To my teacher friends out there!
One of the most important reasons for self care is preventing burnout.
One of the best ways to help you manage the feelings of stress triggered by school and students, is to start a regular gratitude practice.
Make It Count:
I just discussed the importance of practicing gratitude and how a positive perspective can help you manage your stress, but I want to give a warning about staying positive and always looking on the bright side.
Finally, remember that avoiding toxic positivity does not mean not showing your colleagues and students your positive and optimistic side.
When your work involves helping others, there’s a high probability that you often experience or hear about difficult situations that you want to share with others. It’s completely normal to feel like you need to unload about your day. There’s even a name for it.
But if we aren’t careful when it comes to this kind of debriefing, it can have damaging effects on the person we are sharing this information with, which in turn, can create more stress for us.
I KNOW if you hear a student say something negative about another student, you consider that unacceptable behavior and immediately intervene.
It’s time to start paying attention because positive self-talk and affirmations have the power to lower feelings of stress and anxiety while increasing feelings of self-worth and self-compassion.
This article includes FREE printables and resources for Educators.
Have you ever asked your students to share their stress levels with you?
If so, you probably discovered your students are STRESSED! They’re often stressed about school, stressed about their families, and stressed about world events they’re working to understand.
As an educator, you surely hate when your students are stressed, and you understand that stress impacts them negatively both at school and at home. But do you ever think about how the stress your students face actually runs the risk of negatively impacting your health as well?
In an effort to help your students and protect yourself, consider implementing a gratitude practice into your classroom.
Regular gratitude exercises are one of the best strategies for managing stress and helping students think more positively and experience more positive emotions.
Gratitude has been proven to increase wellbeing by improving mental and physical health, sleep quality, relationships, self-esteem, building empathy, and more.
Learn about the benefits of a gratitude practice in this video. Feel free to share it with your students too!
Expressing gratitude can have significant benefits on students’ overall well being. It can help students think more positively, experience more positive emotions, and even increase their physical health. Here’s the science behind these benefits of expressing gratitude:
• Regularly practicing and expressing gratitude can release the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which help reduce and regulate feelings of depression and anxiety. This means practicing gratitude can help students feel happier, calmer, and more focused.
• Expressing gratitude helps students shift away from negative or toxic emotions towards positive emotions.
• Practicing gratitude has long term effects that help students be more in tune with future feelings of gratitude. This means students start actively looking for things to be thankful for in their world.
• Brain research suggests people who regularly practice gratitude have increased activity in the hypothalamus, which helps control eating and sleeping patterns. So, practicing gratitude can have a positive impact on overall physical health in addition to mental health.
1. GRATITUDE GROWTH TREE:
Create and decorate a tree trunk from construction paper or another creative way. Have students fill out a Gratitude Growth Leaf. They can use this template to write what they are grateful for. Then, have students decorate their leaves and cut them out to decorate a class gratitude tree.
2. GRATITUDE STUDENT WALK:
Guide students on a nature walk outside. Encourage the students to be mindful of the nature around them. After the walk, use this worksheet to have the students list three things they are grateful for seeing during their walk and draw a picture.
For older students, instead of using the worksheet, have them journal about what they were grateful for seeing during their walk and reflect on why they were grateful.
3. GRATITUDE BREAK
Take a few minute break during class to guide students through this Gratitude Break. This activity can be done quickly, without taking up too much valuable class time, and can significantly help students relieve stress and shift to a more positive mindset.
4. GRATITUDE JOURNAL
A great way to further strengthen your students’ gratitude practice is through starting a gratitude journal. Starting a gratitude journal can help students become more intune with future feelings of gratitude, which means they may start actively looking for things to be thankful for in their world. But for many students, starting a gratitude journal and consistently writing in it can be a challenge. Providing prompts can help guide students’ practice. Consider giving these gratitude prompts to students...
5. MAKE IT COUNT
Guide students through this exercise to help them focus on the things they are grateful for. Tell students to sit up nice and straight. Students may close their eyes if they’d like, otherwise encourage them to bring their eyes to a low gaze. Then, have students take a few deep breaths, and count 10 things that you are grateful for. Students should extend one finger for each item. Once students are finished, both hands will be open and they may find themselves feeling a little more grateful. Use this visual to help coach students through this exercise!
