Burned Out or Bummed Out?

More on Teacher Self-Care: Diagnosis and Remediation

This is Part VI in a series of articles on educator health and wellness, following “Stressed Out!” and “Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic.”

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Do you recognize these signs of burnout experienced  by yourself, a coworker, neighbor, or someone you love?

  • Physical: tired, lowered immunity, illnesses, aches and pains, loss of appetite or sleep
  • Emotional: sense of self-doubt, failure, helplessness, loneliness, cynicism, loss of satisfaction/motivation
  • Behavioral: withdrawal, isolation, skipping work, procrastination, frustration, overuse of food, drugs, alcohol

By the time it gets to that third bullet, probably everyone would be aware of the trouble.

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Burnout Prevention and Recovery by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson

 

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Gregory S. Perkins and Angela M. Guerriero, licensed Music Therapists from the Tempo! Music Therapy Services, provided much more detailed definitions of self-care in a session at the PMEA 2020 Virtual Summer Conference. (PMEA members may continue to register and view a video of this workshop until mid-September 2020.) You should know and be on the lookout for these terms:

The United Nations defines self-care as the actions that individuals take in order to develop, protect, maintain, and improve their own health and well being. Self-care involves a personal investment in maintaining physical, psychological and spiritual health, and pursuing a fulfilling, well-rounded life.

Brownout: “A practitioner essentially gives up or performs in a perfunctory manner when confronted with too much stress and too little gratification.” Guy, J. & Norcross, J. (2007). Leaving it at the office: a guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc.

Burnout: “A syndrome of physical exhaustion including a negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feelings.” Keidel, G. (2002). Burnout and compassion fatigue among hospice caregivers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 19(3), 200-205

Recognizing the Need: Self-Care for Music Educators by Gregory S. Perkins, MT-BC, and Angela M. Guerriero, PhD, MT-BC

The Mayo Clinic offers numerous symptoms of “burnout.” How many of these have you “felt” too or noticed in someone else’s demeanor or behavior?

  1. Disillusionment over the job
  2. Cynicism at work
  3. Impatience with co-workers, administrators, and students
  4. Lack of satisfaction in accomplishments
  5. Dragging yourself to work and trouble getting started once you’re there
  6. Lack of energy
  7. Unexplained aches/pains
  8. Self-medicating with food, drugs, or alcohol
  9. Changes in sleep/eating patterns

 

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Education Week adds many more danger signs. Are any of these striking close to home?

Exhaustion. This is a fatigue so deep that there’s no way to “turn it off,” no matter how badly you want to. It’s deep in your bones. The kind of tired where you just want to ooze into your bed and disconnect from life.

Extreme graveness. Realizing you go hours without smiling or laughing, or days without a belly laugh.

Anxiety. The constant, nagging feeling that you can and should do more, while simultaneously realizing you need to unplug and spend more time with your family. But there are so many things to do.

Being overwhelmed. Questioning how they can possibly add one more task, expectation, or mandate to your plate. Compromising your values of excellence just so you can check-off 15 more boxes to stay in compliance. All the while knowing it still won’t be enough.

Seeking. Losing your creativity, imagination, patience, and enthusiasm for daily challenges. Craving reflection time and productive collaboration rather than group complaining.

Isolation. Wanting to head for the deepest, darkest cave where no one will see your vulnerability. A place where your limits are unseen and unquestioned and all is quiet.

— Six Signs of and Solutions for Teacher Burnout by Wendi Pillars 

 

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What about the causes of burnout or brownout? Where should we place the blame?

According to Paul Murphy in his book, Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It, the stress of a few problems may stand out as leading culprits at your place of employment:

  1. Lack of autonomy
  2. Dysfunctional work environment
  3. Inadequate social support
  4. Extremes of activity
  5. Poor work/life balance

But, you have no one else but yourself to blame! You must take responsibility for your own health and welfare. Most of the sources in this blog-post (including a few mentioned in past articles from this “care” category) suggest solutions to better self-care, many of which offer answers to address the issue and CAN BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

Here are a few more self-care tips from PsychCentral:

  • Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
  • Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
  • Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
  • Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
  • Spend enough time with your loved ones.
  • Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
  • Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
  • Look for opportunities to laugh!

What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t by Raphailia Michael, MA

 

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We should also review “Five Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout” by Mary Beth Hertz, an Edutopia blog (read the entire article for greater depth and clarity):

  1. Maintain your “other” life.
  2. Be a stakeholder when changes are made.
  3. Find lessons and opportunities in everything.
  4. Nurture peer connections.
  5. Keep it light.

Edutopia, from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a wonderful resource. Most recently, three valuable “streams” of articles have been released on coping with the preparations and stress in the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 year:

I also recommend this blog-post of the Regional Education Laboratory Program which describes “teacher well being” as “the reaction to the individual and collective physical, environmental, and social events that shape how educators respond to their students and colleagues.” They discuss how three prominent human behavior frameworks— Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Five Stages of Grief and Loss, and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)— can be used to address the challenges that teachers face when adapting to change and identify approaches to support teacher well being.

