Professional Practice

Looking Back on 2020 (Ep. 173)

With a couple of weeks to process, it is time to look back on the lessons learned in 2020. In today’s episode, Nic tells her story of the past year–both the highs and the lows–and reflects on the lessons she learned. She also takes a look at what we might take with us (and what we might leave behind) in the new year. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about my experience with 2020, because I’ve had so many great interviews lately. I really haven’t had a chance to just talk about my experience thus far this year. And so I’m going to take a few minutes to first talk about the history, I guess, of 2020 and what I’ve done so far this year. And then we’re going to move quickly into what I do to deal with the extra stresses that we have going on with education right now.

I will go over the history very quickly or as quickly as I possibly can, so that we can spend most of our time talking about the solution of anxiety or stress, or just the ever changing continuously, ever changing teaching models that we’re in. And just how to balance that in our life. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

Let’s get started first talking about, I’m not even going to get into March. We know that in March in the United States, everything fell apart. We went into distance learning for majority of schools throughout the nation, and students didn’t do well because teachers didn’t know what we were doing for the most part. And I’m speaking mostly about myself. I love technology. I use it all the time, but I didn’t understand what that looked like for our at-home learners, to its full, as much as I needed to know to be successful. And when I say successful, I mean successful in my mind, which could be different for every person.

So when we started in September, this year, I got on every single committee that could have any influence whatsoever on possibly influencing the decisions that were going to be made, that I was going to be teaching under. So I joined the committees for free, of course, and just gave my all to make this the best year that it could possibly be.

And I continue to do that, continue to have conversations with our administration and our leadership in our schools. But what we ended up deciding on, or the district decided for the start of the year in September, was that K through five, so our kindergarten through fifth grade, was going to start the year in person 100%. And our sixth grade through 12th grade was going to be in hybrid. So that meant that 50% of the students would be in the school at a time. And then the next day we’d have a A-day and we’d have a B-day.

So the A-day kids would come in, do their learning in person. And then the B-Day kids would come in the next day and Fridays were for at-home learning, but more independent asynchronous learning. Oh my goodness, this synchronous and asynchronous learning are the buzzwords this year. So synchronous means in person, I’m doing a Google live or a Zoom meeting with my students. Asynchronous means that they’re watching the video, they’re learning on their own a little bit more and completing the task.

So we were instructed that the teachers teaching the older kids were going to be teaching both kids that are at home asynchronously or sometimes synchronously. The kids in person of course, synchronously. And then Governor Walz had declared that any family that wanted to stay at home and learn, would have that opportunity with every district in our school in our state.

And so therefore, we also had this additional group of kids that were learning from completely distance learning from day one. That was in September and we rocked that schedule for quite some time, until October came along. At least for me, this is when there was a change in my teaching. I was quarantined because of close exposure within my classroom. So there were two students, actually several students within the school, but two that ended up coming into my classroom one right after another. And I spent the whole hour by them, near them. Therefore I was placed in quarantine for 14 days.

I knew what this looked like because my husband, who is also a teacher had just gotten out of quarantine from the same situation. So I knew that I would be teaching at home, but he just high school. So all he did was teach his lessons on Schoology to his high school drafting students. I, on the other hand, had to also teach from home, but I’m teaching kindergarten through fifth grade, they’re in my classroom and I’m sitting at home.

What ended up happening is they hired two substitutes throughout the whole 14 days. Awesome, awesome people. And they helped me out, so they would start the Google Meet. I would speak to the students because unfortunately on their end, we didn’t have a camera or a voice. So I couldn’t hear them responding to me, but they could hear me and they could see me. So I would talk into my computer with no response. And then I look at my phone and I’d get the text, okay, students are working or now they’re ready to listen to you or whatever it was. And so I was working through my subs to actively teach my classes. That was something else.

So, that happened in October. And then I moved into November. So I came back from quarantine. I came back just in time to have the three planning days where we were planning for hybrid teaching, because we changed our model where our K-five, our kindergarten through fifth grade students were going to be learning in a hybrid model and our sixth grade through 12th grade students were going to be learning at home.

So this changes my life quite a bit because my husband is now teaching at home all the time and/or going into school and teaching students from there, but the students are at home. And my own two personal kids, I have a seventh grader and a ninth grader. And so they’re learning at home as well, and I’m going to school every day, but I’ll be teaching our students in a hybrid, so 50% capacity.

We teach art. We spend three full planning days of intense figuring this out because it was quite complicated. Students would be in our class for one hour and they’d have to learn at home for 20 minutes. And we had to come up with this solution for art education and it was intense, but I did rely on my team. And we’ll talk about that another day. That leads to some amazing collaboration that happened in 2020, so that might be another episode.