1. FOR OLDER STUDENTS, GUIDE THEM THROUGH CREATING GRATITUDE JOURNALS
Set aside time for students to spend a few minutes journaling about the things for which they’re grateful. Give them prompts that specifically ask them about their feelings of gratitude. Have a consistent schedule so students know when each day, or week, they will be journaling. Expressing gratitude has a higher likelihood of becoming a habit when it is part of some sort of consistent, regular routine.
Remember, journaling can be done in both in-person or virtual classrooms. In an online classroom, you can post journal prompts for students or consider starting a gratitude discussion board. In either environment, try to give students an opportunity to share what they wrote to create a classroom that encourages giving thanks.
2. HAVE STUDENTS WRITE GRATITUDE LETTERS
This is especially great for students new to the practice of expressing gratitude. It can sometimes be difficult to identify all the things in one’s life to be grateful for, but expressing thanks and gratitude for what others have done for us, can feel a lot more manageable. Coach students through writing letters of gratitude and thanks, and assist them in sending those letters out, either through the mail or through personal delivery. Encourage students to be as specific as possible about what it is the person they are writing to did and why they are grateful. You could also simplify this and have students make post-it notes to express gratitude and post them somewhere they will be seen by the recipient.
HAVE YOUNGER STUDENTS WRITE GRATITUDE LETTERS OR DRAW GRATITUDE PICTURES
You can do gratitude letters with younger students, though depending on the age, you might need to provide a little more assistance. Have students draw a picture expressing their gratitude. They can draw a picture of a nice deed someone has done for them, and if they can write to explain the picture, great! Otherwise, you can have them dictate to you why they are grateful and write a quick note of thanks on their behalf.
4. CREATE GRATITUDE ARTWORK
All students, but younger students especially, tend to enjoy opportunities to express themselves through art and crafts. You can have students create construction paper flowers and write something they’re grateful for on each petal. Students can trace their hands and write something they are grateful for on each finger. You can cut green construction paper into the shape of leaves and have each student write down something they are grateful for on each leaf, and then compile the leaves into a classroom tree of gratitude. There’s a lot of different artistic ways to have students give thanks, and the great thing about all of these options is you can then display these expressions of gratitude around the classroom, creating a classroom community that values gratitude and each other. This practice can easily be adapted for virtual classrooms where students can share what they are grateful for and you can compile what students share into a word cloud or some other graphic that can be posted on a class website.
While establishing a new classroom routine can sometimes feel like a daunting task, incorporating a simple gratitude practice only needs to take a few minutes a day. In those few minutes, you can help your students manage their stress, improve their mindset, and find ways to start focusing on the positive. This regular gratitude practice can lead your students to higher academic scores, fewer behavior disruptions, and an overall healthier and happier classroom community! Be grateful, and create a great day!
This article includes FREE printables and resources for Educators.
As a teacher, you face a lot of stressful days at school, but the silver lining to facing that stress is that you’ve got a unique opportunity to help demonstrate a growth mindset for your students. One of the best ways to model a growth mindset for your students is through affirmations.
Regularly practicing positive affirmations can help you and your students manage the stress that comes in the face of change. Positive affirmations have the power to help your students lower their stress levels, decrease their anxiety, and build their self-esteem!
When something threatens our sense of adequacy, stress levels rise and self-protective reactions may take place that ultimately hinders performance and growth. Research shows, however, that affirmation of the self can actually curb some of these negative responses and allow us to respond flexibly.
Learn about the benefits of an affirmation practice in this video. Feel free to share it with your students too!
There’s science that supports incorporating affirmations into your classroom. Negative self-talk can increase feelings of anxiety and lead to depression. It can also increase cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, and have negative effects on both the mind and body. Working to shift students towards embracing affirmations and positive self-talk can lessen negative self-talk and bring lots of other benefits to their lives.
