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How do you #Find20 minutes in the day to care for yourself? Strategies for school leaders, teachers and students.

If you have flown lately you may recall the life message, “Put on your oxygen mask before helping those around you.” This applies to health, fitness, and well-being. Teachers and educational leaders face extraordinary pressure in today’s schools, a pressure that requires nimbleness and resilience of spirit, body and mind. Often, being so focused on others, they put their health and well-being on the back burner. The old saying in education is true, “we can’t take care of others if we are not first taking care of ourselves.” By focusing on others, our best efforts never reach full potential, ultimately leading to exhaustion and burnout.  

For many school leaders, high-stakes testing remains a central focus followed by improving graduation rates, college/career readiness, and school safety. Bringing up the rear, very often, is student social-emotional health. The weight of any of these areas of focus has a huge impact on stress and anxiety; nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of educators remain committed to the vital work they do each day. Most have a sense of purpose in their careers; yet, sadly, a decreasing few have a sense of intentionality about their own health and well-being. As teachers and educational leaders continue to focus on the achievement gap, a widening health gap forms. 

In this context, stress, anxiety, and neglecting one’s health and fitness leads to even more problematic outcomes for teachers and educational leaders whose charge it is to model the same for their students. The reality of students coming to school lacking basic necessities and medical care, increasingly with the overlay of trauma, will not end tomorrow. Educators are naive to think that their physical and mental capabilities, herculean though they may be, are sufficient to endlessly face down wave upon wave of these daunting daily realities. Somewhere throughout the day, they must find at least 20 minutes (#Find20) to focus on their own health and well-being if they are to be present for their students and their personal charges over the long-term. 

Carving out time for a 20-minute focus on well-being is a paradigm shift. The 20-minute focus can occur at any time, but ideally, it happens during the school day. Try some of these strategies for students, staff, and educational leaders: 

  • Just as teachers assign students 20 minutes of silent reading, they can shift gears and assign students to move, exercise, meditate or walk
  • During planning periods, urge teachers to dedicate 20 minutes of their time to doing something relaxing – taking time to focus on themselves. Try journaling for 20 minutes.  If your school has a treadmill or elliptical machine, use it for 20 minutes. Find a tree outside with a bench and allow the sun and wind to rejuvenate your well-being. It is amazing what nature can do for your overall mood and energy levels.
  • Educational leaders will benefit from carving out 20 minutes after lunch to focus on themselves. Consider taking a walk, reading in the library or taking quiet time to simply catch your breath.
  • After work, find 20 minutes to allow your brain to relax by reading a book, doing a crossword puzzle or sitting on the porch and watching traffic go by. This will have a positive impact on mood, relieve stress, and boost self-esteem, centeredness, and purpose. 

These are just a few strategies that can help students, teachers and educational leaders to implement #Find20 in schools. Time is a valuable resource in education. Traditionally, we try to maximize each moment to ensure students are achieving, growing and ready for the next level. I would argue that we can optimize our use of time and, likely, those very same outcomes, by finding 20 minutes to focus on ourselves and derive an increase in focus, attentiveness, and productivity.  By reallocating this time each day, teachers and education leaders will be surprised by how much better they will feel physically and mentally. 

Brian Creasman

Dr. Brian Creasman’s Twitter profile says he has the best job in Kentucky! As superintendent of Fleming County Schools since 2014, he has the privilege of leading, learning and collaborating with students, staff, and the best community each day. Over his career, he has been fortunate to serve as a teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal, high school principal, and assistant superintendent. Recognized as a National Certified Superintendent by AASA, Brian's areas of interest include school and district transformation, teacher leadership, student voice, and empowering others to do BIG things for students. Brian is the 2020 Kentucky Superintendent of the Year and a nationally recognized author — having co-authored The Leader Within: Understanding and Empowering Teacher Leaders, Growing Leaders Within: A Process toward Teacher Leadership, Can Every School Succeed? Bending Constructs to Transform an American Icon, and ConnectED Leaders: Network and Amplify your Superintendency.