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Put the Mask on Yourself First

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Originally published on May 8, 2020

Happy Friday!

Do you remember when the Common Core (CCLS) rolled out?  Though at the time in New York it felt like it happened overnight, compared to COVID, it slowly drifted in on the wings of a butterfly.  Nevertheless, it was during the time of CCLS that everyone in education used the phrase, “we’re building the plane as we’re flying it” (if you’re never watched the commercial about building a plane while flying, check it out will make you smile).

Do you know how long it took for my school district to go from normal to closure?  Less than a week.  On Wednesday, March 11th, all of the 8th graders went to Buffalo State College to see a play.  By the end of the day on Thursday, March 12th, the principals met with the department chairs to tell them about planning for 2 weeks of lessons in the event of closure.  By Sunday, March 15th, all the administrators and people like our Head of Buildings and Grounds, our Head of Food Service, and board members gathered to discuss the closure that started on March 16th. We sat there while holding optional masks in our hands just to say that we had them. 

Here we are building a plane while we’re flying it again.  I think we got it in the air so fast that we forgot to do the in-flight safety procedures.  Though I will not go over all of them, I want to specifically say:

In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you.  To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask toward you.  Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.  Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask.  If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person…”

I am here to tell you that if you’re feeling like you can’t breathe, you need to find a way to get some oxygen flowing.

While we want our students and their families to be active in the learning that we’re providing right now, I know that some of you are feeling overwhelmed by the 24/7 calls, texts, and emails from them.  There is no doubt that what they are asking is important to them, but that doesn’t mean that needs to be urgent for you.  I literally cannot think of anything (outside of the AP exams which aren’t until next week anyway) that couldn’t wait 24 hours.  So why are you feeling inclined to respond in 24 minutes (and sometimes 24 seconds)? 

As a mom, I ask myself in new situations, “If this was the first day of a pattern, would I be okay with this being a pattern?”  If not, I shouldn’t do it.  That meant, even when my kids were sick or had trouble sleeping, they were not coming into my bed.  I didn’t want that to be a pattern, so I wasn’t going to allow it to start.  As I have had to tell my own children during this time when I’m working at home from the dining room table where they can clearly see me, “Just because I look accessible does not mean that I am available to you.”  I’m not telling them that if they really need me, they couldn’t get me, but 999 times out of 1,000, they are not coming to me out of need.  This is not me being cruel or unloving, it’s about me creating boundaries.  It’s important to me as a parent that my children learn to create and respect boundaries for themselves too.  Boundaries are not just something they need during the time of COVID, it’s a life skill that will serve them well—and one that will cause them great struggle if they do not learn.

Think about it.  Do we want our students or families to come to expect that we will drop everything to respond to them about a non-urgent question?  I don’t think so.  Giving yourself up to 24 hours to get back is more than reasonable.  Before all of this, if a parent sent you an email during your instruction, you didn’t respond as soon as the email landed in your inbox—you were teaching.  Just because you’re not in your classroom doesn’t mean that you have to reply the moment you receive the email—just because it was a convenient time for them to reach out to you does not mean it’s a convenient time for you to reply to them.  And that’s okay. 

If you feel like you’re burning out, I want to let you know that you cannot assist others if you cannot breathe yourself.  Take a breath.  It will be okay.  No child is going to die literally or figuratively because you didn’t reply to them or their parent at 11 o’clock at night.  Boundaries are important.  Here are just a few options that you might find helpful…

  1. Explicitly tell students/families that you will get back to them within 24 hours so that they know what to expect.

  2. Designate a time of day that you will set aside to reply to student/family questions.  Make that time convenient for you and it’s okay if you get an email right after your window of response closes for that day.  You will get to it the next day.

  3. Turn off phone notifications.  It won’t mean you’re not getting the communication, it just means that you’re not being notified that it’s there.

  4. Work with your team to take turns responding.  Since you’re likely working with others who are doing the same thing that you’re doing, let students/families know if they have a question on Monday, reach out to this person.  Tuesday, this person, etc.

  5. Just as important as creating boundaries, is enforcing them.  So, if you’re going to commit to something, you need to commit to more than the idea—you need to commit to the behavior. 

  6. If you need help keeping your commitment to yourself, find an accountability partner (someone who will ask you about how things are going since you are more likely to do the behavior if you have to fess up when you haven’t done it). 

  7. If all else fails, watch the video below.  It will make you laugh AND give you some advice you’ll never forget.

Here's the unfortunate truth.  Though you have no control over what is happening, be it COVID or the constant communication, you do have choices about how you respond to what’s happening.  It is not unloving or unhealthy to set boundaries for yourself so that you can not only come out of this on the other side but be healthy and sane during the time it takes to get there.  No one will be sad, mad, or lack understanding if you are struggling because of the deluge of student/family questions and requests.  As well, no one will be sad, mad or lack understanding if you create (and enforce) boundaries to help you get through this.  So rather than being your own worst enemy, be a role model to your students, colleagues, family, and friends by putting the mask on yourself “and then assist the other person.”  With that I say, though we may experience some turbulence, I wish you all a safe and enjoyable flight.


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