3 Phases of a Crisis – Where are your teachers?

So before I jump into the content of this blog, I want to acknowledge that teaching is hard right now. I, in no way, want to negate the difficulties that educators are facing. I do, however, think it’s important that we are always being reflective. The talk that I heard that led to this blog caused me to be very reflective, and I wanted to pass this information on to you.

I have the privilege of being apart of an awesome business mastermind, and as part of that we have monthly trainings from experts. Yesterday, we had the brilliant Amy Wine as our speaker. She spoke on the 3 Phases of Crisis that we as a country are walking through post pandemic. This hit me in so many ways as I have continued to be in schools with teachers.

We will dive in further, but here are the three phases of a crisis:

  1. Safety
  2. Stress Management Mode
  3. Success

Have you noticed that some teachers just can’t seem to catch up, or refuse to try new things, or are still operating classes as if it was 2020? Have you noticed that some teachers still seem to be in survival mode, unwilling to step out of their comfort zone? Have you noticed that for some teachers, they can’t seem to even be ready to focus on the success of students because just getting to work each day is difficult?

It’s important to note that the pandemic affected people differently, and experiences and trauma play a huge role in how people are dealing with life now. Understanding the phase that the person was living in prior to the pandemic is helpful in understanding how they are coping now as well. If a person was living in survival mode before, they are likely still living in it now.

So let’s take a quick look at these each phase and see how it pertains to teachers in the current climate.

Phase 1: Safety

The main mindset of this stage is to protect oneself. You can gauge if you or your teachers are in this phase if they are not managing change well, they are always trying to feel better or more comfortable, or they are always questioning their security.

In the education system, I think this looks like not being willing to get out of one’s comfort zone to try a new strategy, focusing on what the school or district needs to do to take care of the teachers, relying on old ways to plan or give instruction, or blaming everyone else (students, administration, district) for issues in the classroom. This group is “risk-averse”. Trying something new in the classroom at the risk of students not getting it or talking too much is going to be a struggle.

So how do we help teachers move out of this phase? Obviously, this has to be a lot of their own personal work, but one thing you can do as a leader is set a standard of trust and security. They need to really be affirmed when they do take a step out of their comfort zone (ask a great question, try a new strategy, participate on a committee, etc), and they need to feel like they belong and are part of team. This builds the security and confidence for them to move forward into a place of coping.

Phase 2: Stress Management Mode

It’s true, the education system is a tough place to be right now. Because so many people are stuck in Phase 1, it’s causing a lot of other people to have to pick up the slack.

I believe there are a lot of teachers sitting in Phase 2. These teachers are not thriving, but they are managing. They are not unhappy, but they are just getting by. They are willing to learn new ways to reach students and they are developing systems to help them operate effectively again, to a degree. People who are in this phase are wanting efficient ways to get the job done. They are almost maxed out, so they don’t have the bandwidth to learn a lot of extra steps, but they are willing to take small steps towards success, as long as it’s not too risky. This group of teachers is stuck in between coping with their own stress and wanting to do what is best for students.

Teachers who are in this phase are occasionally willing to try a new best practice strategy, but when they get tired or worn out, they’ll slip back into “comfortableness”, even if that’s not what’s best for students. They are not averse to trying new things, but may not be consistent.

I had a conversation just the other day with a teacher who said after we were done visiting, “I’m feeling inspired. I used to do so many of these things, and I don’t know why I don’t now. I can do these. This is good.” This is an example of teacher who is moving through Phase 2 and into Phase 3.

In order to move teachers through Phase 2, we want to help them get quick wins. We want to make sure we are pointing out the positive things that are happening in their classrooms and in their schools. While making them feel safe, we also want to gently guide their focus off of what it looks like to manage into what it looks like for them (and their students) to succeed.

Phase 3 – Success!

Although this Phase is called the Success Phase, that’s a little misleading to me. I think this is actually the phase that separates people. People either figure out how to succeed in “new normal” or they crash and burn. We know that teaching will probably never go back to “2018”. But all hope is not lost in 2022. I see teachers (and students) thriving every day. It’s just not the majority of them.

People in this phase don’t need empathy. They want progress. They want growth. They don’t want to be stuck anymore. Teachers in this phase are using best practices, they are adapting to some of the new needs of their students, they are open to challenge, and they are measuring growth.

Phase 3 does not mean it’s easy – in fact it’s the opposite. People in phase 3 are willing to be uncomfortable and willing to take risks. Success takes priority over safety and comfortability.

Which phase are you in? Can you think of teachers in each phase? If I’m honest, the reason this information spoke to me so much is because it named some of my frustration. If I’m being transparent, I’ve been in phase 3 for awhile now, and my resources and coaching make the assumption that teachers are ready for student success (which takes teacher intentionality). Understanding these phases helped me to see that not all teachers are there, unfortunately.

According to Amy Wine, here is another interesting statistic:

50% of Americans are in phase 1.

30% are in phase 2.

A mere 20% are in phase 3.

So let’s review a few ways to help people move through these phases.

Phase 1 to Phase 2: These people are risk-averse and in preservation mode. Help them manage and think through risk. “What could happen if you tried this strategy? Kids get loud? Let’s practice an attention signal.” “What will happen if you give me 20 minutes during your planning period to plan with you? You don’t get your copies made? We can set a timer and leave time at the end.”

Let me clear that it is not your responsibility to move teachers through these phases, however, as you can imagine, everyones wins if they do.

Phase 2 to Phase 3: This group of teachers is willing to try new things, especially if it makes the situation better, but could easily fall back. These teachers need small wins, and a refocusing to the students. Create questions and praise based on the student learning and engagement. “100% of your class was engaged when you played that game! That was awesome!” “Your students got on task in 3 minutes after entering the classroom with your process posted! That’s great!”

This group of teachers needs recognize that when they are using best practices and intentionally planning, this will actually lower their stress. Giving them strategies to make their work more efficient will be super helpful for building consistency and keeping them out of survival mode.

Every teacher is important. Every teacher is impacting students on a day to day basis- either positively or negatively. As a leader, the more you can move them into a healthier space, the more success you will see from students.

Our support resource Clarity is open for a limited time. This resource gives monthly support to teachers as they plan with Teacher Clarity in a responsive way. (As an FYI – we are in the process of shifting the name to Responsive Classroom Academy, so don’t be confused!). Click here for more info and to set up a time to visit!

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