I cannot be the only one who navigates productivity guilt.
You know, that feeling of never having accomplished enough as an educator, or adult, and therefore not deserving of rest.
The bad news? Productivity guilt can lead to major health implications, I know this, I have had major health implications the last 5 years of being a teacher such as anxiety, a weakened immune system leading to multiple pneumonia and bronchitis bouts, and high blood pressure.
The good news – it doesn’t have to be this way. But as someone who is still trying to break productivity guilt habits, it is hard to break. The educational system is set up to make us constantly cross our own self-imposed boundaries. And the needs of our communities can be so high. So finding a way to still be productive while also knowing when to work can be a process in itself.
After learning more about productivity guilt, I wanted to share a few tips and ideas for how to recognize t, and more importantly, how to do something about it in order for you to feel healthier. I cross-posted this on Instagram but wanted to make sure I shared it here as well.
If you are not sure how to cut down on your workload, I will gladly help alleviate some of it. Just let me know how I can help.
Here are a few ideas for how to recognize and lessen productivity guilt so you can get back to living the life you deserve.
Posted from my Patreon community where I take requests for book lists to create, share resources, and offer up coaching for members. It is a very easy way for me to be accessible to people around the world, you can join here.
One of the reading strategies we teach students is to notice character changes, whether it be in chapter books, movies, or even in life. When I first started out teaching this strategy, I was inspired by the language of Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. This book provided my students with the foundation for having deeper reading conversations and a common language as we developed our thoughts and our discussion skills.
While being able to track characters and notice when they act out of character is a great reading strategy, it is an even bigger life skill. Inferring and noticing when people don’t seem like themselves or when they change can be practiced within literature and media. As a way to introduce and really focus on the strategy, I have long used picture books to showcase it. 8 years ago, I created this initial list of picture books and I figured it was about time to update it as I sit and watch Titanic with my kids.
The Noisy Classroom by Angela Shanté and illustrated by Alison Hawkins. A young girl is about to enter the third grade, but this year she’s put into Ms. Johnson’s noisy class. Everything about the noisy class is odd. While all the other classes are quiet, Ms. Johnson sings and the kids chatter all day. The door is always closed, yet sounds from it can be heard in the hallway. With summer coming to an end and school starting, the girl realizes that soon she’ll be going to the noisy class. What will school be like now?
In After the Fall by Dan Santat, Humpty Dumpty has to come to terms with his own fear and anxiety after a great big fall. But that requires him to act opposite of what his fear tells him to.
When my Cousins Come to Town by Angela Shanté and illustrated by Keisha Morris. Fitting in can be hard, but standing out isn’t easy either! Every summer a young girl eagerly waits for her cousins to come visit and celebrate her birthday. All her cousins are unique in their own ways and have earned cool nicknames for themselves… except for the girl. But this year things are going to be different. This year before summer ends, she’s determined to earn her own nickname!
My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown. A young boy named Bobby has the worst teacher. She’s loud, she yells, and if you throw paper airplanes, she won’t allow you to enjoy recess. She is a monster! Luckily, Bobby can go to his favorite spot in the park on weekends to play. Until one day… he finds his teacher there! Over the course of one day, Bobby learns that monsters are not always what they seem.
I Hate Everyone by Naomi Davis and illustrated by Cinta Arribas. “I hate everyone.” In your worst mood, it’s a phrase you might want to shout out loud, even if, deep down, you don’t really mean it. Set at a birthday party, this disgruntled, first-person story portrays the confusing feelings that sometimes make it impossible to be nice, even-or especially-when everyone else is in a partying mode.
In Big by Vashti Harrison we follow our main character and she goes from loving herself, to feeling the direct pressure from society to fit in. Can she find herself and her strength again?
Timid by Harry Woodgate offers up the story of Timmy, who loves to perform even though they also have anxiety whenever they are asked to perform in front of others. While they want to overcome it, and nearly do, it turns out letting go of who you used to be is a lot harder than one might think.