• Positive self-talk can help manage and regulate the emotional responses triggered by activation of the amygdala, the section of your brain most closely associated with negative emotions such as fear and anger.
• Positive self-talk can lower anxiety and increase feelings of self control and agency.
• Positive self-talk can help students recognize and process difficult emotions.
• Positive self-talk can make students less judgemental of themselves and increase feelings of self worth and self compassion, which helps students build stronger and healthier relationships.
Here are some exercises and activities you can consider using with students to help them start practicing positive self-talk.
1. START THE DAY WITH AN AFFIRMATION
Begin each day by setting aside a few minutes for students to state an affirmation. Use this Create a Great Week worksheet to start each day off with some positive self-talk. Take breaks throughout the rest of the day to complete the rest of the worksheet, or the following morning students can reflect on the previous day.
In the peak and pit section of this worksheet, have students identify the best part of their day and the biggest challenge they faced. Use this as an opportunity to celebrate students’ accomplishments and support students who faced difficulty.
2. TAKE AN AFFIRMATIONS BREAK
Use this exercise to help students build their self-esteem and develop a positive perspective.
Have students create an affirmation page. Give students a piece of card stock or construction paper and draw things that are important to them or images that represent their values. Students should also write 5 - 10 affirmations on this page. You can provide students with a list of affirmations to choose from, but also encourage them to come up with their own honest affirmations. While this initial activity will take a little time, you can use this as a brain break for weeks to come.
As a break during class, have students get out their affirmations page. You can spend a few minutes having students recite their affirmations out loud as a break, or have students show and explain their affirmations page to a classmate. Students can share with a new partner each time you have them bring out their affirmations page.
3. BOUNCE BACK AFFIRMATIONS
Have students find a partner and choose who will go first. The first person will state an affirmation and be affirmed. For example, the first person might say, "I am awesome." Then, that student is affirmed by the partner who will say, "You are so awesome." The first student says affirmations and gets affirmed for one minute before the students switch roles. This is a powerful affirmations activity that only takes a couple of minutes of class time and can be done on a regular basis.
4. AFFIRMATIONS CIRCLE
Have students stand in a circle. The first student will say their affirmation aloud. “I am creative!” The student to their right will affirm them, “You are creative!”, and then state an affirmation of their own. The group goes around the circle until every member has stated an affirmation and affirmed another student.
5. AFFIRM YOUR NAME
Have students write out their name vertically on a piece of paper. Students will then write an affirming work about themselves that starts with each letter of their name.
1. CREATE POSITIVE SELF-TALK COLLAGES
Have students spend time creating a personalized list of affirmations on a piece of construction paper or card stock. Offer students a list of suggestions, but allow them to choose which statements they connect with most. Students can also decorate this with drawings, pictures, or cutouts from old magazines that represent things they like about themselves and value. Students can post these around the room or keep them with their other class materials, but once a day make time for students to look at their collage and repeat one of their affirmations aloud to themselves.
2. EXPLICITLY TEACH THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEGATIVE SELF-TALK AND POSITIVE SELF-TALK
This activity can be altered for younger and older students. First, identify a list of negative self-talk phrases. For older students, you can write these out on the board and work as a class to discuss why they are examples of negative self-talk, and then change the language to make the statements examples of positive self-talk. For younger students, you may want to write the phrases out on cards or posters and already have the revised version of positive self-talk prepared. You can still discuss as a class why the negative self-talk is negative and why the positive self-talk version is better to use. After the activity, for both younger and older students, post the positive self-talk examples somewhere students are able to see the affirmations.
3. DAILY AFFIRMATION PRACTICE
This can be done in an in-person classroom or a virtual class. As you work with students to use positive self-talk, they will need regular practice developing positive, self-affirmations. You can have a daily or weekly assignment where students write an affirmation. Give them a format or goal for their affirmations and have students write these as an exit ticket on their way out of class or as a quick assignment submission in an online classroom. One day students might write a simple “I am” affirmation where they identify one of their positive traits where the next time they might write an “I am learning to” affirmation where they identify some way they are improving.
