What about educator wellness?
As thousands of schools begin to physically reopen, much has been said about the hoped-for positive effects on the mental health and well-being of our youth. But what about the educators who are preparing to close the school year in a different, but still chaotic, environment from the one in 2020?
You may be familiar with the ACES study- which resulted in a tool to assess Adverse Childhood Experiences in our schools and community. Two books on the subject, The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke Harris (affiliate link) and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, both address the science behind the ACES, as well as some ideas to move forward.
Here are ways to consider implementing these protective measures for educator wellness in both your personal and professional life:
A common theme is that no one seems to get enough of it – adults or teens. And sleep is foundational to educator wellness. If you are having trouble falling asleep, create habits that support winding down for 30-45 minutes before you are trying to actually fall asleep. If you are feeling you don’t have enough hours in the day, try writing down what you are doing for a full day and see if you can “find” some time.
Are you doing things a family member could do instead? Are you scrolling social media to avoid grading? Are you spending a lot of time on something that has little positive impact? Also be sure to discuss options with your doctor, like melatonin (which, as a bonus, helps decrease the severity of COVID symptoms, per my physician).
For a month this semester, I taught 7 periods straight on Monday and Tuesdays. It greatly increased my empathy for my full-time teacher colleagues, and it has taught me to be thoughtful about what I choose to eat at 10:02 and 11:37. Think about high-protein, lower carb foods that won’t leave your hands sticky as you answer emails in between bites. Spiced nuts and trail mixes are a solid choice, or air-popped popcorn with olive oil and some flavored salt. Try a thermal mug to keep your tea or coffee warm for longer.
After an early quarantine period of sluggishness, I have committed to an early morning workout most days of the week. If the weather permits, I walk. Otherwise I do some sort of YouTube or other online fitness class. But if you are not a morning person, then workout at night. Or on your prep period. Choose something you enjoy – or at least see the benefits from – walking, running, hiking, cycling, swimming, weight-lifting, yoga, dance. And start small. Commit to 30 minutes 3 times a week and build from there.
4: Healthy Relationships
Depending on your quarantine living environment, you may be choosing to work in your empty classroom or office to preserve your sanity. Or maybe you live alone and use your walk around the neighborhood to stay connected with others nearby. Consider a phone call – not a Zoom – to catch up with friends to fill your heart, and give your eyes a break. After a year of remote relationships, think critically about how your email, text, and chat messages reflect on you and aim for clear, concise communication on all platforms to avoid unwanted miscommunications and crossed wires. Maintaining positive, healthy relationships can go a long way toward supporting educator wellness.
5: Mental Health
If you already live with a mental health diagnosis, then you are hopefully finding tools to support your coping skills. Telehealth works well for some, and not for others. If you don’t live with a diagnosis, but are instead struggling with pandemic-induced anxiety or quarantine-fueled depression, you also need coping skills. And not all coping skills come in prescription bottles. In fact, all of the four items above can help you manage your mental health during this year-long marathon of stressors.
I saved the best for last. I know that there is a lot (did I say a LOT?) of skepticism around mindfulness. And while I do believe that meditation has a place in supporting well-being, I also recognize that it is not for everyone. So if you are one to accidentally snicker during a meditation – or you’ve been asked to leave a yoga class – then focus on the mindfulness, not the meditation.
Anything and everything you do in your life can be done mindfully. The mundane, like washing dishes, chopping onions, or mowing the lawn can often be done better if you simply focus on the task at hand. Or the near-constant pandemic activity of hand-washing: pay full attention to the temperature of the water, the scent of the soap, the texture of the towel. And if you practice this mindfulness in your daily life, you will be mindful of more special moments – like the peace you find at the top of a mountain, or the joy you find in hugging hello to good friends before celebrating a year’s worth of milestones with good food and drinks.
What methods are you using to support educator wellness? Tag me on Instagram with your ideas.