Educator-authors Danielle Nuhfer and Mike Anderson recently joined our podcast series, Building the Bridge, to share their expert insights on mindfulness and self-care. Each of these educators has spent years refining their respective approaches to balance and wellness ― SEL for educators, in other words ― and they’ve written about these ideas extensively in their recent books. Here are five takeaways from their interviews:
- 1. Demonstrate mindfulness in action
Nuhfer is a proponent of embedding mindful moments throughout the school day. Whether it’s taking three deep breaths between classes or stepping outside for a mask break, carving out time for these moments of serenity throughout the day has a way of creating momentum for healthy habits. These small changes build on one another. Self-care does not have to be a spa day or something extravagant. For parents and teachers alike, building in moments where you can regroup throughout the day can make a tremendous difference to your health and well-being.
Further, it’s a common misconception to believe that mindfulness is just about sitting still and focusing on your breath. Mindfulness can be brought into every activity that you do. Taking a walk around the block completely unplugged and listening to birds chirping, leaves crunching under your feet, or feeling the sunshine on your face are all examples of mindfulness. It’s about being present in the moment.
“Taking a great bite of food is mindfulness in action, and paying attention to that,” says Nuhfer. “I don’t want people to get nervous about [mindfulness] being something that they have to do right or perfectly, or even that they have to sit still to do. It’s more of a presence that you bring to the activities that you’re participating in.”
- 2. Take a goal-setting approach to self-care
We have all heard the airline attendant tell us that we need to first affix our own oxygen max before we help others. Similarly, Anderson is quick to point out that as caregivers, our well-being needs to come first before we can be in the physical and mental condition needed for our daily duties. Being a teacher is stressful and hard, as is being a parent. While there is no real way to eliminate the stress entirely, we can reduce it. Over time, adopting healthy habits like exercise and eating right will lead us on a path to be better versions of ourselves, which leads to less stress.
According to Anderson, the key is to create healthy habits that build up over time. He cautions about having finite goals like running a 5K race or a weight goal of losing 25 pounds. Once you reach the goal, you have ticked the box and are likely to revert back to your former bad habits. Instead, he suggests setting goals that create good habits like running three times a week or incorporating a healthy diet. These are things that will pile up over time and help you achieve the wellness you seek. It’s still okay to have the goal of running a 5K, but you want to be able to create habits that become a part of your life and will lead you to the goal, rather than being solely goal driven. Being goal driven can put you back in the position you were in previously once your goal is fulfilled.
- 3. Build up good habits over time
Anderson states that bad habits like eating a candy bar or drinking a soda every afternoon adds up over time and will catch up to you, but so will the good habits like choosing to wake up early in the morning to exercise or planning to go to bed on time each evening to get the proper amount of rest. When you create a bad habit, it can build over time. Thankfully, the same is true of good habits. The choice is yours. Being mindful about the little things will lead to big impacts.
- 4. Be accountable for your self-care
When practicing mindfulness and self-care, your success rate will be much higher when you are held accountable. Whether you have a buddy you check in with or an app that prompts you to engage in your well-being activities, when you are held accountable by someone or something, you are far more likely to reach your goals. Journaling your daily accomplishments can also lead to a healthy mindset. If you journal something positive you did each day for 30 days, you will have 30 positive entries to look back on and show how you have promoted your own well-being for the last month. Chances are, you will want to continue. Who couldn’t use a reminder of all the good that has happened over the past month?
- 5. Do what works for you
Finally, your acts of self-care and mindfulness do not have to be perfect. They are your goals. Things that will make you happy and enhance your well-being. Whatever activity you decide to engage in to promote your well-being is up to you and your success should only be measured by you. The key is to find what you like, identify the benefits, and as a popular athletic company says, “Just Do It!”
Visit the Building the Bridge podcast page to hear the full interviews episodes with Danielle Nuhfer and Mike Anderson.
Learn more about Danielle Nuhfer and Mike Anderson:
Danielle A. Nuhfer, M.Ed. has been teaching for 20 years, studying mindfulness for 10, and combining those fields for five. She is the founder of Teaching Well. As an ICF-certified coach and Mindful Schools instructor, Danielle provides teacher wellness coaching and other services to time-crunched teachers trying to find time for self-care. The Path of the Mindful Teacher is her first book. Danielle lives on a small urban homestead in Pennsylvania, US, with her husband, two young sons, a dog, a rabbit, and lots of honey bees.
Mike Anderson has been an educator for more than 25 years. An elementary school teacher for 15 years, he has also taught preschool and university graduate level classes. He spent many years as a presenter, consultant, author, and developer for Northeast Foundation for Children, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping create safe, joyful, and challenging classrooms and schools.
In 2004 Anderson received a national Milken Educator Award, and in 2005 he was a finalist for New Hampshire Teacher of the Year. Now, as an education consultant, Anderson works with schools in rural, urban, and suburban settings. He is the author of many books about great teaching and learning, including The Well-Balanced Teacher (ASCD, 2010) and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn (ASCD, 2016). Mike has developed a series of online courses called “The Beat Teacher Burnout Institute.”