 

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In addition, the following perspectives come from a variety of self-proclaimed practitioners:

“One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for ‘smoked,’ or ‘going up in smoke.’ This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to ‘let go’ of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.”  — Wendy Pillars

“Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such.” — Raphailia Michael

“Remember that example about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others? This is where that analogy really comes in to play. It’s time for you to take a good hard look at your self-care versus your care for others and decide if you are in a place where you have a good balance or if you need to make this a priority… Why is self-care… such a critical component of your physical and mental health? Because in order for you to function at your peak, you need to meet the needs your body and mind have for rejuvenation, relaxation, and rebirth. If you are constantly putting out efforts toward other people and events but never taking time to refuel yourself, then you will run out of steam and it will manifest in your body as an illness, weight gain, acne, joint pain – you know the drill – again.” — Lesley Moffat in I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me

“It’s estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it’s no wonder our willpower is gone by five o’clock. We are exhausted.” — Paul Murphy

The term “unprecedented times” has become a hallmark for describing the context in which leaders must respond to changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective responses in education are dependent upon teachers as the front-line workers in classrooms, so it’s essential that administrators take care of teachers. When they do so, they also take care of students.

When teachers don’t have the resources they need, and especially when sustained job demands are high, teachers experience chronic stress — and eventually burnout.

Teachers who are burned out are less effective as teachers, have less supportive relationships with students and, in turn, the students they teach have lower academic and social outcomes.

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Laura Sokal, Jeff Babb, and Leslie Eblie Trudel

 

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We should all read the above blog-post from The Conversation, which offers these conclusions based on a national Canadian education survey conducted in May 2020:

  1. Teachers’ concern for vulnerable students is one of the most stressful aspects of their jobs right now.
  2. Teachers are seeing magnified inequities.
  3. When giving teachers initial resources, less is more.
  4. Perceived support matters to teachers’ resiliency.
  5. Teachers are concerned about effectively engaging students through remote learning, and professional collaboration can help.

Finally, we’ll end this epistle on “things to do to avoid burnout” with a timely and practical article from Carlee Adams found on the We Are Teachers site: 15 Smart Ways to Prevent Teacher Burnout That Really Work. Repeating many of the suggestions above, these “find these” remedies resonated with me:

  • “Find someone you can be vulnerable with…”
  • “When you feel hopeless, find perspective…”
  • “Find your own voice and allow it to change over time…”
  • “Find your people; they get you!”

The bottom line? If you “feel” consistent periods of burnout, brownout, or being bummed out in your career as negative influences to your “calling” as a teacher, you cannot sit back and let things continue “as is!” Most professionals cannot self-diagnose this problem (but, perhaps a family member may clue you in!). If you notice that you are continually having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships or communicating your thoughts to others, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic, it may be time to visit your health care professional.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

We thought our next article in this series on music teacher health and wellness was going to center around burn-out. But then… COVID-19 struck (was this really only 3-4 months ago?), we were forced into self-isolation, and all “brick and mortar” schools closed. In the ensuing panic, we all scurried about seeking solutions to reconnect and engage our students from afar in compliance with strict shelter-in-place restrictions.

“Seemingly overnight, the world changed. Teachers and school leaders have had to revamp their entire instructional systems with, in many instances, only a day’s notice. To say many of us are experiencing whiplash, disorientation, and anxiety is an understatement.”

virus-4928021_1920_HoagyPeterma“Our students are feeling it too. Typically, nationwide, one in three teenagers has experienced clinically significant anxiety in their lifetime (Merikangas et al., 2010). It’s probable that during a pandemic that heavily impacts everyday life, levels of anxiety in children and teens are even higher, and the possibility of subsequent trauma greater.”

“In these unprecedented times, teachers are rising to the occasion creatively and quickly to shift to remote learning amidst school closures. Even in a traditional classroom, it can be a challenge to support students with anxiety and trauma histories to stay calm and learn. With distance learning, this difficulty is magnified. However, there is much teachers can do to reduce anxiety in students even while teaching remotely. During this crisis, we need to prioritize students’ mental health over academics. The impact of trauma can be lifelong, so what students learn during this time ultimately won’t be as important as whether they feel safe.”

“Maintaining Connections, Reducing Anxiety While School Is Closed” by Jessica Minahan in ASCD Educational Leadership, Summer 2020

My opinion? The Internet and other forms of media can be a godsend or a contributing factor to our feelings of malaise. The 24/7 nature and immediacy of news programs and web posts updating the statistics of new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions, deaths, shortages of personal protection equipment and respirators, unemployment numbers, and the stock market’s roller-coaster ride, have added fear, stress, and “noise” to the real problem… our ability to cope with the ramifications of this pandemic!

Well, at least a lot of dialogue has been generated “out there” about recommended remediation and “success stories.” The purpose of this blog-post is to share some of this “advice from the experts.” Many of you (I hope) may say, “This is just common sense.” True, but however “common” it is, more people than you think are not applying these principles to their own personal lives. And like the one online post that caught my eye the other day, “Teachers Are Breaking” by Jessica Lifshitz, all of us should share our anecdotes… the trials, internal struggles, and tribulations… to make it through this emergency.

Together, we are stronger!

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I have been accused of being a little too emotional and I should not “feed into the negativity,” as one reader complained in reaction to one of my blogs. However, according to this article by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, “emotions drive effective teaching and learning, the decisions educators make, classroom and school climate, and educator well-being.”

“At the end of March, our team at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, along with our colleagues at the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning, known as CASEL, launched a survey to unpack the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“In the span of just three days, over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded to the survey. We asked them to describe, in their own words, the three most frequent emotions they felt each day.”

“The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

Almost in unison, the strategies that seem to be echoed most often by medical and mental health professionals, educators on the front line, and even technology specialists, are outlined by this “wellness map of to-do’s!”

