Maintaining My Energy by Focusing on the Students

By Skylar Primm, 6–12 Environmental Educator

McGraw Hill
Inspired Ideas
Published in
5 min readMay 30, 2022


Ask any practicing educator, and more likely than not they’ll tell you that the 2021–22 school year has been their hardest ever. Harder than pivoting to remote learning in March 2020 and finishing out the year without ever seeing our students in person again. Harder than the back-and-forth remote-to-hybrid-to-classroom switches of 2020–21. I think many of us optimistically hoped for some semblance of normalcy this year, especially in the upper grades for whom the COVID-19 vaccines were available starting last summer. This was certainly the case for me, and as I approach the end of my lucky thirteenth year of teaching, I confess that I often feel exhausted, disillusioned, and just plain out of juice.

All of this to say, it’s okay not to be okay right now. We’re all tired. Much more so than at the end of a normal school year, which this clearly is not. In the last few weeks, though, I’ve noticed something important about my own energy levels at school.

When I’m able to spend time during the school day fully present in my direct work with students, I can avoid getting stuck in the bigger picture worries.

I end the day feeling so energized it’s unreal. Perhaps some of my examples of how I connect with my students will be helpful to you as we close out this year and think about sustaining our work in the future.

Conferring with Students

My primary one-on-one contact with students comes through regularly scheduled conferencing throughout the school year. These meetings, scheduled for 20 minutes but varying based on the students’ needs on that day, give me an opportunity to check in on a student’s academic progress, but more importantly, they let me get a sense of their social-emotional wellness. I always start these meetings with some variation of what an old colleague referred to as “rounding” questions, modeled after the practice of hospital rounds: What’s going well right now? What’s challenging right now? What help or support do you need? These simple questions can lead to profound conversations, and I always leave the meeting with a greater sense of connection to the student and a bit more fulfillment in my work.

Math Support

In our small school, I’m the primary support person when students are working independently on online math lessons. When I’m asked for help or I notice a student who might be struggling, and I pull up a chair, I’m given another opportunity to replenish my energy. Often, these are the best times for me to get to know my co-teacher’s students, with whom I don’t have the same relationship as those in my own advisory. The most important tools I bring to these meetings are a sense of curiosity and a non-judgmental attitude. These tools give students the confidence and comfort to try new things, listen to new ideas, and share more of their whole selves while at work. I cherish the small moments of success with students as they master a challenging topic, and carry the energy forward for days after.

Sitting with Students

Lastly, and most importantly, any time I’m meeting with students — and frequently even when I’m just working on something that’s not desk-bound — I do my best to sit among them. More than once recently a colleague has come into the classroom and been visibly confused at their inability to locate me at my desk. I have to give them a wave to indicate where I am, though I like to think I’m a pretty conspicuous presence in the classroom with my long red hair and beard. Sitting among the students helps flatten the hierarchy in our classroom, and leads to serendipitous moments of joy and learning. It’s especially effective for finding better ways to connect with students who may not yet be fully comfortable with one-on-one conferencing. I often end my time sitting among students with shared laughter over a joke or meme. Those moments of spontaneous joy sustain our community, and my own well-being, too.

My #OneWord2022: Focus

When the calendar rolled over into 2022, I decided that my #OneWord2022 would be focus, because for the first half of the school year I felt like my attention was constantly being pulled in every direction but where it needed to be. Putting focus into practice when I’m working with students helps me remember to be fully present with them, rather than worrying about the next thing I need to do or a meeting after school. In turn, being present reconnects me with my “why” for teaching. Now, as ever, our students deserve teachers who feel energized by their work. Let’s focus on them, remember our purpose, and finish the year strong.

Skylar L. Primm teaches at High Marq Environmental Charter School, a project- and place-based learning school in Montello, Wisconsin. In 2017, he was the recipient of a Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship in recognition of his teaching, leadership, and service, and in 2021 he was named the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education’s Formal Educator of the Year. He currently serves on the boards of the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education and the Human Restoration Project, and leads the Wisconsin Teacher-Powered Schools Network. He blogs at You may contact Skylar at

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