Sunday, October 8, 2017

How to Be a Happier Teacher This School Year

By Justin Ashley

We are now a few weeks into the school year.

The back to school excitement has fizzled out and the realization of high expectations has kicked in, once again-the meetings, the lessons, the grading. As the paperwork piles up, here’s 17 little things you can do this week to fight against depression, anxiety, and burnout this school year.

1. Plan a family field trip for the fall.

During a quick break or while eating lunch, plan out an out-of-town adventure for an upcoming weekend this fall, maybe you could go pumpkin picking, to Tweetsie Railroad, Scarowinds, or visit a family farm. Once you pick one out, immediately put it on your calendar.

A research study showed that just planning and thinking about your next family vacay can raise your endorphin levels by 27 percent.

2. Buy your custodian or cafeteria lady a soda from the teacher’s lounge.
Research has proven that buying stuff doesn't make a lasting difference on our mood, with one exception-buying stuff for other people. This makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. Tis’ better to give than to receive.

3. Tell your class a funny story.
Your kids don’t want to just hear about the curriculum. They want to learn about you! Think of a story from your past that’s gotten laughs before. Tell them a silly story about yourself to get them giggling and lighten the mood in the room.

My middle schoolers like hearing about the day I proposed to my wife. We both threw a penny in a fountain and made a wish. My wish-her hand in marriage. Her wish-A raise at work.

When I taught elementary school, my kids loved to hear about my 1st visit to the zoo as a 5 year old boy, where I got too close to a fence and was attacked by a monkey, after I smiled at him. Never smile at monkeys. Never.

4. Start your lesson off with an inspirational video.
Find a Youtube video that’s motivating. Something that lights your fire and gives you chill bumps. Here’s one of my favorites…
40 speeches in 2 minutes

5. Leave your phone in your purse or workbag. 

It’s no secret that compulsive phone checking is damaging. It moves you away from your present environment and even further from each present moment. Check your phone between blocks, on breaks, or at lunch.

6. Meditate with Headspace.

Before the morning bell rings or during your planning, set aside a few minutes to get your mind right and meditate.

Don’t know where or how to start? Try downloading this free app, Headspace. This chill dude with a British accent will walk you through it. All you have to do is put your headphones in, turn off the lights, and find a chair. It’s that easy.

7. Make a list of 10 things you’re grateful for. 
Write them down and read them aloud. Here’s 3 of mine:
I’m grateful to have a job that’s also a calling, where I get paid to do something I enjoy doing.
I’m grateful to live in a democratic country, where I have guaranteed rights listed in my country’s constitution.
I’m grateful to pay my taxes, because this money makes better roads, better emergency services, better schools, and a better community. (*This last one’s a stretch. I know.)

8. Try a simple breathing technique periodically throughout the day.
A recent study showed that war veterans who suffer from PTSD could significantly reduce their cortisol levels (stress hormones) simply by using deep, slow breathing techniques. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is the easiest, most effective one I’ve found:
Inhale for 4 seconds
Hold your breath for 7 seconds
Exhale for 8 seconds
Try this a few times when you feel stressed and see if it helps.

9. Put motivational quotes cards on your desk. 
Use some index cards and google inspirational quotes or order some off Amazon and put them on your desk. Verses of scripture could also work. Read a few at a time for encouragement.

10. Write thank you cards to students or compliment them with a sticky note.
Pick out a kid or two in class, students who are working really hard, and write them a little note of recognition. We have a tendency to instinctively spot the negative, but make it a point to point out the positives, too.

11. Smile when you greet and talk with students. 
Smiles are infectious (mirror neurons), so smile when you they come into your room. Positive classroom culture starts and ends with you.

12. Set a fun short-term goal. 
Come up with a small goal. Not a SMART goal or some big resolution, just something simple, but exciting. It should take 13 weeks or less, so you can finish it around the New Year. After tomorrow, continue doing one thing each day to reach it. That’s what I did with my kids to make  STRAIGHT INTTA OREGON, a music video about Westward Expansion that went viral. Check it out!

13. Thank your principal.
Drop in their office or stop them in the hallway and tell them thank you for something they did recently. Maybe they helped you out with a resource, or stuck up for you when a parent complained. You might be a little down that summer is over and school is back in session, but they were probably working through the whole summer. Thank them for what they do behind the scenes on the daily.

14. Exercise with kids at recess.
Join in on in the fun outside. You deserve a break, too. Walk the track with your students. Kick or throw a ball with them. Jump rope with them. Connect with kids while you are working out on the playground.

15. Do some fall cleaning. 
Purge some of your school files. Get rid of old resources. Set up a new filing system. Minimalism is a really neat documentary on Netflix that shows how liberating it can be to simplify your environment.

16. Dress super nice. 
Professional attire means more respect. Kids notice that you take the job seriously. It also feels good to get hat-tips from teachers and administrators.

17. Find your 30 minute thing.
You work ridiculously hard serving others each week, so you need to carve out 30 minutes each day to serve yourself.

Take this time to move. It could be jogging around your neighborhood, doing yoga, or playing soccer with your kid. For me, it’s boxing. Every day after school, I box for 30 minutes before I pick up my kids. That’s my ‘me’ time. It’s something I look forward to each day.

And research shows that just 30 minutes of exercise uplifts your mood for the next 3-4 hours, improves your quality of sleep, and has a similar impact on your brain as the strongest anti-depressants on the market, without the negative side effects.
***Bottom Line-There are small things we can do to live healthier, happier lives today and tomorrow. Some are about the external (changing our actions and environment), others internal (changing our thought patterns). We don’t have to wait until the summertime to be happy. We don’t have to count down the  school days to each Friday.

We can be happier now.

Happiness Advantage
The Happiness Track

Justin Ashley is a teacher, author, and motivational speaker.  He will be facilitating a breakout session and will lead us in a closing celebration at this year's Elementary Conference! You won't want to miss him or his purple cows!

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