In Francis Discovers Possible by Ashlee Latimer and illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani, Francis loves learning new words. At school, when her class is reviewing words that begin with the letter “F,” someone sneers “Fat, like Francis.” Francis always thought “fat” was a warm word—like snuggling with Mama or belly rubs for her puppy. But now “fat” feels cold, and Francis feels very small. After school, Baba takes Francis to the park. She chooses the bench instead of the swing set, and gets very quiet. But when Baba uses the word “possible,” Francis wants to know what it means.
In The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith, Mean Jean was Recess Queen and nobody said any different. Nobody swung until Mean Jean swung. Nobody kicked until Mean Jean kicked. Nobody bounced until Mean Jean bounced. If kids ever crossed her, she’d push ’em and smoosh ’em, lollapaloosh ’em, hammer ’em, slammer ’em, kitz and kajammer ’em. Until a new kid came to school! With her irrepressible spirit, the new girl dethrones the reigning recess bully by becoming her friend in this infectious playground romp.
In Home for a While by Lauren H. Kerstein and illustrated by Natalie Moore, Calvin is in foster care, and he wants to trust someone, anyone, but is afraid to open his heart. He has lived in a lot of houses, but he still hasn’t found his home. When he moves in with Maggie, she shows him respect, offers him kindness, and makes him see things in himself that he’s never noticed before. Maybe this isn’t just another house, maybe this is a place Calvin can call home, for a while.
As two cousins write to each other, we see the contrast (and similarities) between their lives.
Tuesday by David Wiesner started us off in our discussions about contrasts and contradictions. This fantastic nearly wordless picture book is an easy entry into this discussion as it allows students to easily see how the magical event with the toads floating is in contrast to what frogs normally do.
With one of my classes I also used Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, where the contrast lies in the rules being shared and the images. While this one was a little more advanced for the students, they greatly enjoyed the illustrations and discussing what they might mean.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody in class ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine
Another contrast and contradiction text between self and society in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown where Mr. Tiger just will not conform. When he tries to change his ways, he loses his real identity.
What I love about Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, is that most of my students can relate to its message about being expected to fit in in a certain way. The contrast lies between the characters and how their upbringing has shaped them.
Any day I can use Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed is a good day in our room. Here, we focus on the change that Pete the pig goes through as he meets Pickles. Great book also to use for character development and inferring.
About the kids whose existence we say doesn’t belong in the stories on our shelves. About the kids whose lives are not accepted in our spaces; classroom, libraries, hallways, and schools.
About the lives we don’t share in our book clubs, read alouds, or mentor text explorations. Because we are scared to be challenged. because we are directed to censor. Because we are told to remove titles. To withdraw invitations. To not share things that may potentially offend.
About the kids whose lives need to be validated and protected in this continued time of hate in the US.
In the land of the free, we have always known only some are truly free. Free to be the center of attention. Free to hold the power. Free to be held up as something worth paying attention to.
Why do I care while I sit in Denmark, a country that has prohibited book banning since the 1800’s (yes, really!)?
Because what is banned in the US, doesn’t get translated to other countries at the same rate. Those authors don’t get invited to conferences, to schools, to gatherings at the same rate.
Their sales are hurt by the book bans, it is not a badge of honor, which then hurts further publications.
When they write from their own experience, book bans and challenges once again show them that the story they carry is not one that is palatable to share with the world. That they should be ashamed to share who they are.
Because what is gatekept, simply not purchased, not shared, not published, or not even written out of fear of how it will be challenged and banned, directly impacts kids’ reading experiences globally.
The US publishing industry is the biggest in the world.
That means that once again the US sets the tone for the reading lives of so many others. Even those who will never set foot in the USA.
That means when a school board removes books, it limits sales, and that directly impacts the books I can access here in Denmark, a country far way from the hallways of American schools.
But it’s not just that.
It is my own kid’s identity that is constantly put under the microscope as being “too mature,” as “indecent,” as being sexually inappropriate. It is my own kid’s identity mirrored in stories that are being banned outright or shadowbanned in the spaces of our schools and libraries. As if they control who they love or who they are. As if their very existence is one that is too mature for other children.
All because some adults decided that the bankrupt moral code they follow is more important than honoring the identity of my child. Than protecting my child. Than creating a society that respects the lives of the very children we produce.
And it angers me.
And it scares me.
