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

15 Replies to “Healthy Teachers Make Healthy Classrooms”

  • Good afternoon my name is Oscar Wingfield, a special educator through and through. Self-care should be of the utmost importance when one is trusted with the cultivation of young minds (a teacher). I indulge heavily in self-care and knowing and where I am psychologically day to day. Teachers should monitor their mood, temper, and well-being to be truly effective.
    During the semester I plan to work hard and match the hard work with relaxation recharging my battery to be productive. Juggling school work and home life can be a daunting task; I have found a number of ways to find balance. I like to self-reward my efforts with an adult beverage after work, school and home chores are complete. Another way I cope with the stressors of a busy life is to watch as much football as possibly on Sunday. There was a personal situation I encountered where I had to reach deep and explore some of the experience I have acquired; this was when I witnessed a regular education student bullying one of my special needs students. I was dealing with a tragedy in my life and other stressors which made me vulnerable. I am a well-rounded individual in being so, I was aware of how I was felling and alerted another staff member to yield the situation because I was not equipped to intervene myself. Part of my self-care was knowing my limitations. An educator must always know their limitations to insure they can remain professional and keep molding young minds in the most noble job known to man, special educator.

  • Self care is self preservation. Teachers cannot be at their best unless outlets become routine. A combination of exercise, social activities, and hobbies help balance a person. I agree with Steve that students also reap the benefits of a well rested and well balanced teacher.

  • I’ve been retired only 3 years, but I do not remember any mention of the “Responsive Classroom” concept at any PD. I wonder if it’s more an elementary school practice?

  • We sometimes forget that we are only human and realizing the important things we should do to keep ourselves healthy. Sometimes it is just simple things that can clear our heads and return our thoughts to healthy matters for ourselves. We continually speak to our students about focusing on health but we need to remember ourselves.

  • After the past 2 years of teaching in a hybrid module of in-person and online learning, I have really learned the importance of self-care. I have seen many of my colleagues have to deal with physical and emotional issues that impacted their daily lives. My own self-care became a priority for me as well. Changes were made to my diet, exercise, and sleep routines. I made it a point to put down electronic devices and value personal interactions. This article is a great reminder of why everyone should really value self care routines!

  • I, of course, like the ideas in the article. However, it felt like, once again, people telling me to take care of myself but not really allowing for it to occur. My point is, so much of what we do in our profession is unnecessary busywork, collecting data or whatever, for the people above us to be able to make a point one way or the other. If the people above could consider what we have told them for years, and allow us to focus on what is important (content, kids, building relationships), we would not likely need as many people telling us to “take care” of ourselves.

    That being said, one quote stuck out. ““You cannot have a healthy classroom with an unhealthy teacher,” says Tilly.” This is VERY true. I have been in multiple classrooms, with many teachers, who are unhealthy in various ways. And it changes the climate of the room. Being a special educator, I get to see this as I travel with the same kids from one room to the next and can visibly see the differences in the students as they leave one room and enter another.

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