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back-to-school momentum

Momentum for the Back-to-School Challenge

July 23, 2017Kelly Ott

Momentum: READY... SET... GO!

Momentum for a continuously positive school year! Even if you did not have access to a calendar, you can tell that the school year is fast approaching by watching social media discussions. The topics have a hint of excitement and show eagerness to get rooms, lesson plans, and theme ideas underway! Over the years, I have watched this eagerness at the beginning of the school year slowly progress into uncertainty, frustration, and despair by the end of the third quarter.

So how do we keep up the momentum for the excitement we feel before school begins? I have been in search of new ways to channel that back to school energy and keep it flowing well past mid-term. It pains me to see so many young speech language pathologists and educators feeling anxious, insecure, or powerless to make a real difference by Christmas break. How does that energy drain in such a short amount of time?

I see barriers and obstacles as the main contributing factors that diminish our energy source and lesson our momentum along the way. Long work days, heavy caseloads, surmounting paperwork, bureaucratic demands, unmotivated students and staff, unappreciated or misunderstood roles all serve to reduce our enthusiasm.  I know the list can easily continue! Reality is, these factors chip away at the fervor we have at the onset of our school year. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to solve this problem.

Over the years, I have attempted a variety of approaches to help keep the momentum strong. When I was fresh out of graduate school for about 5 years, I focused on breaking down those barriers, compromising for the benefit of my students, and chipping away at obstacles that kept me from attaining my goals. The “idealist” approach to conquering and fixing everything that stands in the way.

For the next 10 years, I continued with that approach and added some structural changes to include quick fixes. I realized that an overwhelming feeling of commitment was contributing to my own burnout. Now don’t misunderstand. I am as much committed to what I do today as I was when I started, but in a different way. My idealistic early days helped me realize that there are some barriers that will always exist regardless of our endeavors and efforts. I realized that I was so focused on development of my students and school that I had forgotten all about myself. So I expanded my commitment of student and school growth to include my own professional growth.  I began focusing on professional development, trying new therapy approaches, using new tools with students, and sharing of ideas with colleagues. The addition of developing my own leadership skills and building up teams helped keep me focused and forge on throughout the school year.

For the last five years, I continued the above approaches but have added a new focus…ME. It took me 15 years to realize that I was the most significant cause of my own burnout. I would start each year fully invested with both feet jumping right in only to be met with squelching pessimism from outside sources. My personality traits of perfectionism, idealism, and high over-achieving desire to succeed always were forefront when beginning the school year. They were also the wheels that started burning my energy from the get-go. I was so busy blaming the workplace for my feelings of fatigue and burnout that I had not considered my own contribution. My personality, my work habits, and my internal drive caused me to overwork myself and not set limits or pace myself appropriately.

So now, I still work on breaking down barriers. I continue to seek professional development and team building opportunities. But, I also work preventatively to keep my personality traits and lifestyle causes of burnout in check. I have worked hard on altering my work, sleep, nutrition, and exercise habits. Every day I strive to find a balance between work and personal time by setting boundaries. I have realized how important it is to allow myself time to rejuvenate.

Finding a balance of work and self will look different for every individual. Yoga, meditation, diet, exercise, hobbies, vacations, all boil down to life style changes. You have to find what works for you. As a general rule of thumb, educators tend to be a creative bunch of individuals!

So this year, as you are eagerly preparing your classrooms, decorating, and planning, I challenge you to set aside time each day for YOU.

Please share your own personal strategies that you use to focus on down time and avoid burnout.



Kelly Ott, MEd, MHS, CCC-SLP Co-Owner, SMARTER Steps:  With over 20 years experience as a licensed Speech Language Pathologist, consultant, educator and administrator, Kelly has served children and adults with a diverse range of speech, language, swallowing, learning, and communication needs. She has provided direct speech pathology services, specialized tutoring services, educator professional development training, business communication and presentation training. Kelly is dedicated to providing students, educators, and parents with specialized strategies for achievement.

Lara Wakefield, MHS, PhD, CCC-SLP Co-Owner, SMARTER Steps: Lara has over 20 years of experience as a Speech-Language Pathologist and Parent Advocate with a focus on children with special needs being socially competent with their peers. Lara has conducted research in the areas of educator collaboration for classroom-based services. Lara assists families and professionals with exploring the research behind evidence-based practices and determining the various educational options available for each child.