  1. Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
  2. Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
  3. Set and maintain boundaries.
  4. Practice mindfulness.
  5. Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!

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Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed

As a retiree, I “only” lost the spring season of my community youth orchestra to this crisis. In my position as state chair of the PMEA Council Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (PMEA Council TTRR), I tried to soothe the “hysteria” of many of my still-working friends and colleagues who were grappling with the instantaneous roll-out of distance learning. After researching online music education resources, we were able to place countless links on the PMEA Council TTRR website (here). After 7+ weeks, one of our “omnibus Google Docs” has grown to 15+ pages and more than 225 separate sources of virtual, remote, and alternative music learning media and methods.

computer-768608_1920_free-photosFor some, this has made matters worse… an “overload of abundance!” The multitude of venues and opportunities (too many unexplored “new technologies” for many of us baby-boomers!) included information about virtual ensembles, YouTube libraries, music games, lessons plans and platforms for synchronous and asynchronous e-learning, video-conferencing techniques, hardware and software reviews, etc.

Take a deep breath! Focus! Prioritize your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Don’t try to consume all of the available resources “out there,” nor use every application or online lesson that you find on Facebook groups like https://www.facebook.com/groups/mecol/. What was it my mother used to say at the dinner table? “Sip and chew slowly… don’t gulp!” Take away what might help your situation, but approach anything brand new in moderation!

online-5059831_1920_TumisuGo ahead and sign-up for a webinar or planned learning community meeting or two. Many professional development workshops are provided with “no extra fees” right now, like the NAfME library here, the aforementioned Facebook group and others, and if you already have a membership in PMEA, this website.

BUT… plan to take away ONLY one or two new “teaching tools” from each session… maybe consider trying-out one new app or lesson idea every other week?

As if to anticipate our needs, more than a year ago, Elena Aguilar published the in-depth piece “How to Coach the Overwhelmed Teacher” in Education Week blog, summarizing excellent stress-reduction treatments. (Share these if you think they will help you or some else! Read the entire article for more detail!)

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

  1. Describe it.
  2. Recall previous experiences.
  3. Identify one tiny next step.
  4. Listen.
  5. Plan for action.

“When coaching someone experiencing strong emotions, it’s important to know the signs and indicators of depression and anxiety disorders. Emotions can turn into moods, and if moods hang around long enough, they may become depression or an anxiety disorder. People who feel overwhelmed a great deal may be experiencing depression, whereas those who are ‘stressed’ a lot may be experiencing anxiety. This resource, AppD Depression_Anxiety.pdf, can be offered to your coachees or used to consider whether someone may need professional help.”

“When coaching any strong emotion, it’s useful to remember that emotions can be guides to self-understanding. They are a normal part of being a human being, and strong emotions show up to get us to pay attention to what’s going on. We can welcome strong emotions—in ourselves and in our coachees—and explore them to gain insight into ourselves and humans and educators.” — Elena Aguilar

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Making Connections

Your loved-ones and friends probably need you now more than ever!

And, a myriad of research supports the assertion that social connections significantly improve our own physical and mental health and emotional well-being, such as published by the “Center of Compassion & Altruism Research & Education” of the Stanford Medical School:

“Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthens your immune system (research by Steve Cole shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation), helps you recover from disease faster, [and] may even lengthen your life!”

“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” — Dr. Emma Seppala

There’s even evidence that “human touch” and close connections with other people increase our body’s levels of the beneficial hormones serotonin and cortisol.

Just more common sense? Right? Probably!

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The first thing I did during that initial announcement of school/activity closures was to reach-out to my “musical kids.” Many music directors told me they quickly sponsored a Zoom/Google Hangout meeting of their ensemble members, mostly just to check-in with their players or singers and get everyone “on board” for future online interactions.

Perhaps COVID-19 has made me a better “citizen,” too. Much more frequently, I now call or text a friend, colleague, volunteer co-worker, or neighbor to see how they are doing. It’s terrible to admit that it took a world disaster to improve my interpersonal communications skills!

Finally, here’s a good “recap.” In spite of the need for social distancing, these examples of “safe connections” are suggested by Jennifer Wickham from The Mayo Clinic:

  • Use electronics to stay in contact with friends, neighbors and loved ones. This could include using video-conference programs, making voice calls instead of sending texts, or talking with a neighbor through windows while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Spend quality time with the people you live with, such as playing board games or completing an indoor project.
  • Make a family meal or dessert recipe that reminds you of friends or family you are unable to visit, and then call them to tell them about it. This way, you get an experience of internal and external connection.
  • Write in a journal about your experiences during this time of social distancing. Not only will this help you sort out what you are thinking and feeling, but also it can be shared going forward as a way for future generations to connect with the past.

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Setting Boundaries

Something else I admit to NOT doing!

“Going Google,” “exploring e-learning,” or “doing digital” –  it is easy to get carried away and not notice you just spent 12 hours in-a-row of “screen time” participating in online meetings or creating new remote learning opportunities for your music students. Exactly when are your classroom and office hours? You are likely pushing yourself too hard, even in your pajamas! This insane pace will only promote other health concerns!

The foresight of Elisa Janson Jones was evident for writing this in her blog “7 Self-Care Strategies to Prevent Burnout” back in September 2018 before the pandemic:

bulletin-board-3233653_1920_geralt“It’s hard to create a work-life balance when life is filled with work. Teachers are known for working long hours off-the-clock for no additional compensation. This is even more prevalent in music education. We add performances, competitions, musicals, individual lessons, fundraising, data entry, and even music composition and arranging to our task list.”

