why. But I don’t believe that it should consume us either. I am concerned about how we will return to school safely in a few weeks. I am concerned about being the most effective leader that I can be to support all of my stakeholders. I work hard to turn my concerns into action steps that I take each day toward fulfilling my purpose as a resilient educator. Be well friends.

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