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Today our focus is on depressurizing our emotions through emotionally honest support groups.
Stuff I didn't always know as a teacher about emotionally honest support groups
One of the best things I do for my family and myself each week is attend an emotionally honest support group.
It's not for teachers, but it's for folks with life stories that have similarities to mine. In this group, we are emotionally honest. None of us are in the same places or have had the same experiences, but all of us respect and listen to one another. The group is held over Zoom one night per week.
It's not fancy at all, but there are a few characteristics that I think make it especially productive in terms of emotional depressurization:
- It's not just a small group of people. It's a small group of people practicing emotional honesty. Because it's a topic-specific group (resources for finding these are below) and everyone in the group has experience with the topic, we don't need to do a ton of exposition and instead can focus on the roots of our experiences. It reminds me of the things I've read about AA — it works in part because alcoholics understand what it's like to live with and recover from alcoholism, and so you don't have to sit there and explain yourself to people and put up walls because the folks there understand you. I imagine all topic-specific groups (e.g., groups for diabetics, groups for widows, groups for smokers) have a similar potential dynamic. So what ends up happening is you're sharing deep, dark stuff that you feel like no one else can understand, but then in a topic-specific group you get all these knowing nods, and you're like, “Dang. I'm not as weird as I thought.” And this safety breeds further honesty.
- There's intelligent design. The kinds of groups that depressurize our emotions aren't vent sessions at the pub. Instead, they are discussions that get beneath the circumstances that lead to our venting. A group for teachers would be less “How do I fix such-and-such student's behavior?” and more “Why does such-and-such students' behavior bother me so much?” Because of the level of depth you're after in a group like this, I'd recommend looking for one that's backed up by either
- A proven track record (e.g., it's been running a long time), or
- A trusted testimonial (e.g., “My friend who I really respect recommended this group for me and said it made a world of difference for her”), or
- A professional leader (e.g., the group I'm in is led by a licensed counselor and a counselor working on his licensure).
- It's got a predictable format:
- We start each meeting with a check-in.
- We then discuss a question or key idea proposed by the leader.
- We end with a quote that's related to growing in maturity.
- Everyone participates. You're there to listen and to share. So everyone does. And when we don't want to share, we're honest about that and talk through it.
How to do it at school:
I scratched my head for a bit on this one. But if I had to participate in an emotionally honest support group at school, I'd do it in one of two ways.
Look to see if there is a Zoom-based group I could join during my prep hour or right after school.
This wouldn't be my preference because I like my time at work to be pretty laser-focused on work. But, if I had greater constraints at home, I'd take a hard look at this possibility because any emotionally honest support group is better than no group. Plus the depressurization during lunch or prep or right before or after school might be really nice.
If you've got a friend or a counselor that would be willing to lead a group for teachers at your school, you could set something like that up.
Again, this wouldn't be my preference because I don't know how I'd do with getting into nitty gritty deep stuff with folks I've got to discuss data spreadsheets with at a PLC meeting. But some folks might really like something like this.
The next time you want to complain about something that happened in your classroom, try confessing instead.
Think of this as an impromptu mini-moment of emotional honesty.
Here's what I mean:
- Complaining: This parent said this to me in an email! Can you believe it? The nerve!
- Confessing: When the parent said this to me in an email, I felt ________. I'm having a hard time working through that. It's still got my heart racing. It's kept me up at night.
Complaining makes the world a worse place, and that increases pressure on our hearts. Confessing makes our insides a better place because it releases pressure from our hearts.
How to do it at home
Join a topic-based group via Zoom.
I found my group via word of mouth, but a bit of Googling brought me to these resources for finding topic-based groups:
- Inspire.com — Huge selection of topic-based groups here.
- Celebrate Recovery — Large, successful network of Christian-themed, emotionally honest support groups.
- AA.org — the original gangster of emotionally honest support groups. I've never been to a meeting but would love to attend an open one to learn more about what is perhaps the most successful recovery program in history. One of my favorite books lately that shines good light on AA is Jess Lahey's The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence.
Just keep in mind that what you're looking for is a place where you can be emotionally honest and process through the emotional roots of things.
See a counselor.
Good counseling is like a one-way, emotionally honest support group. I've spent many an hour on counselors' couches and don't see any shame in it.
Personally, I do much prefer the counselor-led support group I'm in now. It's not just that it's cheaper; it's that it's less me-centric. Weirdly enough, just hearing a bunch of other people demonstrate emotional honesty depressurizes my emotions. I feel better just listening.
Enjoy the process.
Before my mid-thirties, I drastically underestimated the role that emotional immaturity played in the most painful parts of my work and life. This pain, invisible till then, drove me to workaholism and a number of other ill pursuits. It was beneath lots of my hamster spin on the Workload-Pressure Cycle.
If you feel like you've tried everything to get better at beating burnout, consider a season in pursuit of emotional work. And for that, I give a strong recommend to group therapy or emotionally honest support groups.  
Got other resources or advice on emotionally honest support groups? Share with us in the comments!
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- Got so much work that you don't have time for this practice? Try the following posts on making workload behave:
- A Shift then a Skip: Here's How One Teacher's Job Changed with a Simple Change in Thinking
- How to Get Better at Satisficing as an Educator
- The Best Question for Helping You Simplify Lessons, Curricula, Policies, or Procedures
- A Few Helpful Ideas for Resting as an Educator
- Let's Pick Some Sled Dogs
- We're Too Hospitable to Pointlessness
- To Decide is to Cut
- I'm currently working on a spring 2022 PD experience that's going to help with one of the biggest stressors for secondary teachers in the world today: student motivation. Want first dibs? Sign up here.
- I'm doing a series on YouTube right now called “Thoughts Worth Thinkin'.” It's tangental to this blog series on depressurization. Check out the playlist here and please subscribe!