To that teacher at their breaking point, I see you. I hear you. I understand you. Lately, on social media, I have been noticing an increase of stressed-out posts, frustrations, and uneasiness of the unknown. Many teachers, not just you, are calling out for help. When a teacher reaches out for help… they truly need it! More importantly, when a teacher reaches out for help… they are looking for items or activities to improve their condition, not just an uplifting message! Check out some of these tips and tricks below to start improving our own mental wellness and to avoid that breakdown.
This is the first post of four in this Mindful Teacher series. Check back to continue gaining knowledge and resources about becoming more mindful in our teaching practices.
SELF – CARE TIPS
If you’ve ever flown on a plane before, I know you have heard a flight attendant tell you to put your oxygen mask on first even when you have a child on the plane with you. Adults cannot take care of children unless adults take care of themselves first. The same rules apply from that plane to the classroom.
Self-care is such an important topic, but often gets overlooked. I know personally, I struggle with this SO MUCH! I keep pushing myself and think I can skip going to the gym today because I really have to get to those four emails sitting in my inbox. Or once I get home from school I have to finish that lesson plan for tomorrow and finish that report due at the end of the week. STOP and check out some ideas that could work for you!
Ew! I know I just admitted it and said exercise. Exercise in any form produces endorphins and acts as a stress reliever. You don’t have to train to be a triathlete if you don’t want to be, but a nice walk or jog around the block is a great start!
If you haven’t seen ETTC’s recent “Teaching Trailblazers with Chris from ETTC” episode then check it out! Chris sits down with Carolyn Bryan and they discuss mindfulness activities to implement not only in the classroom, but also in adult’s own lives! These activities and suggestions are a great way to become aware of your own feelings, emotions, and coping mechanisms.
Schedule Breaks during the Day
Check out the following: “25 Breathing Exercises to Calm and Focus Your Students” to use in your classroom. Sometimes all we need is a good couple of deep breaths to calm ourselves down. If you are teaching brick and mortar or in a hybrid model, don’t be afraid to take mask breaks! Take a brain break for our online learners away from their computers and take your class for a brief walk outside to get some fresh air. Take a walk around the recess yard, your body and your students will thank you!
Find your social networks and build your communities! Whether it be in school or outside of school, we as adults need socialization. Try some of the following ideas:
- Virtual Happy Hours
- Yoga Class
- Socially distant Group activities (in person or virtual)
- Group Exercise Class
- Walking groups
- Paint and sip nights
- Create a PLC (Professional Learning Community)
- A workplace PLC could act as a support group. Meeting once a week as a team could allow you an opportunity to discuss topics with like-minded people that may be dealing and feeling the same stress you may be.
- Join online groups like Fearless First Grade Teachers: Education to the Core
TAP INTO YOUR HAPPY SPACE TO RELIEVE STRESS
Return to Your Routine
I am also having an extremely difficult time separating myself from work recently. It was when I found myself answering emails at 9 PM and thought, “What in the world am I doing?!” Make sure to get back in the mindset of a routine and how you typically acted prior to Covid. It is okay to turn off that work mindset, it will still be there tomorrow.
Take Time for Yourself
Similar to self-care, you want to make sure you take time for yourself. Teaching is a stressful occupation, to begin with. With recent changes more and more are falling onto our plates with even fewer resources than before. Make sure you are scheduling that massage, talking to your friends on the phone, spending time with family.
Be Silly & Dance
I know this one may sound silly, but trust me and try it! Close the door, so nobody can see you and blast your favorite tunes. Get silly and DANCE! Dance like nobody’s watching you and have fun! I am sharing some guilty dancing pleasures of mine below…Don’t judge! However, I am not sharing a video of me dancing.
This will take time and is still a work in progress for me. Try to change your mindset to a perspective of what you can control. We have a lot of pet peeves in this world, but how many of them can you truly control? If you cannot control it… don’t let it get to you!
Classroom Strategies to Create Time and Less Stress for You
I am also seeing multiple posts from teachers on social media regarding the increase of job responsibilities, but less time to do them. I hear teachers frustrated because we can’t sit down to enjoy our lunch without having to get up to open milk, clean up spills, or even just have time to go to the bathroom. Here are some tips and tricks to implement to guarantee you can sit and digest your food as well as create instructional opportunities!
Take the time to teach those expectations! We do the same in regards to academics. We teach and we practice. You can do the same for behavioral expectations as well as social-emotional lessons. Get your students in a routine where you don’t have to keep reminding them what comes next. Include a picture routine if you deem it necessary! Start off small and maybe focus just on the lunch routine. You can break it down of how to collect their lunch, how to clean up and what to do immediately after they are finished eating (whether it be a brain break, activity, read a book, 1:1 Center activity).
I also utilize the “I Do, We Do, You Do” approach within my teaching. Another option is sometimes we need to take a step back and teach the basics. We want our students to become as independent as possible when it comes to self-help skills. Things like opening up a milk carton can seem quick and easy for us as adults (sometimes they can still get you!). Include lessons on how to open up a milk carton, step by step, with lots of practice!
Student Helpers Tips
Students love it when you give them special jobs. Of course, some of our job ideas may not be suitable for the recent restrictions of Covid, but you can get creative! Some socially distant jobs may include setting up a “cafeteria” section in your classroom where a student can make sure the container of spoons, forks, and straws are full. Or a student can be the janitor for the day and use a small Swiffer after lunch or snack in the classroom?
Instructive Breaks to Help with Stress
ArtHub YouTube Channel
I am obsessed with Art for Kids Hub on YouTube! This channel provides step-by-step tutorials on how to draw a variety of objects. This channel designs each episode with children in mind keeping it very child-friendly and able to be done independently. Each episode typically falls between the 5 to 10-minute duration and ranges from cartoons, characters to Holidays.
My students love it when they get the chance to complete a drawing! I will also typically pair this activity with a writing task after they finish their drawing. I have taught my students to draw first, then write their stories. Once they are finished writing they get to color in their illustration and add the scenery.
Have you ever recorded yourself reading a story? Try it! I began doing this last year for an activity in one of my centers. The students would press play, watch and listen to a story being read by yours truly! The students thought it was hysterical because I was also sitting in the room working with another group, but they were still getting to “work with me”. To make it more fun and engaging, I began to dress up in some old Halloween costumes I had lying around to read certain stories (e.g., dressing up as a dinosaur to read “How to Catch a Dinosaur”).
If dressing up or recording yourself reading a story isn’t your thing, then YouTube has plenty of options for you! Sometimes just doing a simple google search or YouTube search shows some read-aloud options for you. Often there is a video of the author conducting a read-aloud of their own story.
To scaffold and take this one step further, we can add a comprehension piece to this activity. I call it our 4-Square Drawings. A student is instructed to fold a piece of construction paper in half and in half again, so when they open it up you have four squares on the paper. Each square is numbered 1 through 4. In the first square, the students would draw and write the Main Character. Box 2: Setting, Square 3: Key Detail or Main Idea, and Square 4: Favorite Part.
Of course, many of these suggestions come with caveats, regarding Covid and your own district’s rules and expectations. Feel free to adapt to fit your classroom!
Of course, no one has the answers. I cannot even say that things will be over soon. I wish I could say that our “typical” teaching styles and routines will once return to normal. What I can say and do is: What can I do right now to help you cope with this stressful time? Please let me know in the comments below. Check back for the next three blog posts in “The Mindful Teacher”. We will continue on this path by becoming more mindful of our teaching practices. Up next, I will provide you with resources and a list of videos that teach calming techniques! Remember, I see you, I hear you and I understand. Be kind, Be strong, Be You!
Written by: Christopher Olson
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