The principal of a local elementary school called me over the summer, asking me to come in and talk about a teacher wellness initiative. "These teachers are just so stressed out," he said. "We need to help them any way we can."
He's right: a survey of 30,000 educators by the American Federation of Teachers showed 78 percent say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day, and 87 percent say the demands of their job at least sometimes interfere with their family life. Eighty-nine percent said they were strongly enthusiastic about teaching when they began their careers, but just 15 percent felt the same way today.
I know you agree with me: this is NOT ok.
Plus, teacher stress causes student stress: a 2016 study published in Social Science & Medicine (Oberle, Schonert-Reichl) found that students had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol if their teachers reported higher burnout levels--this is the first study to link teacher burnout to physical stress changes in students.
So I said I'm all in, and after a brainstorm with the principal, wrote a proposal that includes twice-weekly morning yoga (ALL YEAR LONG) for the teachers, and meetings with topics like simple, manageable mindfulness practices and how to make them a consistent part of a daily routine, recognizing and dealing with stress triggers, and cultivating empathy, compassion and generosity toward themselves and each other.
In the second half of the year, I'll conduct a a weekly mindfulness class with each grade, reaching ALL students for at least a 20-minute session. We also planned a parent evening on mindfulness with demonstrations of practical and quick mindful activities for both parents and children; and manageable ways to incorporate these practices into daily routines. To top it all off, a Rockin' Yoga school assembly!
The powers-that-be in the school district approved most of the funds needed, and grants will be written for the rest. I am thrilled to be a part of this incredibly important initiative, in the hopes that its success will spread to other schools. Stay tuned!