Teachers and Move Mindfully®

You are the intervention.

yoga on the beach

“Teaching is not what it used to be,” says a 40-year veteran teacher. It’s hard to pin point exactly what the changes are or where they are coming from. However, I think most teachers can agree that things are increasingly more… stressful.

Passing other staff in the hallway, an appropriate greeting now consists of a grunt or at best, “It’s Friday.” Conversations in the staff lounge center around the uncertainties and anxiety facing our teaching profession from the greater political cultural climate. While technology and innovation have considerable benefits, the new skills and information we are expected to personally process and then apply to our instruction, has teachers feeling like hamsters on a wheel. Not to mention the data! Teacher performance is being continually monitored and tracked by standardized testing.

As I sit at my back table, administering a reading test, I look up and see the little girl sitting in front of me. Except, I see her-seeing me. Hunched shoulders. Furrowed brows. Clenched jaw. My body communicates what my brain can’t fully comprehend. I am stressed. Much to my surprise and horror… her body language was matching mine. She was mirroring me.

This realization hit me hard. I noticed students all around exhibiting stress signals. Hiding under tables. Making excuses to leave the classroom and wander the halls. Destroying classroom supplies. These behaviors were symptoms of emotional turmoil, and it was standing in the way of students achieving their academic potential.

Now, I know that many of these issues are complex and multilayered. I am by no means blaming teachers for the  dysregulation in the classroom. However, the first step to an emotionally regulated classroom is to be emotionally regulated yourself.  It is imperative that we bring the body into our work.

YOU are the intervention

The good news is, even if your brain is not yet convinced, you can begin with your body.

Here are three tips to get started.

1. Set an intention for yourself and your classroom

Before you get out of bed, think about how you want to show up today. Words like- strong, healthy, at ease, organized, or peaceful. Imagine what it looks like and feels like. Now imagine the one thing that would make your classroom great today. This intention could be, “students working well together in pairs” or “the excitement for a new project.” Visualize and move to the feeling place of these intentions then write them down. I have found that writing an intention down and visualizing the outcome takes less than a minute. However, most days, this fortune actually comes to fruition. A worthy time investment.

2. Take a breathing break

Teachers never stop. Heck, we usually don’t even slow down. I have seen teachers eating their lunch while walking down the hallway! During your prep, your lunch, transitions between classes… intentionally take 5–10 breaths. Inhale for 2 counts and exhale for 4 counts. I even like to close my eyes and bring back my intention from the morning. For an added stress relief, cup your hands and inhale our Move Mindfully® Essential Oil Blend.

3. Unwind your nervous system

Good ol’ fight or flight. Your body doesn’t know if you are running away from a hungry predator or if you are preparing to be observed by your principal. All it knows, is it’s time to send in the stress hormones! Your frontal cortex can’t talk its way out of this response. “Body, I am not being chased by a predator, it’s just my annual observation.” However, there are key trigger points in the body that activate when the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This means, if we can release the body throughout the day, the brain will believe that everything is okay.

Jaw:

Place feet flat on the floor and sit up nice and tall. Inhale breath and when you exhale stick out your tongue. For added effect add a nice long “hah” sound. I even like to massage the opening that is created next to my ears while my jaw is open.

Eyes:

Rub your hands together to create heat and place them on your eyes. And/or gently smooth out the brow line from center to outer eye, say to yourself “soft eyes”. (Yes, unfurrow that teacher brow.)

Shoulders:

Interlace fingers behind your back for a chest expansion and take three slow deep breaths. Teachers spend a great deal of time hunched over students, and simply opening the shoulders can be a total mood changer.

Hip Flexors:

Lunge back with right foot and left foot forward in a bent knee lunge, take a few breaths, then switch sides. Your hip flexors and psoas are your flight muscles, so release them!

Share this information with our handout on the Somatic Response.

Daily Routines

I began to realize that same little girl, mirroring my furrowed brow and hunched shoulders, began to mirror my deep breathing. When doing a backbend stretch during a transition she commented, “It feels good to stretch, doesn’t it?” Yes. It does.

When we release the tension and anxiety held in the body, we are able to be present. The present moment is our freedom. This intervention for your body is an important first step for creating a peaceful classroom for your students.

As I began implementing these daily routines, I noticed other things around me begin to shift. Feeling overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing. I changed my focus and redefined what was important and started to pay attention on how I was bringing my body to work.

Have you tried any self interventions? What has worked? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

move mindfully® in the classroom

9 replies
  1. Jane
    Jane says:

    I agree completely when you say to regulate myself as a teacher in order to set a de-stressed environment forward!! I like your tool of setting an intention. I ask my students to set one also.
    I have found 2 other tools that are imperative to provide a positive, calm, I’ve-got-this=atmosphere.
    The first really great destressor for me is walking meditation. When I walk the hallways I practice my breathing in a thoughtful, rhythmic way (whether I’m with my students or alone). Students can learn this technique as well!
    Secondly, humor is huge in the class. Whether beginning with a joke or a little poem-ditty, starting off light is always right!
    Thank you for your blog and reminding us how important it is to remain calm when learning!

    Reply
  2. Kathy Van Wert
    Kathy Van Wert says:

    I’m a principal and I know my teachers are
    very stressed. I’d like to begin a stress
    relief program once a week before school
    where we would do the above written
    movements. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Stephanie Kennelly
      Stephanie Kennelly says:

      This is a great idea! I think it will deliver a huge impact with minimal time investment. Thank-you for looking out for teacher wellness!

      Reply
  3. Tanya Rae-Schmidt
    Tanya Rae-Schmidt says:

    I have put a simple water fountain in my classroom, a salt lamp, 2 diffusers, and brought in several plant, also lots of nature: rocks, wood, sticks, acorns. All which help ME several times a day!

    Reply
  4. Erika
    Erika says:

    This post helped remind me (again) the importance of self care. I will add some stretching, breathing, and mindful breaks into my daily schedule. Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Nina Nason
    Nina Nason says:

    Such valuable information!! I am a behavior intervention specialist, and I find myself supporting staff and students with this – all day, everyday. I have to practice what I teach; I am the intervention…..

    Reply
  6. Julie Picconatto
    Julie Picconatto says:

    Thank you for the reminders, I have used these techniques,but have found myself out of the habit. I am a director of a preschool after reading through the article I believe it will be a good idea to start doing these techniques at our morning meetings, before the children arrive.

    Reply

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