Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Department Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education
Teaching online can be a challenging experience, and without strong wellbeing habits, teachers risk exhaustion and burnout. Approaching the work with a foundation of specific habits and routines will promote your teaching success and help you approach your work with energy and enthusiasm and a state of peak performance. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help you plan ahead for wellbeing as you teach online in your next class.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We all know that preparing to teach is a worthwhile practice. In fact, as I mentioned last week in part one of this two-part mini-series, preparing has been compared to “sharpening the saw,” by Steven Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people.”
Preparing to teach means to approach an upcoming class with a balanced plan for peak performance in your teaching, while also focusing on healthy wellbeing in your physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual self. By preserving your greatest asset—yourself—you can be at your best in your teaching and keep fresh to adapt as needed.
Last week, we explored the practical ways in which you can get your class in order before you begin to teach. In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at part two of this two-part topic. We’ll take a deeper look at the personal preparation it takes to really “sharpen the saw.” That will include healthy wellbeing through daily habits, like taking the time to care for your body, mind, spirit, and social and emotional areas, to set you up for peak performance in your online teaching.
Healthy Wellbeing Through Daily Habits
Peak performance means that you’re in a state where you can perform at your best. You feel more confident, like the work is effortless, despite the fact that it is challenging work. You find yourself deep in total concentration on the work that you’re doing, and you’re able to gain some satisfaction from being in the work. While this kind of performance requires preparation, skill, and expertise for the work itself just like elite athletes and masterful musicians invest over time, there is also another investment that sets the foundation.
And that investment is a set of habits that get your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional selves into a condition most likely to promote peak performance. We’ll look at preparing your body for peak performance in your online teaching. And in each area we cover today, I’ll share tips to help you commit to focus on this area and take action.
Preparing Your Body
Getting enough sleep is the first and most important part of preparing your body for peak performance. If we were to treat the brain as an elite athlete treats the body in preparation for competition, focusing on sleep would make a lot of sense. Sleep helps your body and your brain work properly. But even better than that, sleep improves your learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity. And a state of peak performance definitely requires agile use of learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity.
On the flip side, failing to get quality sleep can make you cranky and makes it difficult to focus and take in new information. It presents a whole host of potential health implications, but more importantly it can sap your motivation. And when you’re teaching online, you’re going to be sitting a lot and looking at a computer monitor, which will require energy and focus, both of which are depleted when you are not getting enough sleep.
Drinking enough water. Getting enough water every day is important for your health. Drinking water can prevent dehydration, a condition that can cause unclear thinking, result in mood change, cause your body to overheat, and lead to constipation and kidney stones. Water helps your body keep a normal temperature.
One of the most important reasons to drink plenty of water throughout the day is that water boosts energy. It’s difficult to know when we are running low on water, because we might feel depleted and think that we are hungry, tired, or something else. Drinking water in those moments refreshes the body by feeding cells, especially muscles, and it helps body systems function like digestion.
Exercising daily is the third tip I’m sharing today to help you prepare your body for peak performance in teaching online. Just like sleep and drinking enough water, exercise helps your body function effectively. It also helps you process emotions and regulate your mood by getting active and moving your body. Even going for a walk is exercise and can help you with the regulation your body needs.
Physical exercise is also effective to help you keep your thinking, learning, and judgment sharp over time. And in a state of peak performance, clear thinking is necessary with the ability to change directions quickly.
Preparing Your Mind
One way to prepare your mind to function in a flow state or at peak performance is to regularly plan alone time. This time can be used to rest, to reflect on your day, to think about ideas, to consider new possibilities, or just to be still. This time is an important part of your development and allows you to focus on your own thoughts or needs for a time, so that you can be ready to help others again when you’re with them.
Some people use alone time to mediate or pray, and others use alone time to recharge their energy levels by reducing input. Whatever seems to fit you best, you can schedule time alone for yourself and remember that it’s one of many essential ways to prepare yourself for a high level of performance in your online teaching.