But what we did was we made our plan. We taught our first day and at noon on our first day of hybrid, we got an email telling us that at the end of the week, we would be moving into distance learning for our kindergartners through fifth grade. I did not think it was the wrong idea. It was what was necessary because of the COVID outbreak that was happening in our communities. And so, whereas there was a lot of effort and energy placed into figuring out hybrid, only to be toss out the door and moved into distance learning. It was the right choice at the time.

So that brings us into December where now all students, kindergarten through 12th grade have been learning distance wise. And there has been a lot of changes even in our community of gyms being closed down and restaurants being closed. And any sort of gathering is still very restricted. About two weeks ago, Governor Walz, our governor for Minnesota did come with some changes again. And he has declared that January 19th, our kindergarten through second grade, we’ll be coming back in person fully.

This is the districts to declaration after hearing from Governor Walz’s recommendations. So January 19th, K2 is coming back. We are only allowed to invite three grade levels in at a time. And so two weeks later, February 1st, we will be introducing third grade through fifth grade in person. Now this also means that anyone who was learning online and for that first two weeks, through fifth grade will also be learning online. So we’re going to be teaching in-person and online at the same time.

There’s also some new declarations and new rules of how we can be teaching. So coming back into school, we have some new rules. We will be teaching on a cart, which I haven’t done for many years. I have done in the past, lucky me. So I know what to expect, what that looks like, but we are also, there’s other rules such as we are going to be masked as specialists. Well, I think as teachers, masked and shielded, so we’ll have both things for protection, but in turn really make it challenging to communicate with our students because I’ll be out of my room and in other spaces, I won’t have my microphone that I have in my classroom. I won’t be able to project in the same way in every classroom because all classrooms have a little bit different system.

And of course, the teacher may be in the classroom, may not be in the classroom. They might find a different space to work, and I will be inviting a student teacher in as well. So these are all things that are going to happen, starting January 19 in my world, that will be some more problem solving to do as far as education. And as I’ve covered every single month so far, this school year has been something new. So I anticipate that’s not going to change.

One thing that we can expect is more change. So what do we do with this? What do we do with this? How do we deal with this? I can’t wait to share what I have learned from other very, very smart people in my life. And on social media, specifically podcasts that I listen to.

Let’s get started talking about false control and where I’ve heard that term, where I’ve learned about it and what it tells me about myself. One of my favorite podcasts that I listen to is called, My Favorite Murder. And it is by two women, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff. They are comedians, they do live shows, they travel.

I am now an official Murderino, I don’t know what makes me official, but I listened to it often. And so I think that’s a qualifier. The qualifier for that is to be a Murderino, if you listen on a regular basis, but they have everything. They have merchandise, they travel, you can go watch their shows. They’re very, very funny and real people, so fun to listen to.

And their subject matter, murder, it doesn’t sound like that’s going to be uplifting, but their commentary, their realness to life, their rawness is exactly what I needed. And really their relationship to each other because it reminds me of many of my girlfriends that I don’t have the opportunity to hang out with and chat with on a regular basis. And they’re feeding that for me, they’re commentary with each other is spot on for me, exactly what I need.

Oh, I will say this. If you’re going to go check out My Favorite Murder, just know that it’s a little sweary, which I think is funny, but might not be for you, just to give you that warning ahead of time. And of course, a little triggering with some of their stories just simply because it does revolve around murder. So just be aware of that.

They suggest, another podcast that I have been listening to as well. And it’s called, The Cure for Chronic Pain. Now that would have not been a podcast that I would have seen in my scrolling and decided to actually listen to, but I’m so glad it was suggested to me, Nicole Sachs is the host of that podcast, The Cure for Chronic Pain. Again, both of these I’ll put into the podcast notes, as we always do.

But Nicole, the first episode that I listened to of hers was episode 101. It was revolving around anxiety and our lack of control, our lack of control. You guys, it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time that I was listening to it. So remember I said in October I did a quarantine. And what I did was I had just ordered the new book by Sarah Krajewski. It’s called, Exactly You! The Shape of Your Feelings. And it is a book designed for children, but of course, it speaks to adults very strongly as well.

It’s a beautiful book illustrated by Sarah. And it tells the story of how feelings are okay. Feelings are something to embrace. And in the back of the book, there’s three suggested assignments that you could do, not assignments, activities that you could do with your students. I took one of her ideas and it’s called the circle of control. And I did that with my students as I was teaching from home and they were in my classroom.

We did something called the circle of control. And basically it just talks about what is in our control, what we can control, our words. We can control our actions to a certain degree. We talked about those things with all of the students of [inaudible 00:15:25] Elementary. And then we talked about what is out of our control, what we can not control. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the color of our skin. We can’t control what others say, so on and so forth.

