I’ve been thinking a lot about hypervigilance.
In a slide deck for a recent training, I used this picture on the slide about hypervigilance:
That should give you some idea of what hypervigilance means: ears perked up, eyes wide open. Hypervigilance is that state of heightened awareness as we scan our environment for cues that we are either safe or in danger. It’s a state we go into when we feel threatened so we’re on alert too protect ourselves.
I’m worried about hypervigilance in the classroom this fall. By the time teachers and students walk into schools in August or September, they will have spent the past five to six months constantly hearing that being around other people is dangerous. That the air is dangerous. That touching things is dangerous. We are all on alert. We are hypervigilant because we should be: we need to keep ourselves safe.
But how can we feel safe, and learn, and teach, when we’re so hypervigilant?
In general, I believe that most schools should be continuing online until they can ensure safety for students and teachers to be in the building. With outdated HVAC, windows that don’t open, and myriad other problems, many schools simply cannot ensure safe operations. Yet, schools are opening. And even in buildings where the physical plant is up to the task, teachers and students will still be hypervigilant. We need to be to keep ourselves and each other safe.
So where does that leave teachers, who know that our own stress directly impacts the stress of our students? Where does that leave teachers who know they need to be grounded and calm in order to be their best selves in the classroom? This is what I’ve been worrying about lately. There’s no easy answer. It’s not right (or possible) to ask teachers to turn off their hypervigilance. Yet we need to support one another to find moments of groundedness, of calm, so we can be present for our students.
My colleague Carolyn and I co-taught a course on wellness for teachers last summer. One focus of our course was that individual strategies for being well work best in the context of system-wide policies and conditions that support wellness. In other words, you can’t self-care your way out of an oppressive situation.
But this is one of the “both/and” moments in trauma-informed education. We both need to fight for systems change, and we need tools on an individual, immediate level to help settle our minds and bodies so we can stay present.
With all of that as context, Carolyn and I created a resource for teachers to support their own self-regulation when they are in the physical building this year: http://bit.ly/ASVCCreg
We hope that you’ll use these tools as ways to slow down during your day. We chose strategies that you can do quickly, in a mask, and mostly unnoticed by those around you. We hope you’ll tape this to your desk or keep it in your binder, and when you notice yourself feeling especially hypervigilant, you’ll take a moment to slow down and get grounded.
This list of tools won’t fix the unsafe working conditions. It won’t end the collective trauma we’re in. But we hope it will provide you the moments of calm that you need to be present for your students and for yourself.
Thank you to teachers everywhere, whether you’ll be online, face-to-face, or some ever-changing mix of the two. You are enough, and you are amazing.