How can we minimise mid-year teacher burnout?
Every teacher can articulate at least one moment in the year where it all feels like too much. Typically, it hits us sometime in November (near report-writing time) and/or in March/April (when we’ve passed the halfway point but there is still so much left to do!).
A few weeks ago I hit that point myself, and the stress manifested in my body as malaise & fatigue, and in my teaching practice as despair (“HOW can I fit it all in?”) and impatience (“We need to HURRY UP and finish this unit already!”). I felt like I was spreading myself too thin, yet I didn’t know how to slow down because we only had 14 weeks left of teaching, and there were so many curricular areas left to cover to prepare my students for Grade 2. Even worse, I was not modelling healthy ways of managing stress for my students, and I was concerned about my own stress rubbing off on them.
Thankfully, a colleague stepped in and pointed out that I needed to slow down, not just for the sake of my own health, but for the sake of my students. I decided to choose one day where our focus could be less academic and more on Well-Being and allowing our class time to do something that feeds the soul. Wednesdays are usually the fullest teaching day for me followed by 2.5 hours of professional development meetings after school. Hence, Wellness Wednesdays was born.
We brainstormed some ideas as a class so they had a voice in their choice time. I also wanted to introduce ‘agency’ and provide students the opportunity to be more self-directed in their activity choices. We start the day with 1.5 hours of free Wellness Choice activities and students can sign up for 2 or 3 options.
This also provided time for us to touch base 1:1 with students and help them correct their mistakes on things like their Weekly Math Review. We’ve talked a lot about ‘growth mindset’ in our class and how we learn best through identifying and fixing our mistakes, and finally a whole 1.5 hours opened up for me to work with children on this. During this 1.5 hours block, I could also work on reading assessments and help them set goals for upcoming Student-Led Conferences.
Below are some examples of the Wellness Stations:
5 minutes of Mindfulness & Meditation after Recess
I also introduced 5 minutes of mindfulness and meditation after the students come back from playtime. I found an excellent Meditation for Kids series on Spotify which I’ve been using with my Grade 1s. It’s very age-appropriate for 5-7 years olds and uses stories and imagination to calm the breath, relax bodies, and visualise fighting ‘dragons’ and practicing kindness to others.
Impact on Learning
Starting our Wednesdays this way has had a HUGE impact on how the rest of the day and week proceeds. Since we have such a calm, relaxed start to our Wednesdays, I’ve found that the students are more focused and able to work efficiently during more academic learning stations the rest of the day. In addition, my patience and attentiveness with students has increased and I feel much more centred, calm and eager to participate and contribute to our after-school meetings. The students have also given feedback about how calm they feel by the end of the day and how they are enjoying the change of pace during the week and having choice in their activities.