Self-Care for Teachers
During professional development trainings, I often ask teachers what they need most to feel successful in their work. While many want higher pay and fewer tests, the greatest response is often, time. Time can be difficult to find a fast paced classroom.
Teachers Need More Time
This need for additional time is even more complicated by the construct of teaching bell to bell. The focus on high quality, expeditious, instruction with strong outcomes is not only time consuming, but it can be exhausting too. The desire for additional time is built on the notion that little of the day is devoted to care for oneself. After all, teaching bell to bell requires that all attention focus on the student.
Shift the Focus to Bell to Bell Learning
The first strategy is to shift the thinking of bell to bell. We most often assume that bell to bell means that we are instructing start to finish. Bell to bell teaching. Instead, think of it as bell to bell learning. This creates an open space for daily routines, independent learning activities, problem-based learning, and purposeful pacing. Bell to bell learning takes the teacher out of the spotlight and puts the students on center stage.
Integrate Mindful Practices Throughout the Day
Second, integrate mindful practices into the day. Mindful practices can include keeping a gratitude journal. At the beginning or end of each day, write down at least three things for which you are thankful. By focusing one of those items on the classroom, you can refocus stress or challenges of work toward more positive intentions. Another mindful strategy can be to set a timer on your smartphone or watch to remind you periodically throughout the day to stop and take a deep breath. An alarm once an hour can be a great tool to refocus your energy and thank yourself for your hard work.
Refocus the Negative to the Positive
It is easy, during a fast-moving day to allow negative thoughts to take over. When a lesson does not go as planned. When an observation did not go well. When a student presents challenging behaviors. When a negative thought moves forward in your mind, refocus that thought to something positive. For example, instead of worrying about an upcoming meeting that you have had little time to plan for, tell yourself that you are lucky to have a strong team of colleagues to help when there is little time. Instead of thinking that the scores on a recent assessment are not up to par, tell yourself that you are grateful that the students will have more opportunities to learn that content or connect to previous learning.
Count to Three Before Making a Decision
In a classroom and school environment that is moving quickly, it is easy to get swept up in the forward motion. It is easy to respond in haste or make a decision too quickly that you may find yourself unsure of. Rather than a prompt response, count to three and ask yourself, is this a good decision for me? It is okay to think of yourself, the impact a decision may have on your time or goals. It is okay to say no, or not right now, or not at this time. It is okay to focus on you.
While our classrooms may move from bell to bell and our lives are often busy from dusk to dawn, there are small moments throughout the day where we can set our intention on positivity, kindness, and gratitude. By making small efforts to refocus our energy and taking small moments to care for ourselves, we will ultimately be better and happier teachers.
Dr. Jenna Sage’s experiences in education have included working as a paraprofessional, substitute teacher, classroom teacher, consultant, trainer, district administrator and program coordinator. She is currently a project manager for a nonprofit healthcare educational institution. She is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Her passion is providing supports and resources to school staff to ensure student success through compassionate and meaningful education. You can read more in her recent publication, Happy Class: The Practical Guide to Classroom Management. Dr. Sage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.