“We may find pride in saying we worked 60 hours this week, flaunting to our friends that we got to school in the dark and left in the dark. Perhaps we find self-importance in their pity and admiration.”

“However, to thrive in our profession, we must remember that teaching music is our career, not our entire life. Hobbies, families, volunteering, and other ways we contribute to our communities and our homes are also aspects of who we are.”

“Setting clear boundaries between when we are working for our paycheck and when we are working for ourselves helps us carve out space where we offer ourselves time to be free of obligations and burdens of our career. Whether it’s a few hours per day, a full day per week, or both, setting strict boundaries for when you’re on-the-clock and when you’re off is essential.” — Elisa Janson Jones

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Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present

Another concept that Elisa Janson Jones covered in her Smartmusic blog: mindfulness.

Now is the time for a little nonjudgmental “free reflection,” or what the psychologists call the best practice of “mindfulness” – a focus with full attention on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations “in the moment.” I think the “Teaching with Orff” website really nailed it in the article “7 Self Care Tips for Quarantined Music Teachers.”  Read co-author Zoe Kumagai’s examples of affirmations: “How do I want to feel today?”

  • I allow myself time and space to reflect.
  • My mind is aware of the present.
  • My heart feels compassionate and is full of love.
  • My mind is stimulated by books, stories, art, scholarly articles, music that inspire me to be my best self.
  • I maintain boundaries with technology and intake of the news.
  • My body is free to dance.
  • My voice is clear to sing, laugh and converse authentically.

According to this Harvard Medical HelpGuide, the habits and techniques of mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health:

“There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment… Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.” — HelpGuide

Band director, best-selling author, and acclaimed clinician Lesley Moffat devoted an entire chapter to mindfulness in her book I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me. You know what they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” After learning the techniques for herself, she adopted mindfulness practice at the beginning of each band rehearsal for her students, a 4-5 minute routine of guided breathing and relaxation exercises leading up to the daily warmup chorale.

 

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I love the symbolism in her “snow globe” analogy:

“Just like a snow globe that’s been shaken up, it takes time for your mind and body to settle down. If you try to get the snow globe to settle down while you’re still holding it and carrying on with your regular activities, the snow may fall slower, but it won’t completely stop and allow you to see the objects in the snow globe. You must allow it to be completely still long enough for the water to stop swirling and the glitter to follow the pull of gravity and settle on the bottom. It only takes a matter of minutes until it settles, revealing the magical scene inside, and the very glitter that was covering up the view when it was moving around has become a lovely blanket of snow that grounds the scene in the snow globe. But without a few minutes of stillness, it is impossible for it to become completely settled. So it goes with a mindfulness practice. Your mind and body needs time to go from hyper-speed to a pace that serves you well, a place where you have space to think – and space to not think. That begins by bringing stillness to your body and to your mind. Easy to say – hard to do… until you practice it every day and it becomes habit.” Lesley Moffat

Love the Job, Loss the StressHer book should be required reading for all music teachers, even retirees who want to remain active in the profession. (Read my previous review here.) It serves as a true treasure-house of practical applications for de-stressing and re-centering your life. Her “mPower Method of Meals, Movement, Music, and Mindfulness” may be the solution to improving your situation.

FYI, her next book, Love the Job, Lose the Stress, is on the way. You can request an advance e-copy here.

 

“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”

The worst part of this? We seldom take our own advice. Hey teacher, “heal thyself,” and “practice what you preach.” Taking care of our children or elderly relatives, we are probably the last to comply with the tenets of our own sermons on health and wellness.

Lesley Moffat also devoted a chapter in her book to the airline safety bulletin “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First.” You cannot take care of someone else (your family members or your music students) unless you first take care of yourself!

salad-374173_1920_stevepbMake self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Hydrate.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • “Flex your brain.”

The latter “exercising your mind” is referenced in the Teaching with Orff website, and is a frequent emphasis on my blog-site (with examples here, here, and here). Pursue your own avenues of creative self-expression, and grow and learn something new every day!

According to charitable organization Waterford.org, the definition of “self-care” is “any action that you use to improve your health and well-being.” They cite extensive research from the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), corroborating the statement that there are six elements to self-care:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

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And, as explained in the article “Why Teacher Self-Care Matters, and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School,” self-care is not about selfishness.

“Self-care is an important component of a teacher’s mental health, but there are misconceptions about what it is. It’s common for educators to dismiss the self-care movement as ‘selfish’ or ‘superficial.’ But for teachers, self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.”

Waterford.org

These endorsements probably represent just “the tip of the iceberg!” Peruse all of the resources listed below. In addition, perhaps we should take a close look at Alex Wiggin’s ASCD article,  “A Brave New World: A Teacher’s Take on Surviving Distance Learning” (Educational Leadership, Summer 2020), considering the adoption of these four lessons learned from the past four months:

  1. Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
  2. Connecting with students boosts morale.
  3. Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
  4. Model being a life-long learner

I predict that the hardest part, coming to the end of May and the completion of our first-ever “virtual spring semester,” is coming to grips with our “fear of the unknown!” At the date of this writing, no one really knows when “we” are going back to “in person” schools, how we will resume large group music instruction like band, choir, or orchestra rehearsals, and what will the “new normal” look like to successfully “move on!”

Summer break is just around the corner… a good time to stop and reflect! And yes, we will make it through this.

Please stay safe! PKF

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References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

Do You Always Feel Exhausted?

