Whether students or teachers, we all have those days. The days where the morning just didn't go as planned we rushed to get ready, or to school on time, or ran around stressed out when we were at school to prep for a class, or for students to finish a project or study for a test. Those days when we can feel the tension creeping into our stomach, our neck, our shoulders, and even our attitude.
This is a normal part of being human, and there is a scientific explanation for it, our nervous system! What follows is a brief explanation of the two parts of our nervous system, and how to control it when it gets out of control. For a more in depth look, please click here.
Many years ago, when we first evolved to be human, our nervous system developed two main parts, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The two systems act like a teeter totter, when one is in use, the other is not. The sympathetic nervous system is the 'fight or flight' system and is responsible for keeping us safe in times of danger. When this system is activated our heart rate increases, our muscles contract, our pupils dilate and non-vital systems in our body shut down allowing us to react quickly. The sympathetic nervous system is VITAL for keeping us safe, and perfect for needing to escape a tiger or a similar threat. The problem is that our nervous systems have not learned to recognize the difference between the threat of a tiger stalking you in the jungle, vs the threat of being late to school or work because you are stuck behind a bus. The sympathetic nervous system activates in both instances if we don't know how to control it; and with our fast paced lifestyle of always leaping from one project to the next (I myself am guilty of this) we often keep our sympathetic nervous systems in activation for much longer then necessary. This can lead to inflammation based health problems including, migraines, fatigue, muscle tension, weight gain, and many more. To read more about teacher burn out, please click here.
'On the opposite end of the teeter totter is the parasympathetic nervous system (if you speak Spanish I try to remember that 'para' means stop and think of this as the stop system). The parasympathetic nervous system is intended to restore our body to balance after activation of the sympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic system is activated our breathing slows down, our muscles relax, all systems come back online and balance is restored to our bodies. This is the system we should be spending the majority of our time in, but with the speed of today's world this system is often neglected.
Luckily we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system with something as simple as deep breathing. One of my favorite quick ways to do this is the following:
1) Breathe in through the nose for the count of 4 (yes through the nose is important)
2) Hold your breath for the count of 6.
3) Breathe out through the mouth for the count of 8. (through the mouth here is also important).
Next time you are feeling stressed out try cycling through this breathing activity a few times and notice how you feel before and after! This one is so quick I can even do it between classes, before talking to a student that has my sympathetic nervous system firing, or even in the car at a stop light when my own children are being loud in the back seat!
Although I have done yoga in Spanish with my students, I had never thought of doing deep breathing or guided meditation in the TL (target language) until a recent blog post by Justin Slocum Bailey (read it here). Justin's post inspired me and I made my first (very short) video below. This video starts with an explanation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in English (a little too high for my students to understand in the TL), followed by the above breathing exercise in Spanish. I have been doing this with my students at the end of each class (or wherever they need it) the last few weeks and it has been wonderful! I hope it helps you too. I plan to make longer videos eventually....but that is a project for another day! Until then, I hope you spend many happy hours engaging your parasympathetic nervous system.
I have a confession. I did not attend my first conference till I had already been in the classroom for 11 years! Eleven years in the teaching profession without attending a single conference! Eleven years without seeing masters practicing their craft, eleven years without the guidance of those who had taught languages using CI before, eleven years without the support that being part of a language community can bring!
To be fair, I was a little busy using my Teacher Improvement (TI) money completing my Masters degree, and my +30. Plus, at the time, while conferences sounded great in theory, they always seemed slightly out of reach (both finding the budget and making the time). Through a weird, but fortuitous set of circumstances, I received two years worth of TI money at once, and my opportunity to attend a conference.
I first heard of IFLT and NTPRS via a FB group that I developed a slight obsession for (IFLT/NTPRS/CI teaching; in case you arent already a member). All the teachers in this group were raving about two conferences, NTPRS and IFLT. I decided to use all of my TI money at once, and attend IFLT (mainly because I already had a prior commitment during the week of NPTRS). I threw caution to the wind, and bought my ticket (my first time on a plane since my honeymoon 10 years prior). I was excited, but I had no idea what was in store for me.
Although I love my district colleagues, I had been teaching in isolation for quite a while at this point in my career. I was often the only language teacher in my building. I enjoy collaborating and working with others, but when the 'other' language teacher is in another building, working together can can be a major effort. I don't even see all my building colleagues on a daily basis; it is easy for each classroom to become it's own little world. I gradually stopped working with other teachers and became a Spanish world in isolation. I enjoyed my teaching, but forgot the benefits both to my students and myself that come from working closely with other teachers. I was excited to go to IFLT and learn from all the bloggers I had been following, but didn't expect more than a great learning experience. In fact, as a mother to 3 and a dedicated bookworm (who never has enough time to read), I was very much looking forward to quiet post-conference dinners with my book, a quick swim in the hotel pool, followed by more time reading. I did not get a single quiet night with my book (and I didn't miss it at all).
From the first day of the conference I connected with others who I recognized on FB, and who, to my surprise also recognized me. By the first night of the conference I had a dinner date with new conference friends (no awkward get-to-know you conversations at dinner, since we all wanted to talk about language acquisition), by the start of the 2nd day I made a 'forever friend' in the elevator on the way to the conference (one of those people who you feel like you just 'know' instantly, and always will), and by the third night I was playing Mafia after hours with Martina Bex and Dr. Krashen (Krashen and I were Mafia)! I expected to LOVE the sessions at the conference (and I did), but I didn't expect to fall in love with the 'togetherness' of being with other language teachers, but I did. To put it in the immortal words of Zach Galifianakis, I had found my wolfpack. What had initially started as a plan to 'only go this once' to a conference', turned into a plot to return the following year by the end of the week. If you've never been to a conference, know that in addition to amazing presenters and inspiring sessions, you may also find yourself with a support network that you never expected.
