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April 11, 2018

Teacher Wellness: 5 Lessons from Happy Teachers

Great teachers are happy teachers! Happy teachers feel confident, energized, and purposeful. They face new challenges with curiosity and resiliency. People who are genuinely happy also tend to be physically healthier and have healthier relationships. But what happens when you don’t feel happy? Teaching is joyful, but it is also hard. Take a few minutes now to learn how to foster happiness each day with these helpful tips. You deserve it! 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy! 

Psychologists who study happiness have shown we can actually create happiness by making it a habit in our lives. How exactly can we do this? We can choose to live joyfully each day: dash negative reactions such as resentment, anger, and pessimism and foster positive emotions, such as empathy, serenity, and gratitude. It’s true! You can train your brain to see the good in each situation and make happiness a way of life. Feeling a little skeptical? Paul Murphy, author of Happy Teacher: A Scientific Approach to Being Happier in The Classroom asserts that the latest studies show approximately 50 percent of overall well-being is hereditary, while another 10 percent is situational. The remaining 40 percent is entirely in our control. So take this bright bit of news and embrace some joyful habits today. 

According to the research, here are five habits happy people tend to share, and ways you can make these a part of your everyday life even as a busy teacher! 

1. They Unplug

Happy people know how to take time for themselves and leave work and technology on the shelf — even if just for a few precious hours a day. 

My friend’s principal used to say at the end of each staff meeting: “go home and love your family and friends. We’ll be here tomorrow.” What a great way to encourage teachers to take a break. Yes, it’s okay to leave your teacher bag at school. Showing up refreshed to teach and care for your students each morning is the most important thing you can do. 

If you have a hard time taking time for yourself, find an accountability partner at work. Agree that a few times a week, you’ll push each other out the door at the end of the day and encourage each other to relax, move, shop—whatever brings you joy! 

 2. They Let Go of Clutter

Happy people tend to focus less on “things” and know when to let things go. We may not realize it, but organizing and storing “stuff” can be emotionally draining. So free yourself! Shannon Kaiser, author of Find Your Happy:  An Inspirational Guide to Living Life to Its Fullest explains it this way: “the importance of downsizing is significant. Whenever you take a stand to unclutter your life and downsize, you are sending a loud and clear message to the universe that you will remove unwanted things from your life. It may seem silly, but when you clear out space you have more room to play, laugh, love and live.” 

In your classroom, de-cluttering can include taking pictures of student projects to keep as examples (rather than storing them all), sharing classroom decorations or displays with other teachers, and keeping items in clear bins to avoid the “what is in that box?!” confusion at the start of each school year. My favorite tip? Keep a donation box in your classroom (and at home), that way, anytime you see something you don’t need, you have a place to drop it immediately. Then, you have the second joy of contributing these items to others in need. 

 3. They Give Thanks

Happy people practice gratitude. They take the time to show their appreciation for others and honor the little things each day that bring them joy.  

Make appreciation part of your regular routine with students. At the end of a busy week, bring out the art materials and encourage students to write thank you notes to their peers, other teachers or staff in school, their parents, even their pets! Younger students can draw pictures of people or events that make them happy to share with others. 

If you have bit more time, support your class in donating or volunteering their talents to a worthy cause. Let your students research and vote on the organization you will support as a class: animals, the environment, education, your local community, etc. This doesn’t have to be fancy or time-consuming. You can start with a brightly decorated donation jar to serve as a visual reminder of your commitment to the cause. Instead of using candy or treats as class rewards, you can donate small change and encourage your students to do the same throughout the year.  

You can also think beyond cash donations: spend a few days creating cards for service people or nursing home residents, make toys or treats for animal shelters, or collect items for a food or clothing drive. Even small gestures have big rewards. 

 4. They Get Moving and Breathe

Physical exercise increases strength, improves mental and physical health, and can even make us happier. This is because exercise boosts immunity and our brain’s dopamine production. So run, lift, jump, play — and get happy!  

Add more movement to your day by making it part of your students’ routine, too! Just two minutes per class period can give you up to 15 minutes of extra activity each day. When it looks like your class is about to fall asleep (or get out of control), try a movement activity that will get them out of their seats for a moment or two. The “Go Noodle” website is a favorite of the teachers we know! 

Another way to boost your mood and keep your students focused is to try out some mindfulness activities! Not sure where to begin? Check out our free Learners Edge webinar: “Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Steps to Improve Your Focus and Peace of Mind.” In this informative video, you’ll learn the benefits of mindfulness and some easy ways to practice it each day. 

5. They Choose Positivity 

Here’s the most important tip of all: happy people are not immune to sadness. They experience the same trials as everyone else. What they understand, however, is that pessimism fuels unhappiness. Exponentially. Happiness does not come naturally for everyone, but everyone does possess the ability to choose positivity. It is a choice we can make each morning when we wake up. Here’s my favorite wake-up routine: sit up, rest my feet on the floor, take a few deep mindful breaths and say aloud, “today I will live joyfully.” I can’t guarantee my day will go well, but I can set my intention anew each day. 

When my friend and colleague Barb joined the Learners Edge team, she chatted during her interview about her daughter’s upcoming wedding. Her words that stuck with me were this: “I intend to dance!” And really, that sums up my own quest for happiness. I intend to dance—to live fully with intention. It’s the best any of us can do. 

Looking for more ways to embrace positivity and joy in your personal and professional life? Join us in one of these Learners Edge wellness-focused courses: 

Learners Edge is passionately committed to providing you with continuing education coursework, materials, and tools that will help you succeed in your classroom and in your career.

Offering more than 100 print-based or online courses for teachers, you can earn the graduate credit you need for salary advancement and meet your professional development needs. Contact us today to get started!


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