Because when we remove the stories of others, we leave a void of misunderstanding. Of fear. Of thinking that there is somehow something morally wrong with simply existing in the LGBTQ+ community.
Of others telling my kid that they are probably just confused. Of telling our kid that they certainly can’t know these things because they are too young. Of failing to understand something that is simply who they are. Of others asking my kid when they will grow out of it. Of others asking my kid questions that no kid, or adult, should be asked. And thinking it is okay. And telling us to lighten up. And failing to see how every question is another cut, another punch, another closed door.
And I am so sick of “well-meaning” adults thinking that they somehow know better than we do as the parent of our own child. They don’t see how the words they so carelessly spew, the actions they support, and the hate they spread directly impacts our child, impacts us as a family.
So yeah, I may be in Denmark but I Am still going to fight with everything I can.
I am going to fight so that kids can see themselves in the stories we share. So adults can feel the value that sharing their stories have.
I fight because the youth of Denmark deserve a chance at being seen globally.
I fight because we cannot say we value kids and then support book bans at the same time.
The fight has not just begun, it has been going on for a long time. But it is ramping up and just like there are groups that are organized just to orchestrate book bans, so must we.
So what do we do? PEN America, whose images are used in this post and whose latest report is well worth a read, has a few ideas. They say to
But we also take a moment to check in with the kids we have in our care. How are they? How do these book bans and challenges affect them? How do we continue to fight back?
I know it is scary to speak up.
I know it is scary to place a book in our classrooms that may potentially cause a challenge.
But think of the kids you validate. The kids who need you to show them that you have their back.
That their story matters because they matter,
I think of how our actions now will reverberate for years to come. Of the kids who will search for questions on our shelves and come up empty-handed versus the kids who will find themselves and find peace.
Of those who will find love on our shelves. Of those who will find power.
I fight back for those kids, and for those who don’t even know which questions to ask yet.
Yesterday, I received the following email about my Instagram account
At first, I laughed but thought I would check my Instagram account anyway.
And it was gone.
No username, no email, no phone number.
According to Instagram the more than 2,900 posts I have created never existed in the first place. I tried everything Instagram help center articles told me to do, consistently getting absolutely nowhere. When Instagram says you don’t exist there are no reports to file, no forms to fill in, no support to receive. They just keep referring you to the same article over and over.
So I emailed the hacker back.
They wanted $2,000 in bitcoin to release my account back or they are selling it to others to use however they see fit. No guarantees. That kind of money is not something we have to spend. So I cried while I raged, I know it is so silly to cry over something like this, but my account hold years of photos and videos, connections with people all over the world, and represents years of building connections with others. Since we moved to Denmark it has been one of my main ways to stay in touch with friends, former students, and all of those we left behind.
Instagram has been my favorite way to post the last many months as I transition into Denmark and make literary connections here. The people in Denmark have no idea wo I am, Instagram and all the years of posts helped me introduce myself.
I spent the rest of the day frantically securing every account I could think of while getting bombarded by bots saying they could help me recover my account – they can’t, they are just another way to scam you.
Meanwhile, 40 emails in as I went back and forth with the person who hacked my account, they said I could pay $200 in bitcoin to recover it. After discussing with my husband, I did.
And then I got this.
And that’s not something we can do. So I am starting over. All those years of posts are gone but I am still here. I can’t recreate all of the content, I will re-post some things, but I have to look forward as well.
So please come and follow me on my new account @pernilleripp I know there isn’t much to look at right now, but there will be. I will continue to post book recommendations, ideas, quotes, and snapshots from our life. I continue to want to learn and spread ideas. I am really hoping there is some sort of silver lining in all of this, I haven’t found it yet, but I will.
If you haven’t secured your accounts with two-factor authentication, do. It doesn’t guarantee anything but perhaps it would have stopped this.
If you want to help me, please share my new Instagram account with those who used to follow or may want to follow now.
We have settled in. Sort of anyway. The kids know how to get to school, when to leave, where the parks and library are. We meal plan, have Friday night movie nights, and try to be outside as much as possible as fall is here and the leaves are changing. We have ideas for how we want to fill our time and sometimes they come to fruition. I have never felt so adult in my life.
