Healthy Teachers Make Healthy Classrooms

Responsive Classroom Consulting Teachers Joe Tilley, Luke Mason, Jenny Spero, and Ramona McCullough, and Professional Development Designer Michelle Gill weigh in on the importance of self-care.


Healthy Teachers Make Healthy Classrooms

You already know that social and emotional well-being are vital to student success, but with lesson planning, grading, and the day-to-day bustle of the classroom—not to mention handling any unexpected crises that crop-up—teachers too often let their own well-being fall by the wayside.

“[Self-care] transformed me from a tired person who was always nursing a sinus infection into one who treated myself and my students like humans who deserved to feel joy,” Michelle Gill, RC Professional Development Designer and former elementary teacher, remembers. “I was more mentally present at school and able to build better relationships with my students.”

Make Self-Care a Priority

Long-term stress can impact your physical and mental health—affecting everything from sleep cycles to the immune system—and can eventually lead to burnout. Self-care means routinely prioritizing your health and well-being, rather than waiting until you reach a breaking point.

“My morning exercise routine is something that really helped me to enter each day in a positive headspace. When the stress of the school year hit, the physical outlet really helped me to think critically and rationally about the challenges I was facing.” Jenny Spero, RC Consulting Teacher and former elementary teacher.

Building new habits can seem overwhelming, but you don’t need to make drastic changes to see an impact. “It might be taking a walk, shopping, reading a magazine,” says Ramona McCullough, RC Consulting Teacher and former elementary teacher, “or anything that doesn’t involve a personal or professional responsibility.”

Individual self-care practices can vary greatly from person to person, but taking care of the basics to create a balanced routine that supports personal and professional growth is important for everyone. In addition to essentials like getting enough sleep, eating well, and staying hydrated, making time and space just for you is crucial.

Just as you make professional development goals each year, make a self-care goal and then work towards it. Add a specific self-care task to your to-do list, write yourself a reminder where you’re sure to see it at work, or share the goal with a colleague for some added accountability.

Personal Self-Care

Clear your mind: It could be formal meditation, or just focusing on deep breathing while you wait for your coffee to brew, but that calm, distraction-free time can reduce stress and give you the distance you need to think about challenges in a new way.

Set Boundaries: Establishing boundaries between your work and home life can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Set aside work-free time each evening, limit what you bring home to high priority tasks, or keep work email off your phone.

Get moving: Whether it’s going for a walk around the school, or training for a 5K on weekends, incorporating exercise into your routine is beneficial to both your physical and mental health. “Having kids at home, I find that exercise is my time to reflect on the day, have me time, and raise endorphin levels,” says Luke Mason, teacher at Randolph Middle School.

Professional Self Care

Practice what you teach: Join in the self-regulation and stress relief techniques you instill in students. “I consistently used the RC practice of Quiet Time every day. That helped me since the day is so packed and full of interaction. I would breathe, read, or just sit quietly along with the students,” says Gill.

Connect with other teachers: “I found a processing buddy at work for those times when I needed to process, but not complain,” says Joe Tilly, RC Consulting Teacher and former Middle School Teacher. Having a support network that understands the unique challenges of teaching is invaluable. Process with a co-worker, ask your mentor for feedback, trade advice on the Responsive Classroom Facebook page, or just get out and socialize with a group of teacher friends.

“You cannot have a healthy classroom with an unhealthy teacher,” says Tilly. There will be challenges and busy days in every classroom, but by actively focusing on self-care before they hit, you’ll be prepared to tackle them head on. Remember, there’s no one right way to do self-care—the key is making your well-being a priority in whatever way best fits into your life.


Learn more about the importance of self-care with:

Teaching Self-Discipline

Building an Academic Community

Tags: self-care

17 Replies to “Healthy Teachers Make Healthy Classrooms”

  • The article “Healthy Teachers Make Healthy Classroom” was very interesting to read. It gives great ideas to young and veteran teachers who may need some creative ways to help them not get overwhelmed of the ongoing responsibilities of being a teacher. I like the ideas suggested in the article. However, I would like to share what I have done as a teacher to improve my self care so I can be successful as well as my scholars in classroom environment. First, I make sure that I am well rested and prepare for my scholars. ( when you are not prepared to teach and without any positive classroom management on a daily basic, this will lead you to seek out self care sooner than you realized.)Secondly, I pray every morning so my inner spirit will be peaceful and joyful towards my scholars. Lastly, I focused my mind solely on positive things that will keep me motivated to create a loving and safe environment for me and my scholars to be successful in and out of the classroom. I love my profession so much that I teach my scholars to focus their mind on positive things, teach them to be joyful and peaceful to one another by respecting one another and showing positive interaction with one another.( We are learning self care at the same time)

  • This article was a good read about teacher professionalism as well as contributing to a positive classroom atmosphere. I do believe that teachers that exude confidence, their students can pick up on that and the teachers’ energy is emulated in their students, so if a teacher is not caring about being in class, or shows interest in their own life, why would the students show interest in that content or classroom. The last points about practice what you preach and make connections is something I have noticed is crucial in keeping a department together and all helping the students succeed. Making connections with other teachers shows the collaboration and passion for the content and then adhering to living healthfully, it only promotes my health classroom that much more.

  • While reading this article I immediately thought of the book study group that I have been working with for the past year. We have been reading and discussing the book “Permission to Feel” by Marc Brackett. This book is a wonderful read, I connected to it as a teacher, a co-worker and a parent. I highly recommend reading it to help put your feelings and the feelings of your students and co-workers in the right order. So often we as teachers put everyone else ahead of us, especially our students. I’ve learned that I need to understand how I am feeling in order to truly understand and help my students.

  • This was an excellent article. To separate myself from my teaching and class obligations, I intend on doing activities where I am not thinking about planning or studying like disc golf or cycling around the city.

  • Please pardon the tardiness of this post. I enjoyed being reminded of the importance of self-care included in the article. In order for us to be effective in the classroom, we must make sure we are taking care of ourselves. This may look different for each of us. My self-care regimen includes hanging out with my boyfriend, going to church, getting my hair, nails and feet done. Doing these things helps me to manage the daily stress that teaching can be.

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