Teachers are very giving people. I read an article the other day that said educators have the most unpaid overtime of any job in the world. And it’s true: We get here at 6:30 in the morning, and most of us leave at 6:30 in the evening. We give so much of ourselves to our students.
Everything we do in schools is aimed at benefitting students, but honestly, if teachers can’t be their best selves, be healthy, and practice self-care, then we can’t expect them to be the best teachers they can be. As we move into the stressful period before testing and the end of the year, I always tell them to remember the safety demonstration that flight attendants do on airplanes: If something goes wrong, you put your own oxygen mask on first, and then put it on your children.
4 ways to boost teacher self-care
1. Word of the Year
At the beginning of the year, we took our teachers through a process of picking one word that they wanted to focus on throughout the year. A lot of teachers choose “balance.” My word was “enjoy,” because I feel like I’m always jumping around 90 miles an hour and living six months ahead, and I really do want to slow down and just be present in the moment more.
Every week we do an activity around these words, and my teachers journal about it. We gave them a journal that they could decorate, and every week we give them a prompt to write about based on one of the 7 Mindsets. Then we come together and share out about their word, what it means to them, and how they’re doing. This way, they’re learning the same sort of social-emotional skills that they’re teaching their students.
2. Zen Den
This year we added a Zen Den into our school. Both of my counselors have gotten certified in restorative yoga, and once or twice a week in the afternoons, we have yoga sessions for 15 teachers at a time. We don’t want them giving up their lunch or staying after school to do it, so sometimes we’ll get three or four subs for a day and we’ll rotate. Teachers can sign up to take a 40-minute session during a time that’s not their planning period. The Zen Den has been wonderful for our teachers because they take the practices they learn there back to their classroom, and they’ll do some of the breathing exercises with their kids.
3. Just Breathe
We talk a lot about just stopping for a few minutes every day to breathe. We show teachers the 4-7-8 breathing technique, where you breathe in for four seconds, hold it for seven seconds, and then breathe out for eight seconds.
There’s another exercise where you hold your hand out and then, starting with the base of your thumb, you outline your whole hand with your index finger, breathing in the whole time. And then you breathe out while outlining your whole hand again. We often start our faculty meetings this way, and teachers use it in their classrooms, too.
4. The Cart of Awesomeness
I found a grocery cart on the side of the road. We spray painted it and put pom-poms and lights all over it. We got a sign made that says “The Cart of Awesomeness,” and whenever I feel like the mood is getting heavy or teachers are getting tired, I’ll wheel the Cart of Awesomeness around the classrooms. I fill it with silly stuff, like fuzzy socks and hand soaps.
I roll the cart into the classroom and say to the kids, “Hey guys, it’s the Cart of Awesomeness! I know you guys are doing some heavy learning, but I need Mrs. Jones for a minute because she deserves a treat.”
The other day, I went to the store and bought granola bars and all kinds of healthy snacks. When I got back to school the teachers said, “Are you kidding me?!” They sent me back to the store to get Little Debbies, Oatmeal Crème Pies, and Mallomars. They loved them.
On hot days, I’ll fill the Cart of Awesomeness with nothing but Le Croix and Coke and Dr. Pepper. I get the glass bottles because it’s more fun to drink a Coke out of a glass bottle.
Loving on your teachers in front of the students is so important. Whenever kids see us come around with treats, they say, “Ooh, I want one.” And I’ll tell them, “Well, if you go to school, graduate from college, then get your teaching degree, come back and I’ll hire you. And then you can get one, too, because you’ll be a rock star like Mrs. Jones.”