Beginning school, especially returning in person, held a lot of emotions for teachers worldwide. Now well into October with parent-teacher conferences around the corner, we are finding our rhythm for the dance of this unique school year. I personally am finding that the self-care and mental health principles I once learned through reading Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist and Rising Strong by Brene Brown are incredibly important as a daily practice. Simply put, if I am to be a good teacher and school leader this year, I must first take care of myself. We have a big, important job to do, and as I’ve written about before, I’m ignoring the negativity and leaning into all the good things.
Read on to find a list of my favorites classroom comforts and self-care routines. These small practices are making all the difference in my energy and positivity this year.
1. Soft Masks
Not all masks are created equal. I have quickly found that the mask I can use to run into the store for 30 minutes will not work for teaching and speaking all day. Bamboo cotton masks are amazing because they are eco friendly and incredibly soft. I can speak and breathe better than the other cheap material I was using before. Think of it like bed sheets for your face. Would you rather pay 5 dollars for another bed in the bag scratchy fabric, or are you willing to pay 16 dollars for a luxurious high thread count? Traveleisure makes a few different sizes and colors and sells them on amazon. They have adjustable ear straps which have saved me from the mask headaches I use to get. These masks also have the perfect shape. I can talk all day without fighting the mask from falling down under my nose or riding up my chin.
2. Teacher Style
With my smile covered, I’ve been looking for more ways to spread cheer to the children. I wanted clothes that would easily break down barriers and help build trust. Most days I’ve been rocking my teacher-themed Tshirts. While originally intended to encourage the kids, I’m finding my morning routines are simpler and my workdays feel comfy and free. Paired with some “dressy” joggers, skirts, or my favorite colored jeans, these Tshirts are a bright spot while teaching in a pandemic. Click on the images to find where you can purchase these comfy, fun shirts.
3. Lunchtime Lap
Fresh air in nature immediately melts my stress away and elevates my mood. While my indoor classroom plants do help, I still find I need a moment to take my mask off outside, breathe in the fresh air, and feel the sun on my face. No longer do I eat my lunch over my computer checking my email. Teaching in a pandemic is very stressful and we need to actively take care of our mental health. Each day, sometimes before I even eat, I take a lunchtime lap. Thankful my school is located in a beautiful community where I can walk the neighborhood streets. Often times though, I stay on school grounds and just do a lap around the building. This takes less than 10 minutes giving me time to eat afterward and sometimes even enough time to answer high priority emails. Starting with my lap ensures that I choose my own well being first. The lap helps me to decompress, reset my mind and spirit, and ultimately makes me more productive for the afternoon. Where could you take your lunchtime lap? I encourage you to find a path to escape, even if you have to walk through the parking lot and find joy in the clouds.
4. Local Favorites
Occasionally I have a very special day when needs are lower in the building and my lunchtime lap turns into a walk to my favorite homegrown restaurants. Teachers are constant caretakers. As an Instructional Coach, I feel this even more for the kids and the adults in my building. Sometimes I need to step away from the building and treat myself to a healthy lunch I didn’t have to prepare for myself. At times a beloved colleague joins me and we can eat as friends in the outdoor cafe setting, encouraging each other and building each other up for the days and weeks ahead.
5. Drink More Water
Water if life! I write about it often because I cannot stress it enough. With masks on breathing is more shallow. Taking a break to breathe and drink big gulps of water helps your body to flush out toxins. It also hydrates you giving you the energy you need. Drinking more water also helps your body realize the different between hunger and thirst. If you are desperate for snacks, it could be that you just need some water.
So many teachers claim they cannot drink during the day because we don’t have the luxury to leave our students and pee anytime we want. Here are my three pieces of advice.
1. Stop sipping slowly all day and learn to gulp. Literally, add this to your daily schedule. If you know, your students have music class in 30 minutes, stop and gulp down a big portion of your water. I try to drink 1/8th of a gallon by mid-morning and 1/4 of a gallon by lunch. If you schedule your water intake near your breaks, those trips to the bathroom with really count.
2. Make a pact with a nearby colleague who also wants to drink more water. Ask them to peek in on your class for a minute while you run off to the restroom. We all should be able to have each other’s backs in this. At the end of the day, it’s not worth the bladder infection. We are human beings and deserve to drink water and use the restroom.
3. Buy a good water bottle. Yetis are my favorite because I don’t like to drink out of plastic and they are so durable. I have the 64oz, half gallon Rambler. The money was worth it to me because I’ve spent that and more on less expensive water bottles in the past that didn’t hold up to my wear and tear. Sometimes you can find these gems at TJMax or Homegoods for half the price! My teacher friends are going bananas over these motivational water bottles. The straw is nice to slip under a mask, the colors are cheery and make it easy to find around the classroom, and the messages on the side encourage you to keep drinking.
Jonathan and I love these Eco-friendly, BPA free gallons to fill up for road trip water refills. I also keep these stocked in my classroom with reverse osmosis water, so I can always trust the water I am consuming at school.
6. Books for Mental Health
I’m finding a theme in my read-aloud choices this year. Yes, I want books that create good discussions, but I also want books that promote self-care, as well as make the students laugh. I want to infuse delight into our student’s lives whenever I can. My favorite read aloud, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is written by award-winning author Peter Brown. He has written the incredible young adult novel The Wild Robot and Illustrated the comedy/thriller Creepy Carrots. My Tiger Goes Wild is a favorite of mine this year for many reasons. 1st, because it makes my students laugh when Mr. Tiger is desperate to “go wild” in his community and take off his clothes. In the end, the students realize he is a tiger, and he needs to choose what makes him feel happy and free, but also needs to find ways to be respectful to his community. We talk about how it’s difficult but important to wear masks and stay in our designated areas in school. We recognize all the energy this takes and how we need to find safe and respectful ways to “go wild”. With this one special book, Peter Brown gets us all giggling and teaches us the importance of self-care and advocating for our self-regulation needs.
If you are an educator, I wish you a year where you first take care of yourself so you can then take care of your students. If you know or love an educator, consider sending them a note of encouragement or a teacher gift at random, just so they know they are supported.
I will keep posting about teaching life and of course books and healthy food on social media. Follow me on Instagram @GreenGurneys or like our Green Gurneys Facebook page for more education thoughts and good book recommendations.
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If you’d like to read more about that first week back, see my post titled, Our First Week Back to School: A Journey Through OZ.