Learning to Stand after the Fallout

I'm sitting in the stands after just dropping my friend Angela Maiers off at the airport in Albany. I have to admit, I've been a bit reticent to share lately. Some things aren't worth sharing — or maybe shouldn't be shared, as an especially harsh critic emailed me back about a month a go — who is really interested anyway. Just be an information source, Vicki, not a person.

There are times, I must admit, that I'm not standing – I'm crawling. Trying to just keep moving forward any way I can. Between the three kids and the 100 kids at school and the 125 computers and 3 servers, websites, blog, collaborators, and all the maelstrom of just living life – when I begin to doubt not only my mission but that I have a mission at all.

In my 20's I was quite self confident. I was an optimist. I was ambitious. I was a go-getter – ready to get things done – I did things – things weren't done to me. I I I I … oh my goodness, it makes me nauseous to think of how things were. When I had a close person to me become down, or, as it happens, depressed – not only did I not understand, I made it worse – heaping guilt upon them for having a hard time, or feeling down. It might have been brought on by a failed business or a death, but to me, back then, before I KNEW and LIVED, I was so sure that although you can't help what happens in life, you can CONTROL how you think about it. You can CONTROL your feelings.

Spoken like a neophyte at the game of living life. Control how you feel? Really? You can CONTROL that? You can MAKE yourself an optimist? Really?

Those of you who watch me online could hastily dismiss all of this and say

“Ah, she's suffering from burnout- she finally did it – she just did too much.”

But it isn't burnout. It has really been fallout.

Fallout is not the same as burnout

Life decays. People get older, including you and me. People die, things change, the natural radioactive decay of life hits you. Sometimes you open a horrible, “rich” deposit of radioactive material – dare I use the word rich, and your life has just been turned into a complete unrecognizable thing that you just didn't plan. Babies are born. Babies graduate. Babies aren't babies any more. Babies have babies and sadly, babies die. Schools open, schools close. Upsize, downsize, right size, incise. You get seized by change of all sizes.

The radioactive decay of life can hit you, and you can be bouncing along happily one moment and the next in a fetal, fallout induced ball just trying to live from moment to moment.

You can't talk yourself out of it, into it, over it or around it.

And right now in education there is a ton of fallout.

Education, and rightly so, is on the hotseat as we realize that in our attempt to create “to do” lists that we've forgotten our “to be” list, as my friend Angela Maiers so aptly said during the last two days of professional development she's done at my school.

Maybe I've been afraid to admit the struggles of life that I've been having. I mean, no one really cares about me, as the emailer told me just a month a go. A somewhat unkind lady, on her path to correct me and tell me she was ashamed of me, just had to “put me in my place.”

And, as I talked to Angela today, she said, “why do we women do this to each other?” There are a few prima donna perfectionists whose job it is to straighten out the world and make them fly right. Well, I'm here to tell you – if you're a prima donna perfectionist — someone who is radioactive by nature – man or woman – sending your negative decay into the world – GET LOST. I'm done with you. You are radioactive, negative and there is enough natural decay in life itself to be around you or listen to you.

Life is tough. Teaching is tough. Being a mom is completely heartwrenching and exhausting. It is natural and there and nothing any of us can do about it.

But I've been straightened out in these last two days with Angela. Yes, we talked about technology. Yes, we talked about 21st century skills and more, but more than that we talked about our to be list. Our to be list as a school and our to be list as professionals.

It starts with who you and I want to be. We must reframe our thinking by surrounding ourselves with mentors and inspiring people. We must replenish our hearts before we can think about putting something new in our minds. And we MUST — I repeat MUST realize and understand that other educators, people, parents, and students are experiencing the stress of life too.

Walk Slowly Through the crowd

My pastor, Michael Catt, says, “Walk slowly through the crowd, because everyone has a hurt.”

Everyone has a hurt. Everyone. You, me, everyone. And when it is too much, we experience fallout, not burnout. It takes time to heal and move forward.

There are times such fallout doesn't really make us wonder if we have a purpose but if we have anything at all. If it matters at all.

But there is the opposite of fallout. And although, you and I can't influence millions – or maybe we can, but most of us won't, we can, however, come in contact with many people who we influence. We can have the natural radioactive decay of life, or we can be the inverse – replenishers – sending tiny micro-particles of encouragement, a good deed, a kindness. A simple #youmatter into the world to help another person know that they are important.

You never know who needs that micro-encouragement – that little deed that you think is so little but may save the life of another.

I no longer tell people to “get over it” or “just control your thinking.” That is hogwash, or perhaps more accurately, radioactive misthink.

