I NEED movement: Theodora Papapanagiotou

A few years ago, I learned about a teaching community started by Shelly Sanchez Terrell called, The 30 Goals Challenge, where teachers shared their plans, hopes, fears, and dreams. This is where I met Theodora Papapanagiotou. This summer she will be a keynote speaker for the 30 Goals E-conference which starts July 16 and ends July 19. The title of her talk is: Be Someone’s Hero.

Today, because of the important work she does as a teacher, and because she shares her story of self-care for the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series, Theodora is my hero.

Theodora Yoga

In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught? 

My hometown is Thessaloniki, Greece. Although I have been many times abroad or to other places in Greece, I have never thought about living or teaching in another country.  It is a peculiar situation in Greece when it comes to teaching. If you are in the public sector, you have a day job as if for example you worked at an office (as far as salary is concerned). It is also considered a secure job but it is very difficult to pass the exam to actually get hired. It is also a big problem due to the fact that you have to relocate. On the other hand, if you work in the private sector, the pay is terrible and there is always the native English speaking teacher (NEST) /non-native English speaking teacher (NNEST) discrimination*. Although I have kept most of my private students, I currently work as an educational consultant at a big educational company here in Greece, mostly performing office work and curriculum design, but also teaching and teacher training.  I love my job, although it can be really demanding sometimes. If you consider that I teach privately as well, it can be 13-14 hours of work!

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

For me it is very important to keep balance. This is really hard lately. Long hours at work, no time to eat properly, no time to go to the gym, which is really crucial to me since I am a very kinesthetic person. I NEED movement in my life in order to function properly.

What I am trying to do is go to the gym at least 3 times a week (what makes me let off steam is spinning and cross training, but also yoga, if I want to relax).

Another very important issue is nutrition… something I have not managed to achieve, yet, but fighting my way to it.

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

Self Care and Self-compassion are both really important especially because if you want to work with people, mostly children, you need your sanity. You need to be ok with yourself first so that you can transmit the positivity to others. How can you pass on your enthusiasm to your subject, if you are not happy with what you do and with your own self? How can you be there for your kids if you cannot handle things in your own life?

All these years I thought that we should put the needs of others first…. but you know what? To be able to do this, we have to feel confident with ourselves! Be well first before you take care of others!

Hoping to continue this on my own blog sometime soon – My country lives very hard times at the moment and people are really pessimistic on what it is about to happen. Writing helps me a lot to keep my balance and my focus. When your work has to do with people, keeping your calm is the best thing you can do.

You can find me over here at my blog, Keep On Teaching.

No matter what, I just keep on teaching!

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*I recommend visiting the TEFL Equity Advocates website to learn more about the discrimination Theodora refers to, and to also learn about the inspiring work they are doing bring awareness to this issue.

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Writing through the Teacher-Person #RedThumbForLove

There is something healing about reading the personal stories of teachers. As I read Christina Chorianopoulou’s post, I felt like she was telling part of my story. For giving me, and others, this type of understanding, I am grateful.

I am also honored that she has written this piece in connection to the #RedThumbForLove project. Each word is an extension of her heart.

theteacherperson

I’m a teacher. I’m still not entirely certain on how I became one, or why. It was one of those things that come and take their stand in front of you and you are called to decide whether you accept or decline the offer. When I said ‘yes, I accept’, I was not prepared for it. I just let it happen to me. I struggled, I asked for help, I learned, I trained, I struggled more. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. I became the teaching, even though I can’t pinpoint exactly when that was settled.

You have hopefully taken note of the personal pronoun so far. For quite some time, and time that is generally accepted and described as ‘the best years of one’s life’, this was my supposed inner truth: this is what Ι do, therefore Ι have to cope with the struggle and Ι 

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Pause, Recognize, Name: Chaz Burton

The Teachers Talking about Self-compassion series is a place to learn about self-compassion from teachers around the world. And today, I am excited to present the first guest, Chaz Burton.

I first met Chaz in 2009 at our Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practice group where for a few treasured years, a group of dear friends used to meet once a month to practice this form of compassionate communication. I have learned a great deal from Chaz about empathy (a core teaching in NVC), and was grateful he agreed to answer the series’ three questions so you could learn from him as well.

