In my classroom we share gratitudes every Thursday as our Green Zone activity. Gratitude is a way to get us focusing on the goodness around us. Often I give my students prompts to get them thinking about different aspects of their lives, so they don’t end up saying or writing the same thing each week. Thankful Thursday is one way I try to model a healthy mindset and an attitude of gratitude for them. I think it’s so important to model strategies that are proven to create happiness and well-being.
What are we modeling?
Young people are perceptive. They can tell when we’re tired or stressed out because we’re impatient, easily frustrated, and short-tempered. I’d argue that no matter how hard we try to put on a game face in the classroom, our emotional state can’t be completely hidden from those around us. C.S. Lewis wrote, “praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.” This embodies the idea that when we are in a healthy state of mind, we’re more likely to give praise and be more effective teachers. Just like the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today teaches, when our buckets are full, we are more likely to fill others’ buckets. Making sure our vessel is filled is the difference between hope and fear, gratitude and complaining, praise and criticism, growth mindset and fixed mindset.
Basketball coach John Wooden said, “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating.” The idea that how we live our lives is more powerful than any perfectly planned learning activity is the reason it’s time for teachers to stop feeling guilty about self-care. This feeling that somehow we’re doing something wrong when we put our own needs in front of the needs of others is a learned behavior that many of us perpetuate. We may be the only example of healthy stress management and emotional intelligence in a young person’s life. Therefore, it’s time to reframe our thinking: self-care is not selfish, it’s our responsibility.
Self-care is the key to keeping our vessel filled. It’s critical, not only for ourselves but for our students and children as well. We are their role models, and It’s time we start walking the walk and not just talking the talk.
Prioritizing our own needs can be done with a few steps.
- Reflect. What needs are not being met?
- Plan. How can you shift your habits and routines to make sure those needs are met?
- Act. Put the plan into action and enjoy the results.
Reflect on what will improve your quality of life. Here are a few places to start:
- Adequate sleep– We all know the importance of adequate sleep, yet somehow sleep gets the lowest ranking on the priority list. Making sleep optional is a self-care no-no.
- Nutrition– Healthy eating may be time consuming, but the pay-off is more energy and a better outlook. Science says, “eat healthy.”
- Exercise– Moving more is a great way to relieve stress and reduce chronic pain.
- Gratitude– There are studies that have proven that practicing daily gratitude can create new neural connections that will produce a more positive outlook. (Check out: )
- Belonging– A feeling of belonging leads to greater happiness. So make time for getting together with friends, or join a team or organization that shares your values and vision.
Once you’ve identified the needs that you’ve been neglecting, make a plan to get those needs met. This might require some creative thinking, but as the saying goes, “we have time for what we make time for.” Think carefully about your routines. Make adjustments so that your self-care priorities are scheduled first and the other things get scheduled around them. Try fitting in a 20 minute walk a couple of days a week during lunch or at your child’s soccer practice. It’s okay to say no to volunteering at the concession stand in order to free up time to get together with friends or get a massage. No caffeine after 2pm so you can get to sleep earlier. At the end of each work day, take 3 minutes to write down a gratitude or an accomplishment from the day.
Now that you have a plan, write down your new schedule and stick to it. Remember, “you have time for what you make time for.” And by taking care of your own needs, you will increase your capacity to meet the needs of others. You will be modeling healthy self-care for those around you.
After you’ve followed your plan for a month or so, it’s time to reflect again. What changes have you been successful at implementing? What changes have proven difficult to follow through on? (Planning for obstacles is the best way to overcome them.) Do you feel an improvement in your mood and state of mind? Have the feelings of guilt about caring for your own needs quietted?
If you are like me, you will find that once you begin making small changes in your daily routines, you will feel empowered to make even greater changes. Like I always say, “you have the power to change your world.” I don’t say it because it sounds uplifting, I say it because I know it’s true. And if I can change my world, you can change yours too.