And I taught that lesson over and over and over to all of my sections, from kindergarten, all the way up to fifth grade and the response from my students and the thought behind what they have control over and what they don’t was absolutely impressive and inspiring. And this message that came from the podcast, The Cure for Chronic Pain, overall, that podcast talks about how pain in your body can be caused from pain in your soul, in your heart, in your mind. It has a deeper root to it sometimes and can be cured by fixing those spaces, the heart, soul, mind.

And one of the words that she uses in this episode, episode 101 is fake control. She talks about fake control as planning, perhaps like planning your day, planning for your family, maybe cleaning, really controlling your environment by keeping it nice and clean, maybe being healthy, controlling what you eat or controlling how much you work out and what you do to keep yourself healthy. And she says that these are all, they can be very positive things, this fake control.

You don’t have control over life in general. And even these things that I mentioned, we really don’t have real control. We can plan our day, but it can be destroyed in a second with some event, right? So this is fake control. It’s something that we think we can control. It makes us feel better. Of course, these items can become unhealthy. And she talks about that a little bit as well in this episode, actually quite a bit.

But what she talks about is, what I was able to take from this message was exactly what I do on a regular basis, is I find this fake control to escape some of the issues or the stresses or the anxieties that are happening in my own life. So in November, on top of all of the things that were happening within school, my grandma, who I am very, very close with, passed away. She was 87. She left behind her 95 year old husband, my grandpapa. And that has been a hard thing in my life, in my personal life.

And when grief happens, there are symptoms that come from it, of course. We might show symptoms of depression, or we might not be able to eat properly, or maybe we’re eating too much. Those things that we might have false control over can get out of whack quite a bit and that had happened to me. When my grandma passed away, I was unable to sleep. And in order to find that control again, because I couldn’t control this sleep issue, because grief just takes over in whatever way it wants to take over.

And in order to find that control again, what I did was I stayed up really late and I started working on school. I started planning the next lesson. And in doing so, I thought about some projects that I had done in the past, or even personally. This summer, I took some Procreate classes and it was free. You can find them right now by Bardot Brush. And she, Lisa Bardot does an amazing job teaching you how to use Procreate on the iPad Pro. But then also teaching you how to develop your own character, your own style.

And she did it very carefully, very strategically creating a character development. So you are going to decide what your character is going to look like, what its attributes are going to be. And then she moves you into creating clothing that you might put on your character and accessories that you might put on your character. She talks about the head shape and the body shape of your character. She talks about then, eventually how to create your unique character.

And I thought this was such a fun idea for myself, that I wanted to bring that to my students. So in these late nights of not sleeping, I started developing this long lesson plan where our students would actually create their own character. And that worked out perfectly because this 20 minute activity that was required of hybrid, that’s what they were going to work on. They were going to work on creating their character. And of course, when I say their, I mean my students.

But I couldn’t figure out how to get this all together in time, how I was going to record everything in time for my students to actually make this happen. So I reached out to my coworkers. I have 10 elementary schools in my district and we work together creating character camp. So each art teacher did a different video for a different page in this packet that we created. And we sent home this packet and we have our videos made as a whole group and students for all of ISD 728 are able to learn the same thing third through fifth grade, because we needed to get something out fast, something that was positive, something that was attainable and something that could be done at home with very little materials.

I was so proud of where my false control took our whole entire team. So because I put that anxiety, that depression, that sadness, that of grief into something, I had to escape it. I had to leave that feeling once in a while and make my brain do something different. So lesson planning is where I went.

A lot of times I get that question. And even from my team, they were like, “How are you doing all this Nicole? Why are you putting all of your efforts into school? Don’t you have a family? Don’t you sleep?” And in fact, I was not sleeping. And so I was putting it into something that I felt like was going to make a difference, was going to help me teach and be more calm in one aspect of my life.

And I found this false control yet again, in recent times. So when we were told that we were leaving distance learning and going back into in-person teaching, but in a staggered way, and then also being put onto a cart again, when I have such a beautiful room and being masked and shield, I needed to find some false control again, I needed to leave the anxiety, the tightness of my chest that was happening, and I needed to leave it for a few minutes, so I put it into cleaning.

And what I did was I talked to my custodian, Dennis, and I said, “Hey, where’s the magic potions to get all this junk off from my table? Usually I had the kids, I have the whole end of the year. All we do is scrub the table. Every class scrubs the table, by the end of it, we all get it pretty clean, just using some dish soap, but I needed to do this quickly.