Helping students learn to embrace positive self-talk and affirmations can help students manage the negative emotions they may be experiencing this year while simultaneously increasing their self-worth and self-compassion. Consider making time for affirmations in your classroom and create a great day!
This article includes FREE printables and resources for Educators.
If you aren’t having students journal in your classroom, now’s the time to consider starting!
Making time for students to journal in the classroom can significantly improve your classroom community. Not only does incorporating a journaling practice in the classroom give you an opportunity to better know and build relationships with your students, journaling also gives your students an outlet to process difficult emotions so they are better able to focus on being present in the classroom. Additionally, journaling can help decrease students’ stress levels, boost students’ self-confidence, and increase their memory.
As an educator, helping your students develop a consistent journaling practice can lead to higher academic scores, fewer behavior disruptions, and an overall healthier and happier classroom community.
When students write and express their feelings, they can reduce amygdala activity, which is the brain’s emotional center; this allows students to better engage their thinking brain. This is why feelings of sadness, anger, and pain are less intense after written out on paper. Help your students develop a journaling practice so they are better prepared to engage with their learning.
Learn more about how journaling can help students (and you!) manage stress in this video.
Learn more about how journaling can help students (and you!) manage stress in this video.
Journaling and writing about emotions can provide a lot of benefits in mental health. You can help students learn to journal with intention as a means to work through problems, identify issues causing stress and anxiety, and express gratitude.
Here’s some of the benefits students receive from journaling:
• The process of expressing feelings through writing activates the sections of the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain connected to planning, decision making, and language. This activity in the prefrontal cortex, in turn, decreases activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain most closely associated with feelings of fear, anxiety, and aggression.
• Simply put, journaling helps recognize, process, and manage emotions, especially stress and anxiety.
• Journaling also improves self awareness, which has a positive impact on social relationships.
• Journaling is also shown to improve memory and comprehension.
1. JOURNAL PROMPTS
Not all students immediately feel comfortable journaling about their feelings and emotions. For many, developing a strong journaling practice where they can write freely about their thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgement or self-criticism requires time and regular practice.
Use these prompts to help students begin a journaling practice of self-reflection and expression.
2. GRATITUDE SCAVENGER HUNT
Have students search their space (this could be their desk, the classroom, or their home as part of a “homework” assignment) and find at least 3 things they are grateful for. Then, have students get out their journals and reflect on why they are grateful for these items. If students are comfortable sharing, allow them to share, but understand this might be quite personal for some students. This is a journaling (and gratitude!) exercise you can do on a regular basis. .
3. “YOUR BEST SELF” JOURNAL PROMPTS
Journaling has many benefits. One of which is that journaling can help students improve their sense of self awareness, which can have a positive impact on social relationships.
Use these journal prompts that encourage students to think about being the best version of themselves.
4. JOURNAL PROMPTS FOR MANAGING THOUGHTS & FEELINGS
Students’ thoughts and feelings are always changing. It’s important for students to know this because when they’re feeling angry or sad, they begin to learn they won’t always feel that way. It will eventually change. Similarly, when students are really happy, they should be grateful for that emotion because it won’t last forever. Encourage students to write to these journal prompts to begin managing their thoughts and feelings.
• Think of the last time you were excited (alternatively: worried or sad). How long did that last?
•Reflect on a difficult moment from your past. Now that it’s in the past, was there some benefit to this experience? What did you learn from it?
• Write down the things that are causing stress, fear, and anxiety right now. Once you are done, turn the page, and write down the things that are bringing you joy.
5. JOURNAL PROMPTS FOR DEVELOPING A GROWTH MINDSET
Educators often talk about trying to help students develop a growth mindset and learn that they are able to work through problems and tackle new challenges. Journaling is a great exercise to help students develop that growth mindset. Encourage students to write to these journal prompts to foster a growth mindset. If students are comfortable sharing about what they write, you can use these journal prompts as guides for class discussions as well!