Develop a reflection habit, whether daily or weekly. Reflection on your thoughts and experiences helps you continue learning. And when you reflect on your performance as an online educator, you can also make adjustments while teaching your class. You might notice something small that concerns you, think about it, consider it, and then try a sight adjustment in your next approach.
Regularly reflecting makes you the master of your own thoughts. With so many voices speaking to us throughout the day, and the many people and priorities that beg our attention, giving yourself space to consider what you think makes prioritizing and decision-making easier. A reflection habit helps you to make meaning out of the chaos you encounter. And when you also reflect on what is going well or where you are grateful, it can also increase your happiness and optimism over time, which are more likely to lead to peak performance. To take this idea up a level, add some kind of journaling. Write down your ideas and insights, it makes them last longer.
And the third tip I’m sharing today around preparing your mind for peak performance is to keep learning. Let’s go back to imagining the elite athlete who is competing. This person reflects on their recent performance or even their performance during the warm-up. Perhaps a coach provides observations as well. The entire point of talking about these things is to keep learning to perform better. And to perform well in online work, we too need to keep learning.
Continuous learning makes mistakes less significant. It opens the mind and lifts the attitude. When you keep learning, you’re able to build on what you already know and keep getting better. You can gain a sense of accomplishment through your continued learning and this boosts your confidence, which has a direct impact on how you show up in the online classroom for your students.
Preparing Your Spirit
As we think about “sharpening the saw” to build a solid personal foundation of health and wellbeing for peak performance, it might seem unusual to prepare spiritually. However, your spirit includes having a clear purpose and direction. And seeking a level of clarity and focus in your online teaching to help you manage it well and enjoy it most. It means that you’re aiming for that level of excellence we’ve been calling peak performance.
It’s not just something you do once in a while. Peak performance is a way of thinking and a mindset that guides your choices, decisions, and actions every day. It is an inner commitment that helps you work effectively and efficiently, setting boundaries around this time so that your non-work time is refreshing and protected from overwork. In this way, it requires a sense of purpose, and a direction.
Have hope and optimism. Hope means that you believe in good things to come in the future. And optimism means that the challenges and setbacks are viewed as temporary, localized, and not personal while the positives and rewards are viewed as permanent, pervasive, and personal. To continue learning and developing excellence in your teaching performance online, hope and optimism have to become part of the way you think. Constant doubt and negative expectations will have an entirely different energy and outcome.
Another way to prepare your spirit to fully engage in your online teaching is to serve, contribute, or give back to others. I’m not talking about teaching them online. Yes, that is a kind of service, but it is typically a paid service. The serving, contributing, and giving back I’m referring to here is all about giving freely without expectations. That kind of service to others, to your community, and to people who need help, turns our attention to the needs of others and helps us open up to them. It’s another way to learn to tolerate ambiguity and not have to know everything.
Service reduces stress. It also helps us develop social trust and connection with other people more naturally. It can feed your spirituality by giving you a sense of purpose and meaning that is separate from your professional work and energizing to your life.
Preparing Your Social-Emotional Self
The last area of personal preparation to achieve peak performance in your online work is to build a support network of people you trust, and then set aside ample time to spend with those who are important to you. Learn to receive from others. Surround yourself with people trying to be at their best.
Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate emotions, boost mood, and lead to higher self-esteem and empathy. It can also improve our immune systems. To bring your mind and body into alignment for peak performance, you need to be able to regulate emotions well and control your mood.
Tying it all together, we focus on two areas when preparing to teach online. One is the classroom itself, which we reviewed on episode 101. This includes the specific preparations you put in place to make things run smoothly, and the ways in which you “sharpen the saw” by preparing your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional self for the work you will do.
To bring it into your daily habits and make it last throughout your teaching, it’s a good idea to design tiny habits that are simple, small, and achievable, in the foundation areas to maintain healthy wellbeing and balance. This will give you the encouragement you need to avoid overwork and to set boundaries that help you enjoy your online teaching and your life away from work.
Thank you for listening today, and for your work with students online. If you’ve heard something useful today, please share this episode with a friend or colleague. Please, join me again next week for episode 103, an interview with Dr. Jan Spencer and our special guest, University President Dr. Kate Zatz. Until then, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.