Green and Growing: How to Flourish During Challenging Times

By Dr. Jacie Maslyk


In a recent conversation with an aspiring school leader, she asked me a question that made me truly pause and reflect--”What are you doing to keep things green and growing during this challenging time?” I haven’t really given it much thought, I admitted. The question itself has multiple layers. What am I doing personally to stay green and growing? What am I doing as a spouse, a mom, a friend? What am I doing as a learner, an educator, a leader?


Educators and parents have spent a lot of time in the last 8 months just figuring out how to survive. Some have floundered, trying to find a balance as work, school, and home have blended into one. Others have flourished setting new priorities and finding time create this new sense of normal.


As this new school year began, many educators have had a great learning curve to overcome, faced with new learning management platforms, new technologies in the classroom, and new expectations for classroom instruction. Those working remotely or learning in hybrid models have navigated new ways to communicate with students and families, different methods of digital assessment, and innovative ways to engage in collaboration. It’s a lot!


Keeping things green and growing means that we are planting new seeds and fostering them to develop. This applies to the people that we work with, the students we serve, and ourselves. If we are green and growing, we are not allowing ourselves to be bogged down by all that is happening in school, in society, or at home. If we are green and growing, we are finding strategies to rise above the gloom and seeking out ways to bloom.


It’s Not Easy Being Green


I don’t know about you but there have been many times over the course of the last few months that I have just felt stuck. Stuck in my role at school, stuck in my progress as a learner, stuck in my role as a mom. When you are overwhelmed with a feeling of stagnancy, sometimes that feeling of being stuck just doesn’t let up.


However, when we are focused on green and growing, there are some strategies that we can use to pull us up and keep us moving in a positive direction. This can be on a personal level or within our roles in education. Here are three keywords that have helped me to focus on being green:


  • Creative

  • Connected

  • Reflective


Each one of these keywords helps me to refocus on what’s important and stay on a positive trajectory. These may also assist you to focus on growth as opposed to remaining stuck. Or you may find alternate ways to accomplish this same goal but in a unique way that works just for you.


Creative

If you are feeling like your creative juices just aren’t flowing, then you might need to unlock some creativity in your life. This can be as simple as adding one creative routine into your day. Sketching, taking a few photos, or journal writing can only take a few minutes but may help you to jumpstart your creative thinking each day. Similar creative habits can be infused into the classroom.


If we are going to keep our classrooms evolving and innovating in the face of challenges and uncertainty, we can offer our colleagues and our students time to create. We can give them creative tools, both physical and digital. We can carve out the time and space to tinker, design, write, or build. These creative tasks can help spark the imagination and prompt new learning. For more creative ideas for individuals and for classrooms, check out Unlock Creativity: Opening a World of Creativity With Your Students.


Connected

Powerful learning doesn’t happen in isolation--not for you or for your students. If you are overwhelmed, stuck or just plain blah, seek out a positive connection. Whether it's a neighbor, a colleague, a friend or a stranger, connecting with other humans is more important now than ever. A hallway greeting, a lunchtime conversation, or an evening phone call, connections with others can be generated in a number of ways. We need these connections to continue to learn and grow as individuals. Our students need these connections, too.


In classrooms where we are social distancing or in virtual classrooms where we are separated by miles, we must strive to stay connected to our students and help them to foster connections with one another. Creating opportunities for learners to share ideas, collaborate on projects, and feel part of a team are critical, even in a time of COVID. Try one new way to create classroom connections this week. Play a virtual game together, conduct video interviews, or start a virtual pen pal program. Connected conversations and the building of relationships are vital to the continued success of our students.


Reflective

Hitting the pause button and taking time to reflect on what’s happening on a day to day basis can be a challenge at times. Stop and think about what went well, what still needs work, and what to do about it. As educators, we need this time for ourselves, but we also need to create reflection time for our students. With so much in our minds and on our plates, we have to remember to take time to breathe. When we continue to function in survival-mode in the already fast-paced world, it is easy to skip regular reflection time.


Be intentional about incorporating time to reflect during your day. When you consider the barriers in your way or recognize the things you are grateful for, you may find new insights and attitudes. Engage in classroom mindfulness practices like breathing exercising, stretching and yoga, or journaling. These simple strategies can benefit you as an individual as well as your students.


This school year has been quite different from those in our past. Classrooms are functioning differently. Relationships are evolving differently. Instruction looks a little different. These differences may take some adjustment, but it’s OK that things are different. We can respond to those differences in positive ways so that our students can continue to thrive. Through creativity, connections, and reflection, we can stay green and growing in our schools and our homes.


Dr. Jacie Maslyk

An educator for the last 23 years, Dr. Jacie Maslyk, has served as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and assistant superintendent. She is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom, Connect to Lead: Power Up Your Learning Network to Move Your School Forward (ISTE), Remake Literacy: Innovative Instructional Strategies for Maker Learning and Unlock Creativity: Opening a World of Imagination With Your Students. You can find Jacie’s books at bit.ly/MaslykBooks She is a featured blogger with Defined Learning, Education Closet, and Teach Better as well as maintaining her own blog, Creativity in the Making at www.jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com . Jacie was named a featured speaker for FETC 2020 and 2021 and was also the keynote speaker for the 2020 Virginia Children’s Engineering Council Annual Conference. Connect with Jacie on Twitter @DrJacieMaslyk or email her at jaciemaslyk@gmail.com .


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