Instead, I want to be the person radiating the hope and encouragement this world needs. I can do this because I know the ultimate Encourager who replinishes me when I completely fall out from the fallout of the radioactivity of life.

Here are some tips that are helping me stand after the fallout that I'm recommending may help you.

1. Maintain and improve physical health

Here's what I'm doing for starters:


– 8 hours of sleep a night

– pushups and situps every morning -doesn't matter how many as long as they are both more than yesterday

– 2 glasses of water in the morning before I do anything or eat anything else

2. Carefully scrutinize the particularly radioactive situations and people in your life and working to shield yourself wherever possible

– If it is a situation – can I change it, can I propose solutions?

– If it is a person – can I avoid them or remove them from my life?

3. Pick the 5 “mentors” or heroes of your life and study how to emulate those people

Angela Maiers has her “dream team” of 5 great people on her bulletin board who make up her people she wants to emulate. She said in our training this week that the people you want to emulate and fill your mind with have the most influence on who you become. I'm working on my dream team right now but have decided to fill my reading list with some biographies. While I haven't picked my entire dream team except one, there are some candidates (you can see the current list in the picture.)

I'm reading some of the writings now of Mother Theresa – truly a great humanitarian and Christian who inspired everyone she met – she's blowing me away.

4. Start your “to be” list before you get the “to do” list too far along

5. Come up with a system to keep a master list of current projects.

I'm keeping my master list of projects in Evernote, primarily using ‘the secret weapon‘ series of posts to guide me with the system. This is important because, often fallout happens because you've got too many things going. The natural stress of any one of them emits radioactive stress in your life but with so many, it can become too much very quickly. I keep one evernote note for each major task with a good name and use the numbering system in the secret weapon. So, daily I review everything tagged “.Active Project” and “1-Now” and weekly I review everything for planning purposes. At the top of each note I have typed Next action: so I know what is next.

6. Encourage others

I'm putting myself back out there in the hopes that encouraging you and being transparent about my recent bout with fallout will help some of you experiencing the same thing. If you want to help yourself, take steps to help and encourage others.

Show others that they matter. Say thank you. Encourage others and be the kind of person you want others to be to you. Today as I worked the youth room during church, I started off by having a pity party – two ladies came in and were talking to each other. They introduced themselves and I said Hi back but they looked awkwardly at me and then started talking to each other. All I could think of was how I was the newcomer and felt so alone and awkward and they were leaving me out. It was horrible.

But then, I just waited a bit and started talking to different people – after a bit, I finally ascertained that one of them was new and the other was pretty new – they felt awkward too. If I had a pity party and kept my mouth shut and pouted about how they should treat me instead of putting myself out there to reach out to them, I would have been a fool. We were all in the same boat and I ended up having great conversations with each of them before the night was over as I learned about their stories. Be the encouragement you want to receive in the world.

Walk slowly through the crowd, everyone has a hurt.

Final words.

Tonight at church supper I had a conversation with a completely frustrated teacher. She's being evaluated under the new Georgia teacher evaluation system and today was the day for her students to take their reading “test.” Well, last time they had her students write, and then take another test, so, she assumed they would do something similar.

This time, they took the Accelerated Reader “STAR” test and were expected to gain 20% in their reading percentile between fall and now but the test was a different test (not apples to apples.) Her kids had a gain but not enough – she felt deceived and measured unfairly – she says the tests are never the same and can't be compared and she doesn't know how to prepare the kids. She feels let down by a system that is supposed to fairly hold accountable and was crushed. She is living in a radioactive situation.

Many of you are too.

I just want to tell you all that I understand. I care. I'm there and have been there. Maybe if we get through this together, we can all improve this profession we so love and keep our lives intact. I'm not telling you to control your feelings or get over it. I am telling you to keep going and to calm down and step back and first, start taking care of yourself physically and then put the other pieces in place to help negate the barrage of unhealthy microsituations you're finding yourself in and to shield yourself from what you can.

This isn't burnout many of us are feeling, it is fallout – let's see it for what it is so we can shed the guilt and stop trying to solve this problem in a way that isn't appropriate. In burnout, you stop doing things. In fallout, you start shielding yourself and start choosing your situations and and people.

Hey you. Yes, you, the person still reading this post.

YOU MATTER. YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOU WILL MAKE IT. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time. It will happen. Give yourself time and make good decisions.

You can do it and so can I. Thanks, my dear friend Angela, for being my friend and picking me up when I just didn't even think I could crawl — now, I think I'm going to stand and tell and help others that they can too.

Remember your noble calling, teacher.


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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere