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.
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.
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: