Self-Care for Teachers

Self-Care for Teachers

Self Care for Teachers

The concept of self-care is catching our collective attention. We’re being admonished to “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” and now we have research to support the claim that self-care helps people manage job-related stress. 

So what exactly does self-care look like? Is it simply taking more bubble baths and scheduling a spa day? It could be, but self-care reaches beyond pampering, specifically for teachers. When we work with educators in our offices, we hear about the need for something to help in the heat of the moment, keeping the pace of the day with younger and older children alike. Often times, the stress our teachers carry has more to do with the burdens carried by the children they teach than it does the job description they’re trying to fulfill. Especially after many years of experience, our teachers know about delivering content and differentiating instruction. What teachers ask for more often is knowing how to continue to show compassion to children and families when the heartbreak feels unrelenting. 

While burnout is an issue for the education industry, the bigger threat is heartbreak. Teachers are seeing more and more students show up in the morning hungry because they’ve not had breakfast, or – even more challenging – children starving for connection. Our educators could go broke with the granola bars and markers they stock. They know how to keep their classrooms supplied with academic tools.  A tougher obstacle is helping teachers learn to sleep at night when their hearts are filled with worry about the student whose life outside of school is unsafe.

As Chick Moorman (author of The Spirit Whisperer and Parent Talk) said once to Holly, when you teach to a child’s spirit, you’ve got them, no matter what the subject matter.  The best teachers are working from the heart-level. However, opening yourself to the heights of joy that come with heartfulness also renders you vulnerable to the depths of grief that come with the territory. 

From our perspective, the core of self-care for the educator lies in keeping the heart both soft and strong. To be good at what we do in helping professions, we need to continue to cultivate compassion, empathy and acceptance. Our practices center around quieting the talk of “not enough” and incorporating moments of gratitude and joy, even in the midst of challenges. 

Mindfulness expert John Kabat-Zin teaches about the “acceptance of what is”. When a student comes from a home without running water, it’s hard for a teacher to accept that he cannot change the situation. But the teacher can offer a learning space that helps hold for the student the various stressors and hurts they bring into the classroom. In the same way, a teacher might come to school tired after his own sleepless night. Self acceptance, i.e. “today’s lecture may not be as energetic as last week’s and that’s okay,” may free the teacher to offer what he does have to give rather than focusing on deficits.

When we learn to recognize our limits, specifically as they relate to our roles as educators and helpers, we can acknowledge and celebrate the victories we do experience. When working in a capacity that will never “finish” – the students we teach will never be done learning and developing – it’s easy to overlook opportunities to feel like we’ve done enough. A daily celebration and gratitude practice for the small successes keeps the heart open and strong, ready to return the next day.

Mind Body Health Associates Logo

The Heavily Meditated Teacher

The Heavily Meditated Teacher

The Heavily Meditated Teacher

When you come to the Mindful Educators retreat, one of the elements woven into the day is the importance of establishing a personal meditation practice. The elements of quieting the mind, noticing the breath and allowing thoughts to slide through awareness are essential to living and teaching mindfully.

It’s okay if you’re not ready to sit on your zafu pillow for an hour each morning! Taking a quiet 10-minute walk or spending the first 90 seconds in your classroom with eyes closed and breathing deeply are valuable forms of mindfulness. Small doses repeated through the day are powerful ways to keep your steady pace. 

A meditation practice puts space into your day and into the way your brain functions. As the training ground for patience and peacefulness, it’s a way to practice slowing down our reactions. Much of the hurried day, we have a thought that we automatically believe. A mindfulness practice teaches us to notice first that a thought has arisen, and then gives us the opportunity to decide if it’s true. From that moment, you move from reacting to responding. Ideally, mindfulness gives us permission to allow the thought to pass without response.  We become less automatic in our need to do something about the thought. It is just a thought.

Mindfulness is the space that allows you to breathe through your day. It’s this space that allows you to thrive in your work and can prevent burnout by allowing the emotions and the thoughts to move through you, rather than overcome you.  