"Kindness is a wonderful way to let another struggling soul know that there is still love in this world." - Unknown
I planned to blog about one aspect of conferences, but let myself be swept away in the excitement of blogging about the whole experience. A quote about kindness is the perfect focus for the specific aspect of conferences I wanted to cover: Coaching. Teachers Coaching other teachers was started by the incredible Karen Rowan when she saw a need for guidance for teachers new to CI. When I first attended IFLT I had no idea what the Coaching experience would be like, and to be honest the description didn't initially entice me when I looked it over. Open Coaching, was hosted each evening on the top floor of the building. Teachers new to TPRS/CI could come for an hour at the end of the day, and be put in a small group of teachers (based on experience level) with an expert coach. Teachers would then spend a few minutes practicing a TPRS/CI skill in front of the group, and being coached by the other teachers. My initial reaction was, 'no thank you'. I had already spent an entire day learning, and my book was calling. Staying an hour late to do some extra teaching, and to be critiqued (as I imagined it) did not sound enticing. However, the 'forever friend' I mentioned meeting wanted to stay and try it, and since I didn't want to make her walk back to the hotel alone, I stayed too. I will be forever grateful that she convinced me to stay. While coaching sounded intimidating "get up and try a challenging new skill in front of your peers and a master" it actually felt more like a warm hug. Each teacher is paired with a small group of peers that are at your skill level, plus a master teacher as a coach. You take turns presenting a small part of a lesson (only a few minutes long) to the group. At the end of the lesson, the other teachers and the coach teach to your strengths, and tell you what you did RIGHT. They look at the best in you, and help you make it better. They give you the confidence to try new things (and even to come back to coaching again, which I did everyday the rest of the week). If you have specific questions about how to do something, or a skill you need help with, they are there for that too.
I was a legacy teacher (textbook, vocab lists, and grammar rules) for many years before I became a TPRS/CI teacher (you can read about my initial struggle here). While I was sold on TPRS after my first training, making the switch was HARD. It required totally changing my mindset about HOW to teach a language, throwing out most of what I was doing in the classroom, and greatly improving my language skills. I was (and still am) very excited about all that CI can bring to a classroom, but when you transition from legacy teaching to CI, the struggle is real! My district had quite a bit of turn over the past few years (as people left for babies, new positions, etc), and I see how much of a challenge teaching this way can be at first as colleagues transition to teaching with CI. Supporting each other is VITAL in the work that we do. Teaching is hard enough without adding the burden of throwing out all we learned in college in favor of recent research and evidence and reinventing yourself as a teacher. Coaching, coaches, and time to work together and grow is a part of what can turn this struggle into success for ourselves and our students. It is for that very reason that last year I paid out of my own pocket to attend Coaching 4 Coaches with Teri Wiechart. There is a specific set of skills to acquire when working with other teachers, and Teri is the pro. It was worth every penny of the extra night in the hotel and the workshop fee to be able to acquire those skills to share with the new teachers in my district and in trainings. I feel confident when I go to work with other teachers that I will be able to give them the same 'warm hug' that I received at my first coaching experience; and that I will be able to give them the guidance that was given to me when I needed it most. If you are a teacher new to TPRS/CI, or just a teacher looking to improve their skills, please go to Coaching, you deserve to be supported. If you are an experienced CI teacher, watching new teachers struggle with teaching this way, consider going to a Coaching 4 Coaches workshop. The gift that you will give to those new teachers and all of their students is priceless.
Finally if you think there is even a chance that you might enjoy a conference, that you might be a part of the CI Wolfpack, I hope you can find a way to join us. Alone, in our own little language teacher worlds, we can do GREAT things for the students in our classes, but together as teachers united for change for the greater good, we can change the world.
There are great training opportunities in the CI world. If you see something I missed, please add it in the comments! Full disclosure, conferences with an * are conferences that I am presenting and/or coaching at and/or helping organize. Joy at my first IFLT may have turned me a bit conference obsessed, but I want to share this magic with all the teachers!
- Comprehensible Online- The first online CI Conference! Going to a conference is the best experience possible, but if you simply can't, this is the next best thing! March 24th- April 8th.*
- MittenCI- April 20th (pre-conference), April 21st (conference) and April 22nd (post conference MittenLatin), happening in Saline, MI. Coaching and Coaching For Coaches workshop available! Back for a second year, sold out last year!*
- IFLT 2018- July 17th-July 20th (Coaching For Coaches available on July 16th). This is the conference I raved about in this blog, all the things in one place! Located in Cincinnati Ohio this year! Sells out quickly!*
Comprehensible Cascadia- More coming soon
NTPRS - July 9th-13th in Danvers, Massachusetts- I've yet to go to a NTPRS, but I would love to make it someday! I heard this year it is at a hotel with a waterpark!
Express Fluency Teacher Training: Summer 2018- Aug 6-9th, Burlington Vermont! A great group of presenters in a beautiful location!
CiMidwest- September 2018
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.