Our second in a series on publications and other resources for self-care, health, wellness, and remediation of stress and burnout of music educators addresses one of the core issues for all of us — chronic fatigue.

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The medical definition is comprehensive:

Fatigue is a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion. It’s similar to how you feel when you have the flu or have missed a lot of sleep. If you have chronic fatigue, or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), you may wake in the morning feeling as though you’ve not slept. Or you may be unable to function at work or be productive at home. You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. — WebMD

In the NAfME community forum Amplify, another colleague turned me on to the book Exhausted — Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy (2017). Most of this blog will focus on a review of this work. I also recommend you visit his very informative website of blog-posts: Teacher Habits.

If you’re like most teachers, being tired at the end of the day is a way of life. We’ve become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to imagine how things could be any different. We get through out mornings with coffee, our afternoons with Diet Coke, and the ends of our school days with the iron strength of our will. We leave the building exhausted, having so much at work that there’s little left over for our families or even ourselves.Paul Murphy

So, what is the scope of the problem? What can we do about it?

 

What Is a Teacher?

Are you a teacher? If so, are you also a classroom work foreman, logistics manager, guide, drill sergeant, disciplinarian, cheerleader, data entry clerk, cultural advocate, or analyst?  Maybe you are all of these things and more.  Maybe, we need to look at educators in a new context of what teaching really is in most schools, and whether it should be given cultural, economic and technological change.

Merriam-Webster’s says “teach” is a verb, with several simple definitions that repeat themselves but ideologically are these five things:

  • to cause to know something
  • to guide the studies of
  • to make known and accepted
  • to impart the knowledge of
  • to conduct instruction regularly.

LeiLani Cauthen

Personally, I have always glorified the mission and “calling” of becoming an educator.

Teachers model the “habits” of

  • ornament-1899065_1920_xsonicchaosFocus
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-assessment and self-improvement
  • Work ethic
  • Highest standards of behavior, appearance, and ethics

We serve as

  • Fiduciaries, looking out for the welfare of students
  • Model exemplars, both on and off school time
  • Self-starters, intrinsically motivated and goal-oriented
  • Professionals 24/7 – always “on the job”

This bar is further raised by the public’s and our very own highest expectations of the “nine characteristics of a great teacher” by Maria Orlando in Faculty Focus:

  1. A great teacher respects students.
  2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
  3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
  4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
  5. A great teacher has his own love of learning.
  6. A great teacher is a skilled leader.
  7. A great teacher can “shift-gears…”
  8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
  9. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas…

I wouldn’t have it any other way! But these standards must take a toll on our health, wellness, and work/life balance!

 

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Stress and Data on Teacher Exhaustion

Do you find yourself tired most of the time? Quoted in Exhausted by Paul Murphy, does this sound like YOU?

  • “I’m exhausted, and every weekend, I spend at least one day in my pajamas.”
  • “I feel like work never ends.”
  • “I love my students, and I have a really good class this year, but I’m done and ready for a break.”
  • “I was so tired that I ended up missing out on family’s holiday dinner.”

Why is this so prevalent? According to Paul Murphy, “the answer, in a word, is STRESS! Teachers are incredibly stressed-out people, especially when they are at work.”

He shares some scary statistics:

Because our culture tendency to demand more of educators, that stress is on the rise. In 1985, 36% of teachers reported feeling great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number is 51%. Only doctors report higher levels of stress on the job.

The costs are high. A recent study of the U.S. Department of Education found a 10% of new teachers don’t return for second year. Nearly 185 new teachers are gone within five years. Many young people, perhaps persuaded by on his federal and Teacher should buy what they see on social media, won’t even entertain the thought of teaching. Between 2009 and 2014, enrollments in teacher preparation programs fell about 35% in the U.S., reducing the supply of available teachers by nearly a quarter-million. — Paul Murphy

These figures are supported by other sources as well. The American Federation of Teachers reported here that “61% of educators say their work is always or often stressful,” and, worse yet, “50% say they don’t have the same enthusiasm as when they started teaching.”

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In addition, according to James Anthony in “7 Conclusions from the World’s Largest Teacher Burnout Survey” posted here, 75% of teachers complained of health problems such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or chest pain, or regular headaches or stomach aches — symptoms often associated with a failure to deal with stress. His conclusion? “This is a worrying sign that pressure and workload of many teaching jobs is having a very real physical impact on many teachers.”

 

From the Back Cover of the Book

You should definitely grab a copy of Exhausted. Paul Murphy promises you will learn:

  • Exhausted by Paul MurphyWhy even good days with your students leave you drained.
  • What tired teachers have in common with doctors, major league baseball managers, and interview committees.
  • How Jeb Bush’s failure in the 2016 presidential primaries is related to your own fatigue.
  • What long distance runners, one of history’s greatest weightlifters, and a Stanford psychologist can teach you about the powerful influence of your mind.

He says you will find solutions to these problems and understand:

  • What teachers can learn from baristas and airline agents.
  • What supermarket layouts can teach us about the dangers of decision making.
  • Why AC/DC doesn’t belong in your classroom.
  • What an insurance agent’s plane crash can teach us about belief.