So what does this actually look like? A heavily meditated teacher is one who likely: 

  • Responds rather than reacts
  • Draws emotional boundaries to keep from over-personalizing others’ behaviors
  • Feels a connection with students that goes beyond academics
  • Changes the pace of the day and activity to best suit student (and teacher) needs
  • Feels the freedom to be creative in their unique art of teaching- even within the confines of traditional educational expectations
  • Has a peace corner or quiet zone in the classroom that anyone can use at any time
  • Understands his/her energy drives the energy of the classroom and self-regulates accordingly
  • Exudes joyfulness and contentment
  • Refuels the passion that drives their work

With cramped classrooms and schedules filled to the hilt, teachers are the first to recognize a need for space and time. But as one teacher has said, “you will never find time, you can only make time.”  Creating space in your life to breathe and move mindfully might be one of the best and healthiest adjustments to your lesson plans you make this year.

 

Mind Body Health Associates Logo

Contact Us

What yoga pose will make this kid listen?

What yoga pose will make this kid listen?

What yoga pose will make this kid listen?

Embodied Education

Thanks to a new study getting fabulous publicity, yoga is making its way into classrooms everywhere. At Mind Body Health Associates, we’ve long recognized the importance of bringing the body into the educational setting because of the way it is intimately connected to our brains. Children, especially, need their whole body to be engaged for maximum learning to occur. 

Our in-house yoga instructor, Michele Minehart, has worked with school districts offering yoga as part of their professional development, both as an experiential practice and as interventions for test anxiety. Education is eager to implement these simple tools that utilize the power of mindfulness. You don’t need to get your RYT 200© certification to reap the benefits of helping kids move their bodies and pay attention to their breath. If you’re looking to add a few tools to the toolbox, here are some suggestions:

  1. Start with breathing. Ask your kids to take a big breath before starting the next activity. Our classrooms are filled with hurry and taking a brief moment in the transition will help them to fully arrive at the next activity. 
  2. Give it only 2 minutes. Let go of ideas that you need to devote an hour of classroom time to yet another thing. Science says that 60-90 seconds is all that is required to return an activated stress response (fight or flight) to one that is ready to learn. A few deep breaths with arm movement followed by a standing forward fold, or a balancing pose on a day you feel fancy, is plenty for them to begin. 
  3. Name your targeted outcome. You’re probably not looking for kids to be able to wrap a leg around their neck. What are you looking for when you institute some form of classroom yoga? One of the most noticeable benefits is behavior change, specifically in the realm of self-regulation. You can create a habit with the children to take a deep breath when they’re angry before responding by practicing taking a deep breath while they’re not angry; over time the habit will develop. 
  4. Remember: Where the attention goes, the energy flows. Some kids may not like the classroom yoga because new things are frequently scary things (this is the body’s protective reaction).  You could meet reticence. That’s okay. Don’t use your energy trying to convince the apprehensive students. Instead, direct your attention to the ones who are participating and appreciating the experience. Success is the best PR, and the kids who are more slow to adapt will eventually want to join along. 
  5. Practice what you preach. You don’t need to join a fancy studio, but you can intentionally find ways to mindfully move your body.  Walks in nature and running are great alternatives, especially if you already have a practice. A home yoga practice can be led via youtube or free apps (Michele recommends Down Dog; therapist and yoga instructor Rachel Tincher loves the practices available on Amazon’s Audible). 

Kids have a BS sniffer and can sense if you don’t believe what you’re saying.  Integrate the idea of moving your body as you notice your breath and the present moment so that you can teach the tools with honesty and integrity. 

Mind Body Health Associates Logo

Contact Us

Trauma in the Classroom

Trauma in the Classroom

Trauma in the Classroom

“He just won’t sit still, always trying to escape to the bathroom or sharpening his pencil or something.” “She cannot keep her hands to herself!” “We caught him stealing again.”

Thanks to ongoing training in many school systems – Findlay City Schools, to name one – teachers have come to understand that the negative behaviors experienced in a classroom setting, specifically among younger children, are often the direct result of traumatic experiences. More and more, we find teachers able to vocalize that a student’s challenges aren’t simply due to intelligence or even poor decision making. Science has strong evidence to show that early exposure to emotional abuse, neglect, or other adverse childhood experiences shape the development of young brains and bodies differently than those of children raised in healthy and well-resourced households. 

Recognizing the impact of trauma is a large and sometimes arduous first step in the journey toward helping children find health, and it necessitates its own training. (For more info on adding that to your school’s professional development, contact us.) As teachers and community members, we can – and should – offer empathy and support to these young people. 

We can use our roles as leaders to offer students something beyond sentiment and referrals (both of which are critically important). We can offer them learning spaces that emphasize autonomy.  We can teach them tools for self-regulation, and we can help them acknowledge the messages that the body sends to the brain in an attempt to protect it from future harm. 

Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW, who has worked with teachers and in numerous school systems throughout her career has found several elements to be helpful for the personal and professional development of our society’s nurturers.  

Don’t take it personally. It sometimes may seem as if a student is deliberately testing your boundaries – and she/he might be!  But this is crucial in his/her ability to build trust in you as a caretaker.  It’s possible to be loving and firm at the same time, and the best way to do that is to remember that this has nothing to do with you as a person or as a qualified educator. Testing boundaries is typical behavior for students, especially from those who have experienced inconsistency with the adults in their lives. If you focus on the student-teacher relationship, learning will happen. In clinical language, we’re focusing on healing the disrupted attachment the child has experienced with caregivers.  Once the child knows you can be trusted the ABCs and 1-2-3s will fall into place.  

Prepare the container. The brains and bodies of individuals who experience trauma work differently than those who are more accustomed to healthy environments. A traumatized brain signals more quickly and more often that it is in potential danger.  This is the body’s way of keeping the person safe. This is helpful when there is an actual threat; however, the body reacts even in non threatening situations when there is only perceived danger.  Among other behaviors, this presents as test anxiety, acting out, shutting down, and hyperactivity in the classroom.  There are several simple mindfulness-based interventions available to assist children (and adults!) in returning the learning center of the brain to full functionality.

Self-regulation is key. Biologically, we’re wired to follow the energetic and emotional lead of those around us. We’ve all had non-classroom examples of situations where we can sense a person’s anger and feel our own physical reaction to it: perhaps listening to a patron berate an apologetic waitress or walking into a room where a couple has just had an argument. Our own throats go dry and hearts beat a bit stronger, right?  We are, as Brene Brown teaches, creatures wired for connection.  Young people are especially sensitive to the emotions of those around them.  Interacting with individuals who have experienced trauma requires calm and centered responses.  As a leader, your work is to be aware of your triggers so you can respond to challenges instead of react out of habit.  Simple mindfulness exercises, when practiced outside of challenging situations, are more easily accessible in times of stress.  When you do become emotionally activated, knowing what helps bring you back to a place of centeredness is essential to maintain your own self-regulation. 

Mind Body Health Associates Logo

Contact Us

Boundaries: From swaddling to schooling, they find comfort in consistency

Boundaries: From swaddling to schooling, they find comfort in consistency

Boundaries: From swaddling to schooling, they find comfort in consistency

Early in the parenting journey we experience just how important structure can be to a new baby: for some infants, the act of swaddling brings a visible relaxation response. Every family has its own lore about the baby who needed the snug safety of a car seat or would only slumber while in the arms of a loving parent.

Children press into these boundaries, and by encountering a loving pressure, they find safety and ease of their surroundings. They relax enough to finally sleep.

While children eventually outgrow their need for a swaddle blanket, they maintain an inner (and even exterior) craving to know their boundaries. They push against the structures we provide to test their durability, and, perhaps, test the durability of those who put the structures in place. Children don’t make it personal, but much like testing the ice before stepping upon it and trusting it with your life, they want to know that the people, places, and rhythms in which they’re trusting themselves will be able to bear the weight. This is human nature, a wiring of the brain meant to protect individuals.\

Landon Dunn, LISW-S, LICDC, says, “all disappointment is unmet expectations.” Whether or not you’ve intentionally built rhythms into the spaces of your time and home, children naturally have expectations of consistency. When life becomes inconsistent children feel disappointed and unsure of the future, and that often comes out in their behavior.

Looking at structure through the eyes of a developing child, you see that structure is a safety mechanism, the psyche’s way of protecting the whole child. We, as parents, typically see a reaction against a boundary as negative because of the behavior children use to express their opinion.  However, we also know that when boundaries crumble, the child internally absorbs that experience as instability and will have difficulty trusting the boundary (and the parent!) in the future.

Something as simple as a bedtime routine helps build the trust associated with keeping consistent boundaries and expectations. By building a routine of bathtime, story, snuggles, and bed, a child knows what to expect each evening. This calms a child’s sense of wondering, “what’s next?” and builds a sense of trust in you.

As children grow, boundaries shift – bedtimes extend later, structure around the day gets looser.  These changes can come about with relative calm and ease as the trust that built over time through consistent and stable boundaries gives children confidence they can return to the safety of their home and family.

Boundaries are a way of teaching children: You can trust me. You can count on me. I’ll do what I say, and when you need something, you can expect me to support you.