And yet, I still feel unsettled. My routines are partially in place, I get to work on time, get home on time, cook meals, and put the kids to bed. But the other things that make up a life are still not there really. I am out of my reading routine, I am not sure when to call people that I normally talk to, I am posting on social media at the wrong time. I don’t even feel like I know how to dress anymore. And what am I even anymore now that I am not teaching kids actively?
And so I dream of the things I want to do, waiting for that right time. When life has finally settled more. When the kids seem to be okay. When I feel right for longer stretches of time. But when will that happen? Do we ever really feel well-rested and fully ready to take on anything?
Change is hard when ordinary life is overwhelming. When we tread water and try to just make it to the finish line of the day.
Change is hard when we have been in the same place for a long time. We know how to make things work, so why rock the boat?
Change is hard when we have to worry about the daily lives of others, make sure that we don’t up-end too much because who knows how it will reverberate in the future.
Change is hard when it is just us trying to make our way.
It seems there is no time when change is not hard.
I have wanted to winter bathe for years. In Wisconsin, there wasn’t much time for it. But here in Denmark, it is everywhere. I spoke my idea aloud to my husband, tried to sign us up for a membership (sauna included after the dip) but was told there were no open member spots.
Friday night, I got sick of waiting for the time to change. For life to feel under control enough for me to take more on. After all, there is no guarantee that that will ever happen. I cannot think of a time in my life when time was abundant and energy was too.
So Saturday morning we drove to the ocean and ran into it. 53-degree air temperature. It was not warm, not winter either. And we ran out and huddled in our towels and laughed. This morning we did it again.
We don’t have access to the sauna. I don’t have my flip-flops, they are in a shipping container coming our way. We each have one towel which tends to be damp most of the time. There is sand everywhere in our car. We are probably not doing it right, I think we are supposed to sit in the water for longer.
But we feel alive. And we like it. And we want to do it again. It was just the change I needed to feel good about the now we are in.
Change is funny that way. We can wait for the right time in our lives to finally change. We can wait for the big moments such as a move across the world to finally change. We can wait for others to tell us, to make us. Or we can simply take a step and make the change we have wanted for so long.
I could have waited for our membership to go through. I could have waited to get the right gear. To grow bolder. To grow older. For the time to feel more right.
But I didn’t. Because the change was needed now.
How often do we wait for the right time in our classrooms to change? How often do we think, “next year”, or when I switch grades, or when the time is better. Or even when I am not just trying to survive every day. Our routines save us time and time again but at what cost?
So what are the changes you have been dreaming of? What have you been too afraid to do?
The time will never be right, so consider what you can tweak? What can you replace so it doesn’t feel like more is added? What is that unit? That lesson? That shift in practice you have wanted to try?
If you are scared, tell yourself it is a pilot. Allow yourself to try and know that it doesn’t have to be permanent. We jumped at the chance of moving home because we knew we could return to the US if it didn’t work it (it wouldn’t be easy to relocate don’t get me wrong but that door is not closed).
If you feel there is no time, audit your schedule; where can you fit it in? (What might you pause in order to try something new).
If you feel there is no support, involve your students in the planning. Their excitement often carries us through.
If you don’t know what to change but know there is a need; ask your students. What works? What doesn’t? What are their dreams and hopes? What can you plan together?
I spoke of moving home to Denmark for years, casually mentioning it, and always thinking “some day.” But to take the leap, to say yes, and actually do it has been the scariest adult thing I have done since having children. And it is easy to get paralyzed by that. It is easy to feel like that change was enough change and now we settle into our routine as quickly as we can.
But it turns out there are still many other new things to try.
The change continues. What is the life I have wanted to have for so long? What are the routines I wanted to change? How do I want to raise my children? How do I want to live my one and precious life to quote Mary Oliver?
Because we can wait for the time to be right.
Or we can embrace the time that is now.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, change never is, but it can make us feel alive again.
Don’t wait. It’s not as scary as it sounds.
In fact, you could say, come on in, the water is just fine.
