Do you ever get to the end of the day and feel like you have barely had a moment to draw breath? Our classrooms are often busy places; lots of people, lots of things to do, lots going on. It can be noisy and distracting. All of this can be a great recipe for creating more stress than we need unless we actively keep working on our self-care throughout the day.
Here are 10 ways to practice self-care throughout a school day. Treat this like a smorgasbord, I hope there is something for everyone here, and that you can take on what will fit for you.
1. Your breath is a superpower so take a couple of mindful breaths every now and then. Breathing deep into our belly and out slowly can calm our busy minds. You might take some beautiful deep breaths before the day starts, and perhaps as you enter the classroom after each break. Before you respond to a request, pause and breathe first. This will reduce your stress as you minimise the demand to react to everything that is happening immediately.
** involve your students: practice breathing deeply and slowly together, learn breathing techniques to find the ones that work best for them
2. Be curious. When things feel a little chaotic or don’t go as well as we planned, when we are presented with challenging behaviour or when things get stressful, we can fall into the trap of reacting to the out of control feeling we are experiencing instead of responding intelligently to the situation. One way to flick the switch is to tune into curiosity. Get curious about what we are experiencing internally and what is happening in the situation we are facing. Curiosity leads us away from judgement and condemnation and towards compassion and connection which is less stressful for all concerned.
3. Get out of your seat regularly. Sitting for long periods of time isn’t healthy for our body or brain. When we move we can release muscle tension and reduce the impact of stressful hormones. When your class is playing a game or doing PE, feel free to get involved and join in with them
** involve your students: stretch and move with your class, it’ll be great for their learning too… maybe a small dance party every now and then to really shift the energy
4. Get outside. Outside we can breathe fresh air (usually) and feel the weather on our skin which helps bring us back to the here and now rather than being caught up in anxiety over the stressful events going on around us. This may also be an opportunity to connect with nature in some way; you may hear the bird song, you might notice the trees, you could take your shoes off and walk in the grass… vitamin N is good for the soul.
** involve your students: if the weather is appropriate go outside and read a book, or read together, have a walk, play a game, create art
5. HALT- meet your basic needs. You are more likely to get stressed if you are Hungry,
Angry (due to unmet needs or a sense of injustice), Lonely, or Tired. Please give yourself permission to eat your lunch slowly enough that you can enjoy your food, you will feel more nourished. Drink regularly, water is a great choice. If you have a sense of injustice then assess the situation, is it something you can change or something you need to accept? If you can change it, do what you can when you can, and in the meantime do what you can to shift the negative energy too. Loneliness is a signal that you need connection. Perhaps this is a time to do something like singing as a group, or playing a collaborative game as a class to increase connection or help an individual. You might talk to a colleague or make sure you get to the staffroom. If you are tired then make sure you meet your other basic needs. Pace yourself throughout the day. If you can, even closing your eyes for a few minutes at a break might help.
6. Use routines to minimise decision fatigue. The time spent setting routines really does pay off hugely in reducing the thinking that you need to do throughout the day. It means you don’t have to give so many instructions, you can also turn to a routine when faced with something out of the ordinary so the class can continue even if you are otherwise occupied. Having routines for yourself helps too!
** involve your students: teach them routines and encourage them to take responsibility so you can focus on other things
7. Organise your paperwork and resources. Not being able to put your hands on the things you need when you need them adds unnecessary stress to the day, and this is something we can take responsibility for. Setting aside the time to organise your stuff is worth the effort.
** involve your students: ask them for advice about organising classroom resources, and teach them to put things back where they belong… everything has a place and a place for everything.
8. Start the day well. You know what you need to get yourself ready for the day, there will be tasks that are routine for you so you don’t need to think about them, you just do them. If you can have a few minutes in your classroom on your own just to breathe and mentally prepare yourself for the day ahead it can be really helpful, this is a great way to put your imagination to work for you. You might choose a positive word/quality to focus on for the day e.g. joy, chuckle, curiosity, freedom; look out for the word/quality popping up in the day. You could choose a quote or whakatauki instead.
** involve your students: share your vision for the day with your students, encourage them to choose a positive word/quality/quote to focus on
9. Focus on gratitude. Set yourself a goal of looking for things to be grateful for throughout your day. Express your thanks for the little things as the day goes by, say thank you to colleagues and students, look in a mirror and thank yourself too.
** involve your students: get everyone focused on the gratitude game, encourage thanking each other, noticing the little things that we do for each other
10. End the day well. Give yourself a few minutes to put things away and set up enough for the next day, make sure everything is put back where it belongs. Take a few more minutes to pause and reflect on the day. Tony Ryan suggests that write down a few things that went well and one thing that you would do differently if you were to do it again. You might jot down a couple of tasks that you need to do in the morning so you don’t have to do the thinking the next day. Once this becomes a routine it will be a simple way to wrap up your day.
** involve your students: make sure that the tidy up routine at the end of the day is clear for your students, and encourage them to reflect on how things have gone throughout the day too
BONUS TIP (because I don’t do well with colouring in the lines) Smile and allow yourself to enjoy. I love Haim G Ginott’s quote below, in fact I have had this in the front of my teacher planner for a number of years to remind me that how I show up makes a difference. If we look genuinely happy to see our students, allow ourselves to enjoy things when they are going well, smile at different times throughout the day, we will influence the environment we are working in.
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
Teaching is a complex job that requires a lot of energy. Our energy is a finite resource and each day’s reserves will be quickly used up if we are over-stretched. Emotions are also contagious so if we are stressed then that can infect the energy of our classroom, our stress can amp up the stress in our students which then amps up our stress again. It can be a vicious cycle. The good news is with awareness we can put in a circuit breaker.
If you can reduce daily stressors, using some of the strategies I have suggested here perhaps, it will support your ability to manage your own stress levels and enable you to cope with the challenges that pop up better as well. It is worth the effort.
Megan has been a teacher for 30 years (sounds like ages) and completed her masters research focusing on teacher wellbeing in 2017. She is a professional coach, speaker and PLD facilitator who is passionate about student agency, health and wellbeing for all in schools, curriculum design, and teaching and learning with the heart and brain in mind.
For more information please visit my website: https://www.meggallagher.nz/