Happy New School Year! For many, New Year’s Day marks a time for resolutions and new beginnings, but for teachers it’s the first day of school. Here are six simple, science-backed ideas to get your new year off to a positive start.
1. Start your day with self-care.
We learned the importance of self-care during the past two years of uncertainty surrounding pandemic life. Don’t think you need to run a marathon, start a paleo diet, or undertake another major physical effort to practice self-care.
For example, just set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier than normal and start your day with a few simple stretches. Also, drink a glass of water before your morning coffee. You can pack an apple and a square of dark chocolate with you to treat yourself to a midmorning snack during your plan time! All of these little things add up to a healthier you and a happier first day.
Plus, tips just for theatre teachers. Give yourself permission to take time to watch: “Self-Care for Theatre Educators” (Free to all from Educational Theatre Association on the EdTA Learning Center.)
2. Build mindfulness into every day.
Regular mindfulness practices make a positive difference – science proves it! You already know how things will ramp up this school year so prioritize mindful moments every day. Even just a couple minutes of quiet will increase your ability to accomplish your goals. Moments of quiet may look like a short breathing activity, or it may look like 5 minutes to meditate at the beginning of your plan period, or even just 1 minute of silent deep breathing at the start of every class you teach. You can pre-set alarms on your smart watch or phone throughout the day to remind you to breathe deeply. You will be amazed at the difference it makes.
Check out the science behind it in this entertaining news article from a UK website “Embracing Quiet Moments Can Change Your Life for the Better.”
Or you can learn how to meditate at mindful.org.
3. Prioritize time to feed your inner artist.
Theatre teachers are triple threats! Not only are you masters of the art of teaching, but you are also masters of juggling (can you say job, home, and out of school activities?), and you are theatre artists.
Take a moment to think back to why you got into teaching theatre. What part of the spectrum of theatre arts called to you? Did you love acting? Was backstage your thing? Do you love costume or set design? Put time on your calendar now to feed your inner artist. Self-care is not selfish. Commit to a regular time – whatever fits your schedule – and do something that stokes your creative passion.
Consider taking an online course or signing up for a streaming production. One blessing that emerged from COVID-19 was high-quality, online classes, productions, and other offerings that allow us to take care of our obligations and find time for what’s optional (and that we love!).
Check out “Where to Watch Broadway Online” for one of several sites offering some ideas for streaming options.
Renew your passion for teaching with one of the professional learning options at EdTA’s Learning Center; offering webinars to theatre teachers, on topics like directing, technical theatre, acting techniques, classroom tips, and more.
4. Make a Feel-Good Box
Ok, let’s face it, there are good days when you’re in the zone that remind you why you love your job and your students. Then there are the days that make you doubt your sanity. Everyone has both.
Plan ahead for the inevitable tough days by making a feel-good box, or scrapbook, or journal. Fill it with those heartfelt thank-you notes you’ve received from students or parents, the letter from your principal complimenting you on your show, a photo of your favorite production, your original set design drawings, a picture of the new light board you fundraised to get, whatever reminds you of the good you’re putting into the world and the gratitude coming back to you.
Then, the next time you are having a bad day you can get that box out, take some deep breaths, and remember what matters most.
Neuroscientists agree that doodling is good for you! This surprisingly simple activity feeds your inner child and accesses your imagination. It is a helpful way to find a solution to a tricky problem, believe it or not.
Draw a circle in the middle of a big, blank piece of paper using a marker. Then write down a problem or question in the circle as if it’s the title of a song. Something like: “Staging a Musical in a Black Box,” “Acting Class for Kids Who Don’t Want to Be There,” or “Figuring Out My Sound Board.”
Then quickly write words that come to mind about the topic all around the title. Now doodle under each word or write a question or thought that comes to mind. You could have a set time for the activity.
When time is up or ideas have stopped, sit back and explore more slowly what was written. Chances are, you will have a mind map with lists of questions, ideas, or even images that point you to what you are feeling and why you may be stuck.
Read about the science in this Wall Street Journal article “The Power of the Doodle.”
6. Activate the power of an hour.
Everyone needs time off, and often teachers are the last to admit this need. Sometimes, when the work piles up, it is tempting to just push through and keep going until you check everything off the list.
Now is the time to plan for healthy time off. Maybe a whole day is impossible to take off with with whatever stage of life you’re in. But we can all find one hour. Block one hour off the calendar in which you don’t do anything. No plans, no screens or devices, no deadlines. Take a walk, take a bath, walk the dog, put your feet up, read something silly or inspiring, of just sit and breathe for one solid hour. Set a timer to be sure there is no cutting it short to get back to your to-do list!
This oldy, but goody, from the Harvard Business Review will help anyone who feels guilty taking time off. Yes, even just one hour.
Specific for teachers from the Cult of Pedagogy “5 Powerful Ways to Save Time.”
I hope these tips encourage you to practice self-care so you can maintain your focus and your passion. If you found this blog interesting and would like to read more similar to it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, tomorrow morning, before my coffee, I’ll lift a glass of water and salute you all – keep on being brilliant! ♦
Cory Wilkerson is education director at Educational Theatre Association.