Who is this Paul Murphy guy? His own bio, the last section of the book, is unique:

Paul Murphy is a third-grade teacher in Michigan. This fall, he started his 20th year in the classroom. His writing focuses on improving the lives of teachers, both inside the classroom and out. He enjoys reading, writing, travel, exercise, craft beer, and Cheetos. His feet are perpetually cold, he bites his nails, and he regularly (and almost instinctively at this point) changes the lyrics to songs to make them inappropriate, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter.

cat-3623703_1920_ Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto

 

The Science of Exhaustion

The best way to review the innards of a publication and get to the nitty-gritty may be to frame a few guiding questions, to follow an outline summary on which to reflect while reading many of the early chapters:

  1. How many decisions do you make before you ever teach a single class every morning? What effect do they have on you?
  2. What is the link of willpower (ego depletion* and delayed gratification) to exhaustion?
  3. What do doctors say about the constant exercise of self-control and blood glucose levels, and why is the time of the day critical?
  4. What is “morning morality” and what does it have to do with planning your day as a teacher?

*Psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term “ego depletion” after he found that humans have a limited supply of willpower.  He compares willpower to a muscle, which can strengthen but also wear out with use. Ego depletion has a general effect, meaning that using self-control in one area of your life erodes your ability to self-regulate in other parts of your life. Baumeister found that exerting self-control results in a significant drop in blood-sugar levels.  Low blood sugar leads to physical fatigue, which is why you’re so tired, even though the heaviest thing you lifted was a textbook. Paul Murphy

A few of my observations. Willpower is actually “won’t-do-power,” and represents the chronic stress teachers and other professionals place on themselves everyday: saying “NO” to such things as sleeping-in an extra 10-15 minutes, staying on your diet by passing by that Dunkin Donuts shop on the way to school, forgoing the idle chit-chat from the teacher’s room on the way to the photocopier, not allowing yourself to be distracted by a TV program instead of doing your own homework, delaying an update of your social media sites or reading personal email instead of finishing your lesson plans, grades, or the forms the principal requested for completion by the end of the week.

In other words, facing up to all of those grown-up expectations that grown-ups must do! There’s no room for youthful indulgences or “goof-off time” as an adult!

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Paul Murphy says, “Whatever you call it… resisting temptation, will power, self-control, self-discipline, grit, perseverance, self-regulation, or determination, science has proven that it exhausts us.”

Teachers endlessly self regulate. We hold back sarcastic rejoinders, walk away from lazy students when we what we really want to do is lecture them, keep her honest thoughts about the principles latest he’ll conceive ideas to ourselves, respond professionally to disrespectful emails from parents, work with students when we want to do anything but, plan the next day one would rather check Facebook, and bite our tongues when we’d like to drop F-bombs. We force ourselves to work when we feel like taking a break. We redirect students when we’d rather just let the behaviors go and avoid the resultant excuses and conflicts. We keep teaching even though we really, really have to pee. Teachers use a lot of willpower. — Paul Murphy

Couldn’t say it better myself!

Another personal observation also seems to be supported by Paul Murphy. I have found that “earlier is better” for doing creative tasks, solving problems, or completing highly detailed work. Most mornings (in retirement), I reserve my first two hours for writing. Others say that the AM is best for practicing or composing, when you feel the freshest! The closer to having a meal or having slept all night (which revitalizes our supplies of self-regulation and blood sugar), the better for tackling something hard… which for a teacher might mean facing the challenge of a “difficult parent” phone call, student discipline report, or conference with an “unhappy” administrator.

 

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Strategies for Releasing/Postponing Tension

Paul Murphy recommends that, instead of using up your willpower reserves to fight off the urge to snap at someone or suppressing your anger, “simply notice something else that requires less willpower” or distract yourself. Postponing can also be effective: Have your tantrum “not now, but later.” (Schedule your nervous breakdown for another day?) Often, once some time has passed, you may find your frustration has abated.

Another technique for alleviating stress is to actually do a deliberate exercise to release your emotions and desires… in a more controlled and constructive way.

I sometimes receive an email from a parent or supervisor that angers me. My instinct is to return fire. That’s a bad instinct, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold in those feelings. It also doesn’t mean I should vent to other teachers or my wife. They’ve got their own problems, and nobody really wants to hear mine. What I do instead is write my honest, no-holds-barred rebuttal. I let it all out, hammering the keyboard and plastering my screen with vitriol. I read it and re-read until it effectively conveys the righteous indignation I so strongly feel.

Then I don’t send it!

It released my anger, and it’s there for me to revisit. On those few occasions when I have gone back to reread these unsent missives, my anger is gone. I wonder why I was so outraged at the time. They’re actually embarrassing to read. If you do this a few times, you begin to realize that your initial feelings are often an overreaction (and also the result of depleted willpower and low blood sugar) and it becomes easier to avoid indulging them.Paul Murphy

 

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Intense Emotions = Model Teacher?

Who is a better teacher? An energetic, passionate, and always “fired-up” one, or a professional who exerts a calm, introspective, and less intense attitude? Some studies do show that an enthusiastic, engaging teacher who is passionate about his subject is more effective than a “dull” or less dynamic teacher who seems to dislike his job, but what of the costs? Again, in Murphy’s book, we have more research to the rescue: “…Science has proven that intense emotions tire us out!”

I’ll explain why teachers should aim for a feeling of inner calm for large chunks of their day. I’ll argue that the expectation we have for ourselves and other teachers to be constantly enthusiastic is counterproductive in the short-term and ultimately damaging to the education system in the long-run. And I’ll explain how being calm will not only conserve your energy, but will make your classroom a better learning environment for your students.Paul Murphy

Another reason to buy his book!

