Saturday, March 4, 2017

PBLA Drove Me to Better Self Care (and other good news of the week)

No black cloud is without its silver lining. At the end of 2016, I was about ready to start a work-to-rule protest due to how much extra stuff I was expected to do as part of my job. I was expected to continue creating the content for my courses and was simultaneously expected to take on the new responsibility of meeting artefact collection quotas while creating all the tools, forms and trackers that should have been handed to me with the roll-out of Portfolio Based Language Assessment. As you might have noticed, I nearly snapped.

I love the organization that I work for; in the end I chose not to stop my main volunteer activity. However, I knew I was stressed out, testy all the time, sleep deprived, and not taking proper care of number one. With January came the idea of making some self-care resolutions for 2017. Here are some of the promises I made to myself two months ago:

  • Adhere strictly to Martine's Rule #1. For the morning students, who can handle it, adopt Back to the Well like never before.  This will free up time and energy for the new bureaucratic demands of PBLA.
  • Bring a balanced, healthy lunch and enough healthy snacks in my lunch bag to keep my blood sugar even throughout the day, to keep my brain functioning well and my moods level.
  • Stay hydrated. I'm very bad about not doing this if my only choice is water. Lately I've treated myself like a princess by indulging in RISE lemongrass kombucha. Talk about feeling pampered all day! (No, I'm not being paid to say that.)
  • Wear comfortable footwear every day. I'm not the only teacher who wears Blunnies. And no, I'm not being paid to say that, either.
  • Wear non-binding, soft, comfortable clothing every day.
  • Ask for help when I need it, including from the students themselves.
  • Ask maintenance crew to help me rearrange classroom furniture so that I once again have a desk of my own (instead of cramming my stuff onto one corner of the students' picnic-style tables).
  • Ask administrative assistant for any and all supplies that will make teaching easier or will make it easier for me to stay organized.
  • Go to bed on time, get up early, get to school well before class starts (I hate feeling rushed).
  • Do not allow anyone--not students, not manager, not colleagues--to steal that before-class time from me. It's mine. Lock doors, be firm at the risk of appearing rude, but guard that time.
  • Eat lunch in a quiet space and do not multi-task. Chew slowly. Do not rush.
So! I am happy to say that two months out I have stuck to all of these resolutions with only a few minor instances of relapse, quickly getting back on track when I slip. The result? I'm a different teacher. I'm smiling again, breathing again, teaching well again. 

Seniors are doing fine with my materials light-light-lighter approach and their new responsibilities. In fact, two of them wrote on a recent learning journal entry that they felt they had benefited from learning how to break down and simplify a difficult text. (Simplifying/grading an authentic text is one of the things I would have done for them using hours of my own time at home before PBLA.)

Other good news from the past week:

πŸ’š  I finally found an iPad app that looks promising for my student with low vision. I'll blog about that on a separate post after we've used it for a week or two.
πŸ’š  One of my literacy students, a super keen Syrian man who has taken charge of his own learning, asked about ordinal numbers while we were discussing the date. He wanted a list of them. I was able to direct him to the Language Companion's Helpful English section. He didn't take it home, but was very pleased and thanked me. So, yeah, LC came in handy in literacy for the first time. I hope it's not the last time.
πŸ’š  I had a week (in literacy) in which I can honestly say that PBLA had a positive effect on my teaching, at least on the organizational aspect. I managed to get every duck in a row: module objectives, dates of assessments, tasks and accompanying assessment tools typed up and ready to go well before assessment day. This means I was able to show students the checklists several times, reminding them of the expectations and practicing for success. The difference between the dry run and assessment was that they didn't know WHICH bus route they would get on test day, which time of day would be used in the role plays, etc. (No two students had the same route schedule = no cheating.) Best of all? With the exception of a very new student, they all achieved the task without assistance and ended up feeling VERY proud of themselves. (By the way, all the materials for these assessments are free to download from my site.)

So, yeah. Things are good. How about you? Are you doing good self care and minding your work-life balance? How important is that for you in staving off burnout?


  1. Did your employer threaten to fire you? Is this why you are backing down from the fight? PBLA hasn't changed...has it?

    1. Anonymous,
      I'm so sorry you read this post as a white flag. I am trying to walk that difficult tightrope between speaking truth to power and turning into Negative Nelly. My plan with this blog is to continue reporting what comes most natural to me: the sources of joy. In the case of this week's post, it's the lemonade I squeezed from one of the lemons. I will continue to report my challenges and those reported to me by other teachers. I'm attempting not to have two critical blog posts in a row, but as you may or may not have picked up, even this attempt at a positive one is laced with back-handed compliments and tongue-in-cheek. It's the best I can do given that I believe PBLA with literacy students is possibly overkill. With seniors who don't change levels, it is most definitely inappropriate in my view.

      Nobody has threatened me. As far as I know, my manager and her manager don't even read this blog. But PBLA is not optional for the teachers at my agency.

      I don't want PBLA to turn me into someone who only gripes. Not only is bitterness not good for my health, but I believe I am going to garner more credibility from our community if I attempt some semblance of balanced reporting and also mention the good days.

      All this being said, I have to remind everyone that I am NOT a typical teacher in her second month of full implementation. Most teachers undertaking this have twice or three times the number of students that I have. Most have more demanding home lives than I have (no husband, kids or even pets here).

      One teacher I know was told by her husband that he'd kept track for a week of the time she spent at home on things for work. She was, he told her, working her way down to minimum wage. I am afraid to keep a log and find out what my pay would work out to.

      I hope you'll continue to contribute and are not too disappointed in me. --Kelly

  2. Interesting title to your blog. A very good teacher, dear friend, believes that the stress of PBLA precipitated her heart attack (I can give you her name to check. Of course she did not return to teaching.)
    Two days ago we were told we would start "to be trained" in the "magnificent" PBLA (I have been following this assiduously for years. It's a mess. It is a government funded and mandated UNPROVEN experiment with, imo, an invalid construct. Impractical. Out of touch. poorly designed and poorly written) We received our "PBLA READINESS SELF-ASSESSMENT"
    assignment to complete before this morning's session.For me - I already do all the items regularly (as my manager had told me I do). "I was advised to "Learn more about Assessment for Learning" strategies to continue to enhance your practice".
    Later there was a note:
    "Understanding change in our professional lives:
    * Real change occurs over time. It takes effort to adjust, find resiurces and develop effective strategies. It is sometimes uncomfortable.
    * Without change we cease to develop professionally.
    * ESL learners benefit when instructors make the effort to enhance learning through PBLA."

    (This last claim is unproven. And tgere us no evidence tgat learners did not receive beneficial learning pre-PBLA. I have a proven track record NOT using PBLA. As do most teachers I know.)
    I have to wonder what patronising, selfserving, bureaucratic individual wrote these words. Not a teacher, not a trained psychologist or sociologist or academic, not someone who has respect for other adults.
    I have been warned to keep an open mind (I always do, but tempered by a responsibility to myself to think critically). I have been warned tgst if I resist I will be disciplined. Interesting.

    1. Claudie,
      Thank you, as always, for taking the time to leave a comment here. Your voice is such a valuable contribution. Kelly


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