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  • Karen Finnerty

A Healthy Teacher = A Healthy Classroom

Refreshed. Energized. Ready to conquer anything. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being a teacher at the beginning of the school year. But all too quickly, it’s now—November. The days are getting shorter, cooler, and the list of “must-dos” is getting longer. The steady cycle of planning, teaching, and reinventing —the very thing that brought you energy in September— is exhausting. “Ehh, everyone’s job is stressful,” people outside teaching might say. I don’t doubt that, but there is something about putting the needs of 25+ students first every day that may make teachers less likely than others to take a step back and ask, “Am I OK?”

It’s time to stop just hanging in till the winter break. It’s not good for students and it’s not good for us. Following are seven tried-and-true tips that allow you to be your best teaching self.

1. Get Outside! Whether it’s for five minutes or an hour, make time each day to breathe in the fresh air and soak up the sunlight that our bodies crave. The exposure to sunlight boosts our Vitamin D production and the great outdoors is a needed counterpoint to the ho-hum light and air in many school buildings. Taking your class out for even the briefest of assignments boosts students’ creativity and energy, too.

2. Hydrate! Aim to drink water throughout the day. Being well hydrated boosts mental and physical energy and improves concentration. I find it’s easier to take frequent sips now that there are so many great stainless steel water bottles on the market that keep drinks icy day and night. Set a goal to finish a full water bottle, and improvise additions like cucumber. lemon, mint if plain water doesn’t float your boat.

3. Laugh Often! Laughter truly is the best medicine. It reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. It also triggers a release of endorphins—those same euphoria chemicals responsible for runner’s high. So, find someone on your grade level or who has a similar sense of humor and get in the habit of lightening up. When you peer coach in each other’s classrooms, it often leads to lots of laughs.

4. Disconnect! We are in an age of instant response and communication. Ironically, research articles are piling up in our in-boxes and social media feeds about the stressful side effects of all this info grazing and connectivity. So, unplug. Each day. For as long as you can. Turn the sound off your phone so you are less likely to

immediately respond to texts, calls, and emails. Set a definite time in the evening when you stop responding to emails or texts, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Leave your phone inside when you go out for a walk. Disconnect from the world around you. It will still be waiting when you return.

5. Breathe Deeply! Take a long, deep breath to the count of ten. Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Close your eyes and do it again. Feel your body relax as you breathe out. Taking these deep breaths tells your brain to calm down. Take a few deep breaths before your students come into the classroom in the morning. Take a few more before you pick them up for lunch. A few moments of deep breathing can relieve stress in the moment and over time. Breathe in. Breathe out.

6. Sleep! We all know how important sleep is, but we don’t all get enough of it. Sleep plays a huge role in our overall health, and is conducive to a better mood, stronger memory, increased creativity, as well as improved cognition and attention. So aim to increase your daily sleep. Start small and try to get to bed 15 or 20 minutes earlier than usual. Build in more sleep over time. We all need seven to eight hours a night.

7. Get moving! Exercise isn’t just about being fit; it’s the best stress buster around. You don’t have to go out and train for a marathon to reap the benefits. Simply going for a walk for a half hour can give you the exercise you need to improve your life as a teacher. Grab a few friends and set a date and time. Get a few of your colleagues together and get some movement in during lunch. No matter how you decide to do it, get your body moving every day.

At a time of year when our lives seem to be full of high stress moments, these simple things can help you to regain joy in your teaching and your life outside of school. Make yourself a priority. A healthy teacher leads to a healthy classroom.

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