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The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Finally, our very own thoughts are amazingly powerful tools. Our brain can either help or make things worse! “If you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be.” We all know that “positive talk” can alleviate the effects of stress, and can inspire greater levels of achievement. But, what about the relationship of negative thoughts to fatigue?

Almost every distance runner talks of hitting a wall. In 2012, Spanish researchers wanted to know what went through runners’ minds as they neared exhaustion, and they found exactly what you’d expect: the harder the runners work and the longer they run, the more negative their thoughts become. No surprise there.

runner-808932_1920+skeeze.jpgBut then a group of British and dutch researchers asked an interesting question. They wondered if everyone had it backwards. Did the discomfort of physical fatigue cause the runners to think negatively, like everyone assumed, or did the runners negative thoughts make them more physically tired and sore? It was a chicken and egg question.

The researchers found 24 healthy adults and had each complete a grueling ride on a stationary bike until they were exhausted. Then they were sent home for two weeks. During that time, half of the subjects were trained in positive self talk, a technique many sports psychologist coaches teach athletes to combat negative thinking that can lead to poor performance. The other 12 subjects were left alone. Then the researchers called them all back to hop on the bikes again.

On average, those who receive positive self talk training performed more than 17% better on their second ride than they had on their first. There was no improvement among members of the control group.Paul Murphy

He goes into great detail that the driving force behind our exhaustion may not even be the hours we work, the challenges we face in the classroom, or the lack of support we perceive from administration or parents. It may rest in our thoughts. And, he analyzes the negative effects of “worrying” and the concept of “mind over matter!”

 

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The Schedule That Doesn’t Help

Tiger Woods was known for so many “firsts” and breaking numerous golfing records in his early career. Many credited his success to his extreme focus, perseverance, and self-discipline. It was documented that he practiced golf 7-8 hours every day and worked out two or three hours more:

  • tiger-woods-79694_1920_ David Mark6:30 a.m. an hour of cardio
  • 7:30 a.m. one hour of lower-body weight training
  • 8:30 a.m. high protein/low-fat breakfast
  • 9:00 a.m. two hours on the driving range
  • 11:00 a.m. practicing putting
  • 11:30 a.m. playing nine holes
  • 2:00 p.m. healthy lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. two to four more hours on the golf course
  • 6:00 p.m. back in the gym working on upper-body
  • 7:00 p.m. dinner and relaxation

Then we learn about his personal “crash of 2009” when everything seemed to unravel:

  • Extra-marital affairs
  • Personal calls to escort services
  • Wife, discovering his “extra-curricular” activities, assaulting him
  • DUI arrest
  • Divorce
  • Destruction of his reputation
  • Injuries
  • Poor golf play

Certainly, Tiger had some deep-seated psychological issues. But I can’t help wondering if his remarkable self-discipline left him depleted to the point that he was unable to fight off his most distracted urges at the close of his ego-depleting days. Yes, he only had to focus for five hours during a round of golf, but Tiger Woods used will power from the time he woke up to the time he started texting port stars. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who spends large parts of the day exercising self-control. As teachers, there are lessons to be learned. Paul Murphy

Your own strict daily regiment may also contribute to your feelings of “total exhaustion.” Music teachers are usually their own worst enemies. We take on responsibilities for the hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainensake of the music program, add a new ensemble, schedule after-school time to teach a solo or instrumental part, and plan more weekend and evening “learning activities” or events beyond the scope of most other academic subject teachers. It was not unusual for me to be at school by 6:45 a.m., eat lunch in my car on the way to my second or third assignment as an itinerant, stop for a quick “date” and dinner out with my wife, return to school for band, orchestra, or musical practices, and not get home until 9 or or 10 p.m. As a retiree, I now ask, “What ever happened to all of this stamina and endurance?” Pushing wheel chairs only four hours a day three times a week at a local hospital, I sometimes find myself wanting to take a “power nap” when I get home! Never you fear: the healthy “calendar of a retired music teacher” is as busy (and hectic) as full-time employment… We always say, “I wonder how I ever had the time to do all of these things and work at the same time!”

However, to put it in perspective, here is a copy of my former professional schedule that I was (mostly self-) assigned to teach grades 5-12 strings in three buildings, manage the fall play and spring musical, assist the marching band, work with the superintendent on school district public relations projects, prepare for PMEA and NAfME music festivals, and serve as my district’s Performing Arts Curriculum Leader.

Schedule 2013

As an administrator, the number of “contact hours” over the maximum was irrelevant; it was never an option to submit a grievance to the teacher’s union. Actually, I accepted the responsibility of planning what I thought was necessary for the success of my program, my students, and my music staff… no matter what the cost! Sound familiar?

 

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Other Remedies to Lower Tension and Exhaustion

This is just “the tip of the iceberg” for an analysis of the book Exhausted. Part two which we have not covered here is entitled “What To Do About It.”

More recommendations for better time management, remediation of teacher burnout, development of a self-care plan, and techniques for stress reduction will be addressed in future blogs. At this point, from three excellent sources, these tips may steer you towards improved rest, personal life/work balance, and general health/wellness. Stay tuned for more at https://paulfox.blog/care/.