Teaching photo

In what country or countries do you currently teach?  What subject or skills do you teach?

I currently teach high school English in Jinan, China. Living in China in many ways requires a lot of self-compassion, for it can be quite difficult to live here, due to language barriers, inconsistent and restricted internet, some of the worst pollution in the world, crazily crowded and noisy streets and the difficulty in finding healthy food.

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care?

Through the teachings of many practitioners of NVC and other teachers, I have gained some specific attitudes and strategies that help me extend self-compassion when challenges arise. The main one is to pause for a moment, recognize and name that I am being challenged. The next step is to take a deep, conscious breath, and remind myself that I am a human being, that all human beings experience challenges, and virtually all go through cycles of self-criticism and blame. (which is most of the time then projected onto others) These strategies are very significant steps in offering myself compassion.

…pause for a moment, recognize and name that I am being challenged. (click to tweet)

Beyond this, I remind myself, that I was, and am, doing the best that I could or can. This often takes some time, as the “jackal voices” – the voices of self-criticism – are trying to drag me down into the morass of self-blame and condemnation. At this point, if I am conscious (or maybe just lucky) the words of one or more of my “teachers of compassion” arise in my mind, such as “May I give myself the kindness and compassion I need right now,” or “I’m doing the best I can right now and I give myself full permission to really be with, without judgement, whatever I am feeling or need to feel.”

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

The axiom that actions speak louder than words is certainly true for my students; they learn as much or more from what I do than from what I say.

Just like me they make mistakes all the time in their struggle to identify and fulfill their potential. Having taught in Asia for six years, I find this particularly true of Asian kids; there is so much pressure for them to “perform” that it is easy for them to get caught in self-condemnation and lack of self-confidence.

The more I can model self-compassion, the more I can be compassionate with them, and the more they learn it, implicitly and explicitly.

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In addition to being a teacher, Chaz is also the founder of the Terra Promus project. Terra Promus helps him — and leads participants — to keep hope for a loving, just and sustainable world, which he admits is increasingly difficult to do. Follow the important work Chaz is doing by subscribing to the Terra Promus website, and following the Facebook page.

#redthumbforlove & in support: @KRISellaneous

This post has a few layers, but the main theme revolves around a dear friend of mine, Kristina Eisenhower. The layers relate to today being her 52nd birthday, and her red-painted thumb.

There is one birthday gift I would love to give her, but I can’t. This gift has to come from you. I’ll explain in a bit. It’ll become clear after I share the story of her #redthumbforlove.

Whenever I hear about teachers who have painted their thumb red (click here to learn why), I always ask them to send me a picture so I can add it to the Red Thumbs Around the World collection. To my delight, Kristina enthusiastically sent a few shots along with an explanation. In pure Krisellaneous style (this name will also become clear), her explanation pointed to two beautiful layers of care:
redthumbforlovedarksquare-2-2

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am into painted nails and doing my own nail art. I love sporting designs that are meaningful to me, or project my passions or show support for other endeavors and individuals.  So, in this month of June, I am giving 2 thumbs up — one bright rainbow for Gay Pride Month, and one solid shiny red for #redthumbforlove support!  As for me personally, I am about to embark on a new manner of sharing information or knowledge that is very different from my traditional role as a classroom teacher.  So, not only did I paint my right thumb red for love, I painted 7 other fingernails and 8 toenails red to bring me 15 times more self-compassion! In case you’re doing the math here, I DO have all my fingers and toes. It’s just that my two big toenails are also waving the rainbow flag, as well as my right ring finger.  So, four digits are down for the LBGT community, and the rest are REDdy for LOVE!

This woman is all about support! For her birthday, I would love to support her right back. Here’s my idea.

Today Kristina begins her “new manner of sharing information or knowledge”, which she just unveiled as “The Experience Expedition”. I am very excited about her Expedition as it is a celebration of life and I think we can always use more celebration in our lives. You can read more about her project via her blog, KRISellaneous.

The name of her blog aptly points the miscellaneous experiences she describes for her audience. But there is another notable element about her blog: it is an example of self-care. Kristina writes about what matters to her and what brings her joy. Via her writing, she attends to her passions. I think one part of self-care is taking the time to honour and cherish our lives. KRISellaneous supports this idea.