And so I sprayed down at my tables with some stronger chemicals and I put gloves on and I was already messed up. So I was nice and protected and I scraped and I scrubbed and I moved my body and I just really put some elbow grease into my room. And that was the false control that my physical body needed. I did not want to sit on the computer anymore. I just couldn’t. So putting my efforts into cleaning was where I needed to put my body, finding that false control again.

This was really positive as well, because now what I was able to do is say to the rest of my teaching staff, I was able to say to my coworkers, “Hey, when I come into your classroom, if you need to escape and not listen to my art lesson, you can go into my classroom and all of my tables are clean. You can each use a table because I have a huge room. You will be able to socially distance from the other colleagues that might be in the classroom as well, feel free to use my space.”

It made me feel like I was supporting and giving back to my coworkers, who I feel are struggling as well, as much as I am. But what can we do to serve each other, to help each other? And how can we create that? And I’m finding that in this false control. So trying to find that balance of making sure that this is not becoming unhealthy for me, but also giving myself that break, that mental stress break, where I can put my efforts into something else has been, I have been so grateful for it, just taking care of myself in a way that is positive.

I continue to seek those places where I can control. And one place that I can control is my attitude and I’m trying really hard to do that. So I have been required to do Google Meets with my students, and that’s wonderful. I want the time to reach out to them and work with them. However, it’s very difficult because students, sometimes they’re successful coming on. I have 25 sections of in-person learners and then more for distance learners, but just trying to figure out how to communicate, how to get onto a Google Meet has been a challenge, et cetera, et cetera.

So again, what can I control? I can control the attitude I give to these Google Meets. I can invite my students into a fun space. So when my students came on and I’m talking about kindergarten through third, second grade, right now, I can meet with my students every other week. So when I’m not meeting with my K2, I’m meeting with my three-five. And so it goes every other week. And I decided to invite a substitute.

I had dressed up during my quarantine. I dressed up for the Halloween one and I changed my outfit a couple of times during the Google Meet. And I used that idea, I shared that with some other colleagues from Plano, Texas, and Joe Boatfield, who is a teacher in Plano, he took that idea, that seed and he created it into being a sub for his students online.

And I loved that idea and I remembered that I had other people in my life who have done that dress up, that playful thing with students and even myself as a student in the past. And that was really interesting to me. So I decided, yep. I’m going to be a substitute too, inspired by the many people that have played with students in the past in a playful, taught in a playful way.

And so the first week that I was teaching my kindergarten through second grade, I dressed up as Mrs. Shahn, S-H-A-H-N. Just like my name, with an S in front of it. So Mrs. Shahn came on and she had a wig on, and it was, of course me, a wig and glasses, and had this strong Minnesota accent and just had fun playing with the kids because they were like, “No, it’s you.” And I’m like, “No, no, it’s Mrs. Shahn. Super fun.

And then the next week, in fact, I think I even tricked some parents. They thought there was really a sub, which is hilarious to me. So I thought this next week, I need to make it a little bit more obvious. So I told my students in a video, I’m not going to be able to make the Google Meet again today. So what I need you to do is learn from a sub. But when I put in for a sub, there was none. So they had a sub robot for me.

The students were going to be making a robot for their activity in that day. So I dressed up as Mr. Octahahn, again, incorporating my name somehow, Octahahn. And so I was a robot and I taught them in a voice like this and they loved it. It was so fun. In fact, when they heard that there was going to be a sub today, by the video that I made prior, I could see their eyes light up like, what’s going to happen? Is Mrs. Shahn going to come back again. She’s so funny. I can’t wait to bust her on this. I know it’s Mrs. Hahn. I just know it.

Oh my gosh, I had a blast the whole time. And again, how can I change my environment to make it positive for me, positive for my students? What can I control? What is in my circle of control and what is out of your control?

I don’t know about you, but I often find the universe giving me exactly what I need when I need it. So when I was in quarantine, the Amazon delivery came in with, Exactly You! The Shapes of Your Feelings, by Sarah Krajewski. I also was fortunate enough to speak to her on this podcast shortly before this book came out. And so I knew exactly what it was about. I had no idea that the lesson I was going to need for quarantine was in this book. How wonderful.

Then when I’m feeling like I can’t clean my room enough, or I can’t control my lessons enough. Just, why am I doing this? Why am I staying up late making lesson plans right now? I was given the knowledge from someone smarter than me, Nicole Sachs, talking to me through her podcast about false control. Hearing some of those things in my life, having those things handed to me, it just tells me that I just have to ride the wave.

I just have to let life come and see how the problem solving that will happen from it, to the learning lessons that I’m going to have come from this crazy year, this crazy life right now of 2021. We are entering the new year. I will sit here with my eyes open, my shoulders relaxed, my jaw unclenched and just take in what this year has to give to me. I can’t wait to see what 2021 is going to look like.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.