1. MAKING TIME
You have to make time for students to journal. It’s best to establish a routine and choose a certain time on certain days as time for journaling. This models for students that the best way to make journaling a habit is to specially set time aside for it. You also want to make sure to set enough time aside that students feel like they can complete their journal writing. Initially, when students are new to journaling, just a few minutes might be enough time to write about their thoughts and feelings. However, as students become more comfortable with the process of journaling and writing, they will most likely need more time. Include enough time that students can opt to share as well. In in-person classrooms, you can have students share with a partner or with the whole class, and in virtual classrooms, you can spend a few minutes through video conferencing sharing or students can share through online discussion boards.
2. CREATING A JOURNAL
Students will be more invested in journaling if they have the opportunity to personalize their journal. Giving students time to decorate a notebook or add a personalized cover-page to a journal allows students to be more invested in their journaling. For older students, you may opt for them to use a notebook as their journal, while younger students might find it beneficial to compile a journal for them that includes prompts and places to write their responses. Either way, give the students some sort of opportunity to personalize their journal.
3. SHARING PROMPTS
The key to becoming comfortable with journaling, is figuring out what to write about. For students who are not used to journaling, it will probably be difficult to know what to write about without some sort of prompt. While students are new to journaling, consider providing prompts for them. You can have prompts appropriate for whatever age group you are teaching and you can have prompts that encourage students to write about many different feelings and emotions. As students get more comfortable with their journaling, more and more will probably opt to write their emotions without a prompt, but providing a prompt is still beneficial for a lot of students.
4. SHOULD STUDENTS WRITE OR TYPE?
Students doing school virtually or in a one-to-one technology setting can write in a journal or type. Hand writing journal responses often allows the student to process what they are writing more, but typing a journal response often allows the student to get their response out faster. Some students may prefer typing and some may prefer writing, and that’s okay. Both are receiving the benefits that come from journaling. And of course there are some very young students who can’t yet write, these students can still journal and respond to prompts but you can encourage them to do this through drawing.
Journaling is a great opportunity to help your students develop a greater sense of self-awareness, to build stronger relationships, and learn to regulate and manage their emotions. Setting aside just a few minutes a day to journal can significantly improve your students’ emotional health and your overall classroom culture, so get out those journals, and create a great day!
This article includes FREE printables and resources for Educators.
School can be a pretty significant stressor, for both students and teachers!
One way of coping with this stress is through various mindfulness practices, specifically breathing and movement. Incorporating breathing and movement practices into your classroom routine can help you and your students release tension, alleviate stress and anxiety, and improve focus and concentration. Physically, these practices can lead to improved posture, flexibility, and balance, while increasing strength and cardiovascular health.
And don’t think the process of establishing a breathing and movement practice has to be complicated. Simple movement breaks and breathing exercises will have a huge impact on your classroom. Bringing these practices into your classroom is a quick and easy way to create a classroom community with a controlled energy level.
These practices are great resources to help students feel connected to you, one another, and their own emotions and energy.
When your students are stressed, they can use their breath to stay level headed and to help change their mood. Watch this video and share it with your students to start learning about the benefits of a regular breathing practice.
Incorporating a breathing and mindful movement into the classroom and routine can help students alleviate stress and anxiety, and improve students’ focus and concentration. Here’s some additional benefits of bringing movement into the classroom:
• Breathing and mindful movement and stretching can help release tension and anger.
• Mindful movement helps reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, and gives feelings of being more content.
• Deep breathing and mindful movement can inhibit the amygdala, that part of the brain that oversees emotional responses of fear, stress, and anger. This increases in students’ ability to regulate stress and other negative emotions.
• Studies suggest that mindful movement can protect the function of the hippocampus, leading to improved memory and information processing.
• In addition to reducing stress while improving focus and concentration, this type of movement can lead to an improved body image.
While the breathing exercises, movement, and stretching might vary slightly depending on the age group, here are some ways to get students moving in the classroom:
1. BALLOON BREATHING EXERCISE
Use this Balloon Breathing Exercise to check in with students at the beginning of the day. It can help students relieve stress and prepare to focus on learning.
2. 4:8 BREATHING EXERCISE
Play this audio to guide students through 4:8 count breathing exercise. This exercise can help students feel less anxious throughout the day and better control their emotions.
