“One of the best things you can do for yourself is to protect your emotional health.” ― Angel Moreira
Trust me; I get it—lesson plans, creative activities, grading, emails, administrative tasks, parents, families, workshops, student engagement, and everything else we do as teachers can leave us second-guessing our career choices in a never-ending loop. It's no wonder many of us feel emotionally drained, impacting not just our teaching but our personal lives as well. So, how do we break this cycle?
In our busy teaching lives, we must find time to tend to ourselves emotionally with emotional rest. Without it, the classroom becomes another stressor instead of a place for growth—for both students and us.
Ignoring emotional health is a lot like ignoring a pile of ungraded papers; it won't magically disappear. In fact, it becomes more daunting. Well, the same holds true for emotions. When we push our feelings to the back burner or pretend they're not there, they don't just vanish. Instead, they grow stronger and can become even more challenging to deal with—much like that ever-growing stack of papers. Psychologists call this phenomenon emotional "amplification." Just as we need to tackle those papers, we must also address our emotions.
Simply put, emotional rest is not a luxury; it's a necessity. It enables us to bring passion, empathy, and creativity into the classroom. It helps us connect with our students on a deeper level, making our teaching more effective and fulfilling. In contrast, the risks of not investing in emotional rest are far too great: burnout, decreased job satisfaction, and impaired decision-making abilities. These aren't merely risks; they're career-ending threats.
Tangible Tips for Emotional Rest
But fear not; there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some quick, practical tips to integrate emotional rest into your hectic day:
Micro-Mindfulness Moments: Before students enter the classroom and the lesson starts, take just three minutes to engage in a 4-7-8 breathing technique. Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this a few times. I can't tell you how many times this tiny ritual has acted like a mini-reboot for my emotional state, especially during high-stress days. It's like taking a brief pit stop before the teaching "race" begins, ensuring that my emotional "engine" is in optimal condition. This helps me not just react to what happens in the classroom but also respond with empathy, excellence, and equity.
Micro-Journaling: Reserve the last 5-10 minutes of your school day for micro-journaling. Create a dedicated notebook or digital document where you jot down your feelings, experiences, and even the small wins or challenges of the day. After incorporating this practice, I noticed something profound: those small victories that often went unnoticed began accumulating, reminding me of my positive impact. This didn't just act as a "feel-good" mechanism; it provided me with real data—a "Victories List"—on my emotional landscape over time, helping me make more informed decisions about my teaching methods and personal well-being.
Self-Compassion Reminders: Write down encouraging words, affirmations, or even teaching mantras on Post-it notes. Stick these around your workspace—on your computer monitor, desk, or wall. The power of self-talk can never be underestimated. Those little post-it notes have often been my silent cheerleaders, especially when I felt overwhelmed or doubted my abilities. A quick glance at an affirmation like "You've got this!" or "Asking for help is sexy" recalibrated my mindset. It's like having small yet powerful bursts of emotional fuel readily available whenever you need to recharge.
Classroom Strategies for Emotional Rest
You can also extend this peace and equilibrium into the classroom with the following activities:
Mood Boards: Allocate some classroom time or assign homework for students to create their mood boards using images, colors, or words that represent their current emotional state. Provide magazines, colored paper, markers, and other crafting materials. Alternatively, students can create digital versions using free software like Canva. This practice gives students the language and space to express their emotions and enables them to manage those emotions better.
Mindful Coloring: Keep a stack of mandala or pattern-based coloring sheets handy, along with a set of colored pencils. Slot in a 10-minute mindful coloring session either during a planned break or as a rewarding activity once a significant task has been completed. Mindful coloring sessions can add a new layer of calm to your classroom, making breaks more than mere pauses. Instead, they become meaningful intervals that rejuvenate the class's collective energy, especially in content areas requiring intense cognitive effort.
Gratitude Journals: As the week winds down, hand out small journals or pieces of paper and ask your students to jot down three things they're grateful for. Allow them five minutes to reflect and write. Encourage them to keep these notes in a folder or a dedicated journal to review later. The ripple effects of this tiny practice can be profound for students. Not only does it help them end the week on a positive note, but it also sets a tone of gratitude that they can carry with them outside the classroom.
Time to Take Action
Taking these small steps to prioritize emotional rest yields remarkable payoffs. Each of these practices takes minimal time and resources to implement but offers a high emotional return. They significantly reduce stress levels, increase job satisfaction, and enhance well-being. Your classroom becomes a place where you and your students can grow emotionally.
So, are you ready to make emotional rest a priority? Take one or more of these tips and put them into practice today. Because you owe it to yourself—and your students—to be emotionally rested and recharged. Let's change the narrative from emotional rest being a "nice-to-have" to a "must-have" in our teaching toolkit.