by Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator
“I can keep going.” Have you ever used these words as your mantra during an especially long, chaotic, challenging or heartbreaking day with children? Here’s the truth: our jobs can be hard, and yet children and families count on us to be at our best… always! So we need strategies. Wishing our mantra to be true is one such strategy, and there are others. Here are two strategies that relieve stress by helping teachers “find their center”.
Samantha Anderson and Rosemarie James are teacher-coaches at the Head Start of the Menominee Nation Early Childhood Program. Recently they participated in a training called Trauma Smart to help them help children who are dealing with strong feelings, especially those feelings that arise when children experience trauma. In the training, they were reminded of the importance of self-care as they watched a video by Soul Pancake Entitled “Zen Dens.” Back in their program, they wanted to create a similar area where teachers could re-center and capture the feeling that was embodied on the faces of everyone in the video as they left the Den.
Samantha has this to say: “Early childhood teachers often have to handle situations that have variables not controlled by themselves. Crying babies, children with special needs, daily pressures of a classroom… these can raise the stress level of our teachers. Teachers need a way to help release the stress and renew calm in themselves. Calm teachers create calm classrooms enabling a more productive atmosphere.” Together Samantha and Rosemarie created their own “Zen Den.” The teachers have given some very positive feedback about the space and what taking their break now means to them.
Watch the video on Zen Dens and then imagine what such a space might look like in your program, what fits your workspace and style, what sensory inputs would feel just right to help a teacher reclaim her “center” and feeling of well-being. If you want to learn more about Trauma Smart, in this video you will hear teachers talk about the importance of managing their own strong feelings in order to help the children.
Emily Hagenmaier is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose work has largely focused on parents, helping them manage change and make the adjustments needed to raise children who thrive. Emily has also worked with and on behalf of caregivers. She recognizes that early childhood educators share with parents the very basic goal of supporting children’s social and emotional well-being each and every day. And like parents, we experience how stress can work against our best efforts.
“Before you can attune to the child’s experience, you need to be attuned to yourself. Then you are able to be a model of compassion and self-regulation for our children. We can’t ask children to do what we can’t do ourselves. That means being in touch with our own feelings and not minimizing them. Have you ever said to a distressed child, “You’re OK” when really you were thinking, “I need you to be OK because I’m not OK with what you’re expressing”?
One strategy that Emily teaches is “mindfulness,” a practice which helps you focus your attention and awareness, and relate to yourself and the children in your care with less judgment and more kindness. She describes this as giving yourself permission to feel what is already there. In this way we take care of ourselves and we suffer less.
Emily offers the following – an audio recording of a mindfulness meditation – as a gift to all caregivers of young children. Allow yourself a few moments to listen, to breathe, and to feel. And then you’ll be better prepared to share your gifts with the children.
A Self-Care Plan
This article from Child Care Information Exchange may provide just what you need to intentionally create your own self-care plan, beginning with this quote by Lauren Quinn, teacher and author: “Take care of yourself. Your students need you to do this. Put on your oxygen mask first so your teaching can be a gift of yourself to your students. They need your mind, body, and soul to be nurtured. You can’t give to them what you don’t have.”