Recharging This Long Weekend

I swore I would not check email this weekend but can't help but share this with all of you.

An academic peer of mine, Dr. Caroline Barratt from the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Essex, UK  created this short program for anyone who is seeking to add some contemplative practices into their lives.

Below is her description.

“Through the use of short meditations, poetry, and other activities she hopes to help educators find some spaciousness and renewal in the midst of everyday busyness.

The program is designed to be followed over three days (perfect for this long weekend). Each day you are invited to take part in three activities at whatever time suits you.

One will be a meditation; one will be reading some poetry and the third will vary depending on the focus of the day. If you were to do all three activities each day they would take you 30-45 minutes.”

I for sure will be taking advantage to invite some contemplative space into my life this weekend. I urge you to do the same.

Teacher on Winter Break: Renew, Reflect, Replenish

The beginning of December. I can feel the heaviness in my step, hear the annoyance in my voice, and see the lack of creativity in my lessons. Welcome to three weeks before winter break. A time when teachers are counting the days left before their schools close for winter recess.

As teachers, we are trained to give.

We give and give, but we seldom take the time to replenish ourselves. 

Throughout my teaching career, I have spoken to many of my colleagues from various walks of life and at different stages in their careers. From those conversations, teachers feel depleted on a regular basis, but they do not take the necessary steps to refill themselves. A fellow teacher in Morristown, NJ school district posed an eye-opening question: "We always talk about that the kids are tired and stressed. But, what about the tired teachers?"

As educators, how could we nurture ourselves so that we have energy to give to our students?  

Since most of us is on a much-deserved winter break, let us take the time to reflect, recharge, and replenish. Here are some tips I received from my colleagues when I asked them ‘As a teacher, how do you take care of yourself?’

1.     Taking a bath: relaxing and detoxifying;

2.     Yoga: depending on a class, could be relaxing or energizing;

3.     Sitting in silence for a while;

4.     Spend time with loved ones [people, animals, or both];

5.     Be at peace: pray, knit, sew, or just read in silence;

6.     A walk in the woods does wonders for one's focus and takes the edge off;

7.     Writing or journaling is beneficial and can be rather cathartic.

8.     Set a few hours this winter break and treat it as a very important meeting-with yourself. Review and reflect on your weekly, monthly and semester-long goals, analyze why some were accomplished and others fell by the wayside. Life got in a way? Make a note to recognize the obstacles next time. Then, set new goals for the upcoming semester and anticipate problems while brainstorming possible solutions to those. 

9.     Take some time to reflect on this semester and then…Toot your own horn. Be proud of what you do in your classroom, and share, share, share! Include the beautiful things you do in your classroom in your emails or that newsletter to parents, community and/or school administration. Do not feel bad for showing off your craft-be proud of it!

10.  Connect with your colleagues- in your school, district, state, region, or worldwide. Participate in a few Twitter chats, attend a #CoffeeEdu session, share resources using #teacherwellbeing, #edchat or any other hashtag that relates to your discipline.

On January 2, I will be back in my classroom. Rested, I hope to find spring in my step, genuine enthusiasm in my voice, and a chock-full of creative ideas ready to be turned into lessons.

What about you? How do you replenish your mental reserves? How do you restore your energy so that you have more to give to your students? Please respond in the comments below, and thank you for reading. 

Teacher Wellbeing - Worth Talking About

September comes about and we teachers start to excitedly set up our classrooms, gather the best, most authentic and meaningful resources, and put together fun and challenging lessons. We always start as full vessels. But. What do we do when those vessels run dry?

As teachers, we are trained to give.

We give and give, but we seldom take the time to replenish ourselves. 

I have spoken to many of my colleagues from various walks of life and at different stages in their careers. From those conversations, it was clear that teachers feel depleted on a regular basis, but they do not take the necessary steps to refill themselves. A teacher in a Morristown, NJ school district poses a question: "We always talk about that the kids are tired and stressed. What about your tired teachers?"

There isn't really anyone to blame for this-that is how American educational system is set up. American teachers spend more time working than their international peers:

 

Albeit U.S. teachers are the most hard working in the world, rarely they have time to sit and think creatively, come up with ideas, or reflect on lessons. Their days are filled with paperwork and meetings. Their professional contributions are oftentimes not valued by society. 

Working long hours depletes energy reserves. When teachers are depleted, how can they give to their students? When teachers are not valued, put down, and ridiculed, how can we then turn around and send them to teach our children? What kind of lesson do you think a teacher that is tired, frustrated, and burned out will deliver? 

As educators, how could we nurture ourselves so that we have energy to give to our students? 
 

I'm afraid, teachers may have to take matters into your own hands. Here are some ways I accumulated over the years to replenish my energy levels.

  1. Taking a bath: relaxing and detoxifying;
  2. Yoga: depending on a class, could be relaxing or energizing;
  3. Sitting in silence for a while;
  4. Be at peace: pray, knit, sew, or just read in silence;
  5. A walk in the woods does wonders for one's focus and takes the edge off;
  6. Writing or journaling is beneficial and can be rather cathartic. I personally like to journal/write blog posts on Friday nights. 
  7. Noisy environments in schools like lunch duty add to mental clutter. If you supervise lunch this year, bring ear plugs. Your brain will be thankful. 
  8. Set aside an hour each week and treat it as a very important meeting-with yourself. Review and reflect on your weekly, monthly and yearly goals, analyze why some were accomplished and others fell by the wayside. Life gets in a way? Make a note to recognize the obstacles next time. Then, set new goals for the upcoming week, anticipate problems while brainstorming possible solutions to those. 
  9. Schedule that time on your calendar and fiercely protect it-it is YOUR time, don't let anyone hijack it. 
  10.  Advocate for yourself: oftentimes as teachers, and, especially, as women, we are afraid to appear difficult, to ruffle feathers, to disagree, to be an inconvenience [speaking from experience]. However, we need to change that paradigm. Start by speaking your mind, advocating for yourself,  getting support from your colleagues, and do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to speak up. 
  11. Toot your own horn. Be proud of what you do in your classroom, and share, share, share! Include the beautiful things you do in your classroom in your emails or that newsletter to parents, community and/or school administration. Do not feel bad for showing off your craft. Showing off what you do with your students will empower you and make you feel valued. 

What about you? How do you replenish your mental reserves? How do you restore your energy so that you have more to give to your students? How do you motivate yourself? Please respond in the comments below, and thank you for reading. 

Back to School Teacher Essentials

It is August - and teachers start thinking about going back to school. Although I love summer, I do miss teaching. Every August I put together a list of things that make my school year easier. 

1. Electric kettle. Place it discreetly in your classroom closet and you can have tea or coffee any time. No need to go into the office or your colleagues' classrooms hunting for something hot. In addition, I usually bring a bunch of tea bags and a can of instant coffee, creamer, and honey. It's worth the $19 you'll spend at Walmart. 

2. A big container of oatmeal, a dish, and a spoon. There will be days when you won't have breakfast. So, boil the water in your kettle (see #1), mix with oatmeal, and your breakfast is ready. Dried cranberries, apricots, or walnuts add sweetness. Remember, hungry teacher=angry teacher.

3. Nail file. Little but irreplaceable. 

4. Headphones or earbuds- good for previewing videos without bothering the other teacher (if you share a classroom), listening to Zen music, and blocking out the noise from lunch duty. 

5. Aromatic oil in a roller bottle-swipe some scented oil on your wrist, you'll instantaneously feel relaxed, or grounded, or creative. Lavender is good for relaxation, ylang ylang for creativity, and lemongrass for clarity.

6. Hand sanitizer. I still have the big bottle from two years ago. Keep it hidden from students, otherwise you never know who is allergic and who has other ideas for it. If you make it for your own use, it will last you a long time. And you can always send kids to wash their hands.

7. Chapstick or lipgloss. There is nothing worse than teaching with dry or even chapped lips. 

8. A extra charger for your phone. There were times when I forgot my charger at home and was expecting an important call at the same time. Having an extra charger in your desk will give you a piece of mind. Besides, you may also help out a poor soul that forgot theirs at home. 

9. A bunch of birthday cards, thank you cards, and blank cards. Sometimes if I hear through a grape vine that it's a fellow teacher's birthday, or if a colleague needs encouragement, or student brings a gift. I like these ones from Amazon- neutral enough but super cute!

10. Aspirin/Ibuprofen/Aleve/Excedrin. We all get headaches at one point or another, don't we? 

What's on your list? Reply in comments, and please share with your colleagues.