Monday, June 6, 2016

Stress Symptoms and Strategies

It's been a busy week, but like Jennifer Casa-Todd mentioned in her interview with Doug Peterson, often there are many nuggets of potential blog posts waiting to be developed. I began this post in April and finished it today (June 6, 2016). Since this is right smack in the middle of report card writing, I thought the topic of stress was rather relevant!

Part A: Spring Concert and Signs of Stress

This happened a while ago, as our school prepared for its annual Spring Concert, but I thought the message was worth examining weeks and weeks later.

We have three days of rehearsals, with a walk through (going through the program order with interruptions and corrections), a dry run (going through the program order with the school watching), and a dress rehearsal (going through the program order with everyone in their holding stations, with no interruptions just like it would be during the actual show). The purpose of all these practices is to help students become ready, comfortable, and familiar with the process - including all the transitions on and off stage. We had a special meeting for those students who were involved in multiple performances, so that they would be clear about where they would need to be and when they would go on stage. A certain Grade 3 boy was very worried about forgetting his designated pick-up spot. He kept asking the teachers and his right eye was twitching frequently. I sat down with him without other students and we did some stress reduction exercises. We did "squared breathing" and kneaded the area around our necks and shoulder blades. I also talked to him about being aware of my personal stress indicator. I've learned that when I am particularly stressed, I run my fingers through my hair. Now that I'm aware of this, if I find myself doing this, I realize that I'm starting to become overly agitated and need to calm down. I mentioned that it seemed to me that his twitching eye was a sign that he was too stressed. To help reduce his anxiety over being in the right place at the right time, I gave him a paper copy of the schedule and highlighted when and where he had to be. I described the steps I had taken with other teachers and all of them asked, "So, what's my stress indicator?"

Insight: If we have a critical friend that we trust who can examine us and indicate to us when our "stress signal" is acting up, maybe that will help us manage stress more effectively.

I found this sketchnote by the talented Sylvia Duckworth provides a great list of strategies for recharging, not just over the holidays but throughout the year.

Part B: Red Maple Marketing Campaign and Contagious Stress

On Tuesday, May 31, a group of committed local teacher-librarians and their super-eager teams converged on the Malvern branch of the Toronto Public Library for our annual Red Maple Marketing Campaign. It was wonderful in 2014 and fabulous in 2015 and the inaugural year in 2012 was memorable too. The projects this year were outstanding as well. Agnes Macphail P.S., Brookside P.S., David Lewis P.S., Macklin P.S. and Milliken P.S. participated (with special guest visitors from G. B. Little P.S.) came and our author, Allan Stratton, loved the displays.

Prison Boy

We Are All Made of Molecules

The Truth Commission

Fragile Bones

Uncertain Soldier

Young Man with Camera

The Gospel Truth

More from The Gospel Truth

Animated film summary of Uncertain Soldier

Catherine, Diana, Allan, Alison, Jennifer & Ann

Presentation about The Dogs

Things unraveled a tiny bit when it came time for the "5 minute pitch" spiels to begin. Transition times were extra long this year as teams logged on to their TDSB Google Drive accounts just as they were scheduled to present so that they could show their book trailers and technology-reliant promotional tools. I wasn't worried but I sat next to one of the other teacher-librarians, who not only was acting as official timekeeper, but also very cognizant of the fact that she had to get her students back to school in time for them to get on their school buses to get home. I noticed that her worries soon became my worries and I started to get stressed about how long it was taking everyone to prepare to speak. Usually we are done at 2:00 p.m. but it was more like 3:00 p.m. when the last group ended. (The school that had bused students actually had to leave before seeing the other presentations.) We had to postpone announcing the winner, and we decided that in our anxious, stressed states, it would be better to wait until a day the following week to gather with the judges and film their feedback to share with the teams. (This feedback from authentic sources is one of the most valuable parts of the event.)

Insight: I'm glad that we realized it was better not to push ahead with sharing the winners. I wonder, however, about validating the concerns of colleagues (and of students) without letting their stress become my own.

Part C: TDSB Library Learning Commons Showcase and Sharing Stress Memories

On Friday, June 3, I traveled to Cosburn Middle School for the annual Library Learning Commons Showcase. I really love this venue and method of sharing, because, like a trade show, the communication is much less formal and therefore can be two-way. I used some of my business cards to scratch quick notes to myself to reconnect with certain people about certain things, like

  • Lisa Lewis from John Fisher P.S. about Facing History
  • Tanya Thompson from Bendale Jr. P.S. about MakerSpace tools
  • Jennifer Tong from John Ross Robertson P.S. about the iPad management system and Google Photos
  • Tracy Donaldson from Woburn Jr. P.S. about Sesame vs Seesaw vs Google Classroom
  • Mira Campbell from F.H. Miller P.S. about Book Creator
  • Maaja Wentz from Churchill Heights P.S. about her YA book
  • Michelle Doyl (on the topic I forgot to write down! Darn! STEM maybe?)
  • Joel Krentz from Wilkinson P.S. on the new version of Adobe Voice
  • Diana Will Stork from Huron Street P.S. on preparing kindergarteners for inquiry walks
Kate Tuff was the fabulous site host and she remembered the horrible time I had the previous year about finding her school. I'm glad I actually revealed my troubles to people instead of hiding my shame, because instead of mocking my inability to navigate local streets, I noticed that the tips this year from the amazing Instructional Leaders (Cindy and Fran) included providing a cell phone number, advising presenters on specific streets for dropping items off prior to parking, and other helpful crutches. Because I remembered how stressed out and upset I was last year, I came early, stayed for the whole day, and was lucky enough to snag a spot in the school parking lot. No getting lost for this teacher-librarian in 2016! 

Insight: Stress and negative experiences can be instructional at times, especially after the fact with hindsight. The organizers learned how to deal with directionally-challenged people like me, and I learned how to avoid that terrible feeling of hopelessness by taking steps to be prepared. I brought my cell phone too, just in case!

Here are some photos of the Library Learning Commons Showcase.

Tracy, Lisa, Joel

Jennifer giving me visual clues

Me, with Heather (and who is this again?)

Michelle and her fellow teacher with their work

Love this brainstorm by the Grade 2s!

Inquiry through Language - good point!

Diana's evidence of learning with kindies

Mira's display

My displays (Lego Film & Quiz Bowl / Marketing Campaign)


  1. Oh, you are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this, and to Doug for putting it in his weekly round-up. I really appreciate your idea of finding a critical friend to tell me my stress indicator (I tend to get very grumpy). I have discovered that June will be stressful no matter what I do, and that sleep disruption due to hormonal fluctuations don't help. I'm also, like you, somewhat of an empathy so picking up everybody else's stress happens. Everything and anything I can learn that helps me reduce that stress is a good thing. Thanks also for sharing the fabulous community you are able to work with and in.

  2. Yes, I'm commenting on my own article, but only because Aviva Dunsiger posted this great blog article that matched the topic perfectly!