And now for the birthday gift. I have a request for you, dear reader. And please know I have no expectations in making this request. I am grateful for whatever way you choose to respond. If it connects to you, the gift I would love to give Kristina is your subscription to her blog (sign up here). I am confident this will be a space for you to rest, and relax when you need a little break from the classroom. If you enjoy what you see there, you may also want to follow her self-care filled Instagram feedher Twitter account, or her Facebook page.

Thank you for taking my request into consideration. But most importantly, thank you for your support. :)

Happy Birthday Kristina!

Teachers Talking about Self-compassion

Today marks the launching of the #RedThumbForLove series, Teachers Talking about Self-compassion. Teachers from all over the globe will graciously recount their self-compassion stories and strategies by answering the three questions offered below. I’m excited about this series because I want to learn from teachers as much as I want to support them. Through this exploration, we will learn how we can bring a bit more self-compassion and self-care into our lives. If you would like to tell us about your strategies, I’d be delighted and honored, to present them here. Just leave me a note at the end of the post.

To kick off the series, I describe the idea behind each question, and further below, I answer them myself.

The questions

1. In what country or countries do you currently teach, or where have you taught?   What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught? I ask this question because I want to help create a connection between teachers in all countries and across all disciplines. The premise here is every teacher can benefit from self-compassion, and it is in sharing a bit of our backstory that we start creating a connection to this premise.

2. What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

3. Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

In the above questions, I use the terms self-compassion and self-care. I offer both these terms because one of them may speak to you more than the other. Ultimately, both these terms refer to offering yourself kindness and support when you need it.

To clarify self-compassion, I use Kristin Neff’s definition (click the link to read more from her research):

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.

For self-care, the Student Health Center at North Carolina State University provides a helpful in-depth definition and description (click the above link for more details).

Self-care is an approach to living that incorporates behaviors that refresh you, replenish your personal motivation, and help you grow as a person. It’s the equivalent of keeping your car filled with gas so that you are ready to motor any time.

My response

I’ve been teaching English as a foreign language to learners of various ages and backgrounds in Daegu, South Korea for over ten years. During the last five years, I worked with Korean teachers of English in an in-service program focused on helping them with their English proficiency and their approach to language teaching. I will continue working with teachers in a TESOL certificate course. Working with teachers brings me great joy. I easily get wrapped up in self-doubt and self-criticism, so it’s important I do something to get out of that pattern of thought. My go-to strategy for giving myself a bit of compassion is journaling. I generally follow an informal reflective process, where I try to describe my rumination, and then I analyze my reaction by tapping into the feelings it brings up. I also try to uncover the needs that underly my reaction. This type of journaling is informal in that it is a stream of consciousness. However, in that stream I always try to hit those three points: description, feelings, needs. For example, if I notice I’m blaming myself for a “mistake” I made, I might write what I hear the inner critic saying: “Why did you do that? You should have known better…” Then I try to empathize by writing until I identify feelings. In this case it might be that I feel anxious or scared. Finally, I look at the needs behind this reaction. Maybe I feel anxious because I don’t want to be seen as incompetent. I value my job, and I want my colleagues and my students to know I tried my best. The big need here might be for understanding: understanding from myself, and maybe from others as well. Perhaps I want to be seen for my effort and to know my mistakes don’t define me. I’m imperfect and that’s simply fabulous. It’s important for me to identify my needs because this is when I begin getting distance from the rumination and my reaction. If I just stay in the description, I notice the self-defeating story seems to stick around much longer.

Self-compassion helps me practice openness and curiosity. (click to tweet)

I go through this process because I am aware of how unhelpful it is to remain in the headspace of self-criticism. It takes away my energy and my creativity, and these are essential criteria for me as a teacher. Without these, I can’t teach the way I want to teach: from a place of openness and curiosity. By being curious about what goes on in the classroom, I am more open to growth, both in myself and in the learners. It helps me stay open to the different dimensions of a moment. For example, through the lens of curiosity, the “mistake” I mention above becomes a learning moment. I can’t see this when I am wrapped up in blame and shame.  Self-compassion helps me practice openness and curiosity. And because this is the type of learning space I want to create for my learners, I know I need to cultivate it in myself.