When I speak to children about their writing a few complaints often come up; I have no ideas, I get stuck, I hate writing, and my stories are boring. I get their frustration, I feel the same way as I stare at my computer and try to be creative. Writing is often seen as a solitary quiet thing by kids, something meant only to be shared with a demanding adult that does not matter, does not entertain, and does not serve a purpose beyond getting it done for school. Despite being constantly immersed in communicating with one another, writing is often seen as something that will never be used and therefore not worth any real investment.
Knowing this, I wanted to change the way we do writing and tr to bust it out of its solitary quiet ways (not saying there is anything wrong with that, that’s my preferred way of writing). Enter writing groups, story teling kits, and improv.
Writing groups are fairly easily explained; students select a few peers to be a part of their writing team and we build in time throughout our class for them to meet, read each other’s work, be a sounding board and offer up encouragement and feedback. These require more planned setup in the beginning of the year as students often don’t know many people beyond their chosen peers. I will often watch how kids interact for a few weeks and then create some loose groups. It is also a good idea for kids to interview each other to see if they will be a good match. If students don’t want to partner or team with anyone, then they can team with me.
Storytelling kits or loose parts and their use I have written about previously, I love the soft start they allow kids to have into writing and also how it reminds us that writing is really storytelling.
Improv is also fairly easy to explain. Using known exercises to generate ideas and dive deeper into their stories, there are many ways to get kids to think beyond a basic storyline and consider how they want their story to unfold and also how they want it to be understood by their audience. But which exercises or improv games work well?
For generating story ideas:
One Word at a Time – In a partnership or more, you each offer one word at a time to build a story that makes sense. You have to create a mood and a climax in the story, which makes it even harder.
What Happens Next? One student acts out an action determined by group members, once they feel they have finished that action (such as walking in the woods) they ask “What happens next?” as a way to continue the story, the idea is to build out a story as coherently as possibly. You can offer up starting actions to all groups and then have them share in the end where they ended up, it is a great way to help students remember that the same beginning can leading many different directions.
Genre Circle – a game that focuses on listing all of the different associations with whatever genre is presented. This is also a great game to re-introduce book genres for students. When kids are stuck trying to think of what type of story they want to write, this game can be used to get them to think of what types of elements they are drawn to writing about.
For adding details and building out scenes
I Am a Tree – a game where one person stands in the middle, strikes a pose, and declares “I am a tree” – the rest of the group then jumps in striking poses by adding details in order to set the stage for the story.
Advance & Expand – A great game for creating a concrete understanding of when to zoom in or out in a story. This is a skill many students need help with and so having someone else “control” when to fast-forward or when to slow down is helpful. You can use this game with drafts, asking their writing partner to either tell them to expand or advance certain sections, or you can act it out.
Genre replay – Starting out with their story idea, students play out or share the scene they have written, then they replay it our rewrite it using a different genre. How would the beginning of their story sound if it was written like a murder mystery, a love story, or a horror story?
Character circle – a great game to help with coming gup with characters and fleshing out their characteristics, if you know your character well you can determine how they would navigate the given situation you have placed them in. The writer is in the middle of the group and the group shouts out different names, the writer selects one they like, then the group starts to shout out different characteristics, they can be outward or inward characteristics and together you build the character. There are many other games as well that can be used for this.
For building confidence and community:
Gibberish – a game for those who don’t mind being a little silly, it gets easier once you do it together. At first, you walk around pointing to things and naming them correctly, then next round you point to things but say incorrect names for them then, then third round you make up gibberish names, 4th round you try to teach others the gibberish name for the thing you are pointing to and explain what it does all in gibberish. You can also have students tell jokes or stories all in gibberish as a way to understand story structure – how can they build suspense for example all in gibberish? There are a lot of games that involve gibberish and they are great for when kids feel like they do not have the right words or stories to tell.
8-Beat Story -A narrative circle game where each person moves the story along based on the following story structures: Once upon a time, and every day, until one day, and because of that, and because of that (again), and because of that (again again), until finally, and ever since then…. – Start with an initial action and then add on using the prompts. Great for trying out story starters and building confidence in storytelling abilities, as well as thinking of story structures.
So there you have it, a few further ideas to help kids sink into writing, get more physical, build community and also dive into storytelling. The world of improv has a million ideas that can easily be adapted into your writing and speaking instruction, hopefully, this offered you up a few places to start.