5 Ways Teachers Can Support Workday Wellness While Improving their Practice and the School Culture
1- Become so focused on working, improving, and reaching outside your comfort zone while you are at work that you do not have time to engage in and elevate the gossip and complaining that occurs in many schools. Do this to the extent that your own practices and methods are improved as a teacher within your content area but allow yourself the breaks necessary to keep your focus during work times. One way to seek your own professional development is to engage with other highly effective teachers who you feel have something to offer your perspective and general strategies for teaching. Another approach might be to become highly researched in certain educational technologies or novel methodologies, so you become the person others seek for guidance on the subject matter. There are many different avenues one could take to achieve the goal of continually improving in the profession. Another perspective altering adjustment could be to keep in mind that your lunch and social breaks can beneficially exist as long as there is a positive result for you and your co-workers socially, physically and mentally. If you feel the vibe in the room swaying toward negativity or gossip, take that as your cue to get back to your personally sought-after professional development or to redirect the conversation to one that is more professionally or emotionally edifying.
2- When engaging with new teachers, discuss what their perceived strengths and weaknesses are from their point of view as well as from yours. This could be reserved for the mentor/mentee relationship or for the veteran and new teacher relationship. In this process, calmly and conversationally discuss what could be improved in both of your classrooms, remembering to completely reserve judgment in order to maintain comfort and trust with one another. Remember to also celebrate what has been going well in your respective settings. As these issues are discussed, offer the idea to your colleague of narrowing down your concerns for improvement to one issue. This could be one issue for each of you or one that you commonly share. Then commit to working on this concern for two or three weeks; whatever works for your schedules. Commit to meet again to provide each other with the pros and cons of the efforts you took to improve your concern and discuss from there. This can be a low stakes way of providing some professional development and constructive feedback for both you and your co-worker.
3- When socially interacting with your co-workers, especially those from other content areas or grade levels, incorporate an invitation for them to visit your content area’s setting. For example, with the rise of pickleball’s popularity in recent years, as the physical education teacher, perhaps you invite the teacher you are friendly with to come by the gym or your outside space to learn the game, interact with students in a positive manner, and to obtain the benefit of physical activity during the workday. Additionally, if you feel comfortable, ask if you could take a few minutes to stop by a department meeting to invite a group of teachers at one time to your space. Leave the invitation open as long as they communicate that they will be stopping by so you can ensure their presence will be appropriate for everyone on that particular day.
4- If the time should ever arise when you find yourself ahead of your work (yes, we all know this would be a very rare occasion), and you find yourself in a positive and helpful mood, consider going by another classroom, the custodian’s office, or even your front office and administration offices. While there, see if there is anything you can help with that requires physical movement. By limiting your offer of help only to things that require a physical output of energy you are gaining the benefit of increasing your NEAT time (Non-Exercise Activity Time), which will increase your caloric burn on the day, and will provide both you and the recipient of the help an emotional boost. Small acts of kindness can be mutually beneficial when executed in a manner similar to this. Last but not least, by creating consistent, small opportunities to positively affect the workday of those around you, the school’s culture will be the beneficiary. This kind of positive action might just be the impetus for others to follow in kind.
5- Mindfulness may be a buzzword, but for a good reason. Engaging in mindfulness and/or meditation looks different for everyone. No need to be in a state of “zen” or feel like you’re floating (though some very practiced folks occasionally might), just give yourself the gift of presence. Sit, focus on your breath as an anchor to ground you, and be in the present moment – that’s it! If you’re interested, check out https://insighttimer.com/, a free app that offers guided and unguided meditations, music, and talks. Or, spread the peace by playing a short meditation at the end of your physical education class. The classroom teachers will appreciate calm bodies and minds!