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South Salt Lake Journal

Teachers’ self-care essential for quality teaching

Oct 24, 2019 04:15PM ● By Bill Hardesty

Granite School District teachers share stories around the art table at the Self-Help Fair. (Courtesy of Granite School District)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

“Self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

 ― Parker Palmer, author of “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation”

Palmer's quote states well the purpose of the Self-Help Fair for Teachers conducted by the Granite School District on Sept. 13. 

"Taking care of yourself and being in a good place yourself so that you can be your best self for your students. We work in very challenging jobs in classrooms and it is and has always been a very challenging profession," Noelle Converse, special education director at Granite School District, said. 

She added, "We feel it is really necessary if we are going to ask children to be mindful of themselves about their practice in learning. We are mindful of ourselves on how we teach."

Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is one of the hot topics on how a person approaches life. Mindfulness is about learning to train your attention to the present moment without dwelling on what has happened in the past or worrying about the future. 

In the classroom, this plays out how we ask students to be present. They need to focus on the learning that is happening now and not worry about what happened at recess or worry about when recess is happening.

Proponents of mindfulness report psychological and physical benefits. These benefits are realized by both students and teachers inside and outside of the classroom.

Psychological benefits include: decreased anxiety and depression, increased coping skills, decreased irritability and moodiness, better emotional stability and increased ability to effectively manage problems. 

Physical benefits include: improved breathing, lower heart rate, improved circulation, improved immune function, reduced physical stress responses, better sleep, and better management of physical symptoms (e.g. pain).

The belief is that self-help provides the best self in the classroom, which provides energy for mindfulness.

The Granite Way

For a few years, the school district has talked about the "Granite Way." It is a framework to become better at all levels from students to superintendent. One aspect of this framework is personal development or what is called "Professional Learning Communities (PLC)." Communities range from teacher cohorts to a school to the district. 

One fair attendee, Kaisa DuMond, a teacher at Calvin Smith Elementary, talked about the value of one of her PLCs.

"I have learned from my two co-teachers who are really good at guiding me through what I should do," DuMond said.

This past summer, the district held a principal boot camp where they talked about equity, inclusion and wellness for all.

"A school's administration set the culture of the school. They are facilitators for allowing the kind of culture that promotes self-help," Converse commented.

The idea of holding a self-help fair was an outcome of these efforts.

Self-Help fair

The district was expecting about 200 teachers. Mid-way through the fair they already had over 500 educators. 

"This is fantastic. The awareness of the need," Theresa Richardson of Redwood Elementary, said.

The takeaways started at the registration desk with each person given "Mindfulness in the Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Concentration, Compassion, and Calm" by Thomas Armstrong and an oil diffuser and sample oils donated by 4Life Essentials Oils.

Participants could also take home a stress ball of their own creation, a painted art creation, and a succulent planted by them.

They also got to play adult versions of children games and take part in a drum circle.

"Often our adultness takes over. We need to get back to the enthusiasm we all had when we started as an educator," Converse said.

When asked why she came, Kat Morfitt of Robert Frost Elementary, replied, "Because I have worked in other schools where teachers' self-care was not a priority and it is something I am drawn toward and so I want to find what resources Granite provides and how they partner with other organizations providing extra support."

Morfitt was hoping to find ways to carve out those 15 minutes of self-care. She was impressed with what she was finding.

Another teacher, Josh Kariparduc of Matheson Junior High, said, "We live a very stressful life from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. so we need this fair." For Kariparduc adding to his stress is learning classroom management in an American classroom. He started his teaching career 18 years ago in Turkey and taught in other Eastern countries before coming to America. 

Converse summed up the point of the conference by saying, "Our goal is to really help each one of our educators that is working day in and day out with students and gets to touch many lives that they are in a really good place for being able to do that. Because our students need someone who is in a really good place because many of them aren't. Many of them are dealing with obstacles and barriers in their personal life that makes it very challenging on regular basis to even get to school. And so for a teacher to be really centered, to be ready, to deal with whatever walks through the door and to be their best self, to be that model, that shoulder, and be someone who is inspirational to that child is going to make all the difference to that child. That is the point." 

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