Numbers 1-6: Paul Murphy: Exhausted: Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It http://teacherhabits.com/about/

Numbers 7-15: Raphailia Michael: “What Is Self-Care, and What It Isn’t” at PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/

Numbers 16-22: Lesley Moffat: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me https://squ.re/2TaXoAr and (also see this blogpost)

  1. Work less/fewer hours
  2. Time before school is worth more than twice as much as time after school
  3. Use class time to check student work
  4. Leverage technology
  5. Don’t grade everything
  6. Stop assigning things
  7. Create a “NO” (I will not do) list
  8. Promote a nutritious, healthy diet
  9. Get enough sleep
  10. Follow-up with medical care as needed
  11. Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation
  12. Spend enough time with loved ones
  13. Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s spending 30 minutes unwinding, listening to music, or taking a walk
  14. Do at least one pleasurable activity every day, from going to the cinema, cooking, or meeting friends
  15. Make opportunities to laugh
  16. Take a break from social media
  17. Seek out ways to compliment others
  18. Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store
  19. Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song
  20. Turn off notifications on your phone and/or avoid electronic devices for the first hour of your day
  21. Take deep breaths when you encounter spped bumps and stop signs/lights during your daily commute
  22. Stay hydrated

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Care of Music Teachers

Something New is a-Coming

You cry and you scream and you stomp your feet and you shout. You say, “You know what? I’m giving up, I don’t care.” And then you go to bed and you wake up and it’s a brand new day, and you pick yourself back up again.Nicole Scherzinger

Wellness seeks more than the absence of illness; it searches for new levels of excellence. Beyond any disease-free neutral point, wellness dedicates its efforts to our total well-being – in body, mind, and spirit. Greg Anderson

 

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What is that saying? “When you point at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Or if you prefer the biblical reference (Jesus), “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye.”

Increasingly common, I find that our colleagues in music education do not model habits of good health and work/personal life balance. All fingers point at both my wife and I, as when we were at the pinnacle of our full-time careers (prior to retiring in 2013), teaching strings grades 3-12 in multiple buildings, preparing for concerts and festivals, designing curriculum, producing musicals, running marching bands, etc. often felt like a “runaway train ride” — a stressful 24/7 schedule with the two of us squeezing in time to meet for dinner in between our after-school rehearsals, and later “falling into bed” to snatch 5-6 hours of sleep, three to four days per week, ten months a year.

That said, I “see” little research, pre-service, in-service, post-service training, or even online dialogue about the wellness problems associated with our profession:

  • Overwhelming workload, long hours, and challenging classroom situations
  • Inconsistent hydration and consumption of a balanced diet
  • Irregular amounts of daily aerobic physical exercise
  • Insufficient quantities (length, depth, and frequency) of rest and sleep
  • Infrequent use of sick days or vacations as needed for restorative health
  • Misuse of the voice at work
  • Inadequate hearing conservation and protection from over-exposure to sound
  • Deficient scheduling of opportunities for mindfulness, meditation, and/or reflection
  • Deprivation of personal outlets for creative self-expression (not related to the job)
  • Lack of time to explore hobbies, interests, and socialization with family, friends, and loved ones

With the simplistic title of “Care,” blogs archived within the new section of this blog-site here will dive into these issues, remedies towards fostering a better “life balance,” and suggestions for the development of a self-care plan. Quoting from the timely article in the June 2019 issue of NAfME Music Educators Journal, “Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel, “Those in our profession need to increase awareness of the prevalence of stress and mental health concerns in music education.” We need to address methods for reducing job-related depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, feelings of impotency, and “burnout,” which can lead to negative student outcomes, lowered professional standards, absenteeism, illness, and teacher attrition.

 

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Definitions of Wellness

A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — The World Health Organization

A conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. — The National Wellness Institute

According to the Student Health and Counseling Services of the University of California, Davis Campus, “wellness” is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth.”

8 dimensions of wellness

Further elaboration of their eight dimensions of wellness is provided here:

  • Occupational
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Intellectual

They conclude: “Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness.”

 

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It’s Time to Bring on the “Experts”

Even though I would have told you “I am loving every moment of it” during my 35+-year career in music education, I would be the last person anyone should turn to for helpful advice on self-care. I cannot say I ever “practiced what I preached” lectured to my music students on taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. So, for this forum, we will bring in leading authorities and even a few “frontier blazers” who have agreed to share new ideas in alleviating “the problem,” so well defined in the MEJ article by Christa Kuebel:

Music education has been shown to be a field in which stress and burnout are common. We must address this difficult realization in order to make changes for the health and success of our current and future teachers. Our concert seasons will continue to come and go, and our responsibilities will not decrease in number, but taking time to consider how to take care of ourselves may allow us to fulfill our responsibilities in safe and effective ways throughout our entire careers.

“Health and Wellness for In-Service and Future Music Teachers” by Christa Kuebel

 

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Coming Soon…

Already, we have found a wealth of people who have perspectives and “prescriptions” that may help. We are anticipating future submissions from (or reviews of) the following self-care advisors:

  • Aforementioned MEJ article, teacher self-care assessment, and excellent bibliography by Christa Kuebel
  • Contributions by Lesley Moffat including her book I Love My Job, But It’s Killing Me and details about her Band Directors Boot Camp, “Music Teacher Mojo Meter,” and her website “Building Better Band Programs Without Burning Out”
  • Recommended by NAfME member Jennifer Dennett, the book Exhausted – Why Teachers Are So Tired and What They Can Do About It by Paul Murphy, who also has an extensive website and other books on “teacher habits”
  • Future wellness research and writings by Theresa Ducassoux, who has been accepted into the Google Innovator Academy, a program for teachers to work on tackling challenges in education
  • Survey of “prioritizing teacher self-care” articles posted by Edutopia
  • Other online sources

 

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This is Where YOU Can Help!

If you find something interesting, please comment on it at this forum, or send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox