No one becomes a teacher because it’s easy. The job has always come with a certain amount of pressure. But the utter chaos of the past year has pushed educators to their limits.
Steve Gross (pictured) has watched the ripple effect of the pandemic across the teaching profession firsthand. His two children have been in virtual classes for months, and he witnesses the daily struggle schools face to create a safe and productive learning environment. He’s also been advising educators with his decades of expertise helping children and childcare professionals heal from trauma.
Steve will be sharing his thoughts on optimism for educators on March 4 at For You, By You, an event series for educators to supercharge classroom engagement. The Microsoft-sponsored series is designed to help teachers support students and make classes fun even in these challenging times.
The event’s sessions include tips on what teachers can immediately do to improve students’ well-being, as well as how teachers can start using Kahoot! and Flipgrid – two tools that make online learning more fun and interactive. Interested educators can register to For You, By You and hear from Steve and other industry experts through the Microsoft Store virtual communities page.
Kahoot! is a global learning platform that makes it easy for educators and students to create, share and play learning games that drive compelling engagement, whether in the classroom or virtually. Learn more about Kahoot! here and see what it’s planning for For You, By You.
Flipgrid is a free technology that lets students and teachers record short videos to share with the class. The videos can be on any topic, and encourage students to get creative and engaged.
Teaching with optimism
A theme Steve returns to over and over is the healing power of optimism. It’s a concept that doctors know very well. And it’s an especially important idea in these times, as teachers find themselves pulled in to help with frustrated families and frayed emotions.
“What teachers are doing is nothing short of heroic,” Steve says. “Many have their own children to support. They have to work and do things differently than before. They have to create a safe, loving, joyful and engaging environment virtually, which is not easy to do.”
During times of great adversity, people don’t necessarily feel optimistic, he adds. It’s not an easily accessible emotion, but it’s an important one.
“Optimism is not ignoring pain, it’s not ignoring suffering, it’s not ignoring hardship. It’s being able to deal with those things and not lose sight of all the blessings and opportunities and goodness around you.”
Steve is the founder of the Life is Good Playmakers, a nonprofit group that focuses on using the power of optimism to help kids heal. He also helps teachers find ways to refresh and energize. For some, that might mean seeing a child’s beauty and potential in new ways, even though interaction is mostly on-screen. It might mean a new look inward, recognizing how important teachers still are in the lives of their students.
“You have to see your value,” he says. “You have to believe that you have the ability to be a resource for that person. How are you going to inspire someone to reclaim a sense of joy and connection if you’ve lost yours?”
As an experiment, ask your child who his or her favorite teacher is. They probably won’t pick the one with the most mastery of the subject or the highest occupational skills, Steve says. They likely will name the person with the most interest, who brings a positive energy and a good sense of humor. They’ll name someone who smiles and lets students know they care.
A difficult year
Steve has seen more than his share of suffering and hardship in the last year. His father passed away seven months ago, a loss that shook him to his core. His wife was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, but doctors caught it early enough that she’s on her way back to full health.
“I lost my dad, and I could focus on that,” he says. “But I could also focus on that my dad died surrounded by his wife of 70 years and his children, that I got to care for my dad and that my dad’s lessons will live on with me.”
Finding that positive side, even in the darkest hour, is especially important in this global pandemic. Steve says that an acquaintance recently came to him with a list of the problems the country is facing right now. How can anyone be optimistic with the daily news about COVID-19, social injustice and racism, that person asked.
“I asked him, ‘Is that all that’s going on?’” Steve says. “Because last I checked we had people risking their lives to save people they don’t even know. We had doctors all over the world looking for therapies and vaccines. We had teachers who are learning on the fly to innovate and educate their kids, some of them risking their lives to go into a classroom.”
When some people are faced with a challenge, he adds, negative information is like Velcro to the brain and positive information is like Teflon – it just slides off.
Questions to think about
Holding on to the positive is so important, and Steve has a four key questions to help teachers do that:
- What are you going to do to sustain and nurture your joy?
- How will you nurture your own social connections?
- How will you support your own internal control (the idea that you can take action and you are powerful)?
- How will you nurture your sense of creativity?
When we look back on this historic time, we’ll see that many teachers were safety nets for children, he adds. They kept them learning and connected when so much of the world was falling apart.
“Every teacher has to have optimism as part of their nature, because why else would they get up in the morning and do their job?” he asks. “The more we grow our capacity to see goodness in ourselves and others, the healthier and more productive we are.”