Sometimes students have excess energy and need to release that energy. This exercise is great when students seem a little wired and need an outlet. It can help students release tension in the body and develop coordination.
4. STRETCHING BREAKS
Try this exercise in the middle of your day. Each movement break only needs to be a couple of minutes for students to reap the benefits.
5. 4 SQUARE BREATHING
Print out this sheet and give students a copy. Then, use the sheet to guide students through breathing in for the count of 4, holding their breath for the count of 4, and breathing out for the count of 4. Use this exercise to help students relax and find a sense of calm as they prepare to learn.
1. POST POSTERS OF DIFFERENT STATIC & MOVING BREATHING EXERCISES
Having these posted around the classroom makes them easy to reference. When students seem to need a break, you have the class pause and choose a pose or breathing exercise to work through. The more visible this information is, the more likely students are to engage with these reminders to move on a regular basis.
2. CREATE BREATHING & STRETCHING CARDS
Use a deck of cards or notecards and write different static or dynamic stretches and movements on them. You can set aside class time when the whole class can draw cards to move through some breathing and movement, or you can make this resource available to students to use when they feel like they need a break.
3. PLAY MOVEMENT GAMES
Many of the traditional interactive games can be adapted to incorporate movement and breathing. You can take inspiration from musical chairs and play music. Students can move and dance around and then when the music stops and the students hold a static pose. Or students can work through dynamic stretches while the music plays and hold a static pose when it ends until it begins again. You can play a version of “Simon Says” where the leader says different stretches, poses, and breathing exercises. These may seem like activities best for younger students, but actually older students will enjoy these as well!
Not only do movement and breathing practices have mental benefits for your students and create a classroom environment that places an emphasis on physical health, research suggests that by incorporating these practices into your classroom you can improve students’ focus and therefore their academic performance and help improve behavior! Don’t wait to start incorporating these activities into your classroom. Create a great day!
Breathing exercises are some of my favorite strategies for managing stress. When you’re stressed, you can use your breath to not only stay level-headed but actually change your mood or emotional state.
People often ask how long a breathing exercise or breathing practice should last.
My answer? There’s no magic number!
It isn’t about how many minutes you commit to your practice, it’s about how consistent you can be. So don’t put a time constraint on your practice, instead, set the goal to take deep, mindful breaths every day and make this practice a HABIT.
Here are some tips for helping your practice become a habit:
- Put a reminder on your phone.
- Put a post-it note reminder on the mirror.
- Make your breathing practice part of your morning or evening routine.
- Establish a cue. (i.e. Every time I hear the neighbor’s dog bark, I take some deep, mindful breaths.)
The more you work to make mindful breathing part of your routine, the better equipped your brain is to access this strategy during stressful situations, and the more you can feel in charge of your stress and emotions.
Watch this video for more strategies!
Okay, so you know breathing exercises can help you calm down and get to a place where you can think critically and clearly about how to best respond to the stressful situations around you.
But do you ever wonder if you’re doing it right?
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the “right” way to breathe and I want to share some of my answers, but I also want to emphasize a successful breathing practice isn’t really about doing it “right”; it’s about finding what works best for you!
That being said, here’s one of the tips I have for maximizing the benefits of your breathing exercises.
Start with your posture and position.
To fully access your deepest breath, sit up nice and straight:
- Are your ears above your shoulders?
- Are your shoulders above hips?
- Have you uncrossed your legs?
- Are your feet firmly on the floor?
And my final recommendation: Do you have one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest? As you breathe in, push your belly out into your hand, and as you breathe out, allow the belly to fall back towards the spine. The hand on your chest should have as minimal movement as possible, so you are using the belly to breathe deeply and access your sense of calm.
From there, you’re ready to begin your breathing exercise!
A beneficial breathing practice doesn’t demand perfect posture, but strategic posture will let you access the sense of relaxation and calm you’re seeking. Adjust your positioning as needed to feel confident and comfortable as you breathe.
Interested in more guidance on how to develop a regular breathing practice and how breath and movement can help you relax and focus throughout your day? Check out my Cost of Care Course intended for helping professionals and anyone else looking for tools to cope with their stress.