Professional development comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, it's learning to care for yourself.
Did you know that teaching is one of the most stressful professions, tied with nursing and medicine?1
As you perform critical work for and with young children, you are in a constant state of movement, reactions, and, often, stress. Caring for a full classroom (or school!) is no easy task, especially when resources are low, turnover is high, and challenging behaviors are bound to arise.
You may be well aware that stress can affect your overall health and well-being. But do you know that stress can affect your job performance and could contribute to poor child outcomes?2 A recent study found that elementary school teachers with more stress and more symptoms of depression create classroom environments that do not support learning and lead to poor academic performance and behavior problems.3 Conversely, teachers with higher engagement (less stress) in their jobs predict higher student engagement and achievement outcomes.4,5
Despite everything on your to-do list, self-care is critical to avoid burnout and ensure success for yourself and the children in your care. Practicing mindfulness can help you care for yourself so you can be present and positive for the children. You don't need heaps of time, a yoga mat, or any supplies! You just need yourself, your breath, and more conscious awareness of everyday opportunities to practice mindfulness.
- Balance your breathing. Breathe in for 3-4 seconds, hold for 3-4 seconds, and exhale for 3-4 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. Or, try belly breathing: When you inhale, fill your belly with air until it sticks out of your shirt. Hold for 2-3 seconds and release. Repeat 5-10 times.
- Explore nature. Whether it's taking the children outside for recess or taking a short walk during lunch, spending time outdoors reinvigorates the senses and helps you stay grounded.
- Exercise your senses. Practice awareness of your surroundings using your five senses. Take a moment to notice five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel, two things you smell, and one thing you taste.
- Eat mindfully. If you can, remove all electronic devices from your area while you eat. Eat slowly and taste each bite as you chew it. Notice the texture, flavor, and temperature of each bite.
- Practice gratitude. Pause to acknowledge things that are going well in your day, people who have been kind, and moments you enjoyed.
Professional development in the form of mindfulness and stress management helps you to be more in the moment and less reactive and helps you respond to others with more patience and kindness.6,7,8 Simply put, mindfulness can help you manage your stress and emotions while bringing the joy of learning to life for the children and other adults in your program.
Even better news? You can teach the children these easy mindfulness tips.
Of course, there are loads of other ways you can nurture yourself and bring a better you to the classroom. You can learn tools and strategies to help you build your resilience. Or, you can take online courses or explore free webinars to master routines, transitions, and challenging behaviors. After all, professional development isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.
Laura Bailet, PhD, chief academic officer, Kaplan Early Learning Company has more than 30 years' experience in the field of early childhood. She earned her BA at Wake Forest University and her MA and PhD from Northwestern University. She is a licensed school psychologist and has expertise on a wide range of early childhood topics and learning disorders, including dyslexia and autism. The former Operational VP at Nemours Children's Health System and Assistant Professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, she has published numerous journal articles and book chapters and has been recognized by many award boards. For her accomplishments, Dr. Bailet was selected as the top "Change Agent" in Jacksonville, FL, in 2006 and is the recipient of Jacksonville's prestigious EVE Award for her success in creating Nemours BrightStart!, the program to promote reading success for all children. She is a member of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards Advisory Board.
1 Gallup. 2014. The Path to Winning Again in Education: State of America's Schools. Washington, DC: Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/services/178709/state-america-schools-report.aspx
2 Greenberg, Mark, Joshua L. Brown, and Rachel Abenavoli. 2016. Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students, and Schools. Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. State College, PA: The Pennsylvania State University. http://prevention.psu.edu/uploads/files/rwjf430428.pdf
3 McLean, Leigh, and Carol McDonald Connor. 2015. "Depressive Symptoms in Third-Grade Teachers: Relations to Classroom Quality and Student Achievement." Child Development 86(3): 945-954.
4 Gordon, Gary. 2010. "The Other Outcome: Student Hope, Engagement, Wellbeing." Washington, DC: Gallup. https://my.vanderbilt.edu/performanceincentives/files/2012/10/Panel-5-Gordon_Gary.pdf
5 Gallup. 2009. Student and Teacher Engagement Predictive Study. Unpublished raw data. Omaha, NE: Gallup.
6 Bishop, Scott R., et al. 2004. "Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition." Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 11(3): 230-241.
7 Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 2003. "Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future." Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 10(2): 144-156.
8 Roeser, Robert W. 2014. "The Emergence of Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Educational Settings." Motivational Interventions: Advances in Motivation and Achievement 18: 379-419.