A Guide to Less Stressful Days: 10 Essential Habits for Teachers
Oxford Languages dictionary defines habit as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” In teaching, our habits, especially those for organization, can make either a peaceful or a hectic school day. The good news is that once you’re aware of the habits contributing to your hectic days, you can change them. Self-awareness is a crucial first step in changing those habits that keep you from enjoying a relaxed daily routine in the classroom. Analyze your school day step by step. Pinpoint the times when you feel most anxious or even frazzled. Which event or task contributes to that feeling? Take your self-analysis one step further by asking, “Is there a structure that could help me avoid anxiety?”
Experts say changing a habit can take three months or more. During these fall months, target one habit to change or transform. After the winter break, assess the success or failure of your resolve to change the targeted habit. If you have successfully internalized a new positive habit, consider tackling another habit for the second half of the year. Setting realistic goals of one to two habit changes will set you up for success. If you try to change too many habits at once, you are at risk of becoming overwhelmed and falling back into poor, less productive habits.
Helpful Habits for Teachers
- Plan Ahead
Activities and presentations don’t always go according to plan. Before an event, imagine what could go wrong and prepare for it. For example, when reviewing a story time book, decide which pages can be skipped if the children are extra restless that day. For parent presentations, create an overview slide in addition to detailed ones. With this approach, if you lose the parents’ attention, you have the overview slide prepared for a quick review.
- Review Your Week
Even if you can allot only fifteen minutes at the end of the week to this task, you can review what went well and what needs revision. This will help avoid negative patterns that might have slipped in. Earn extra points if you meet with your co-teacher or assistant as well. You will know what changes they see or want to see. Sharing ideas gives everyone a stake in creating a peaceful classroom.
- Create a Support Network
Everyone needs support from co-workers and parents. Know who your go-to parent is when a volunteer suddenly drops out of chaperoning or recess duty. If you have to cover lunch, recess, or nap time, do you have a portable lunch or snack? Will your director or another teacher cover you for a quick break? Knowing you have a support system and a backup plan relieves stress.
- Leave Your Personal Problems at the Door
With mobile phones and social media especially, it can be difficult to unplug and let go of the outside world. Plan a routine to follow before you walk into the school building or your classroom. Set your phone to vibrate, and stop all push notifications. Every day, take a deep breath, or do a quick visualization for a fresh start in your classroom.
- Keep Learning Through Professional Development and Reading
Most schools have professional development requirements, but ask yourself if it’s enough for your growth as a teacher. Try setting a goal of one extra workshop a year or one more educational book to read. The field of education is constantly changing as researchers learn more about brain development. Keeping up with the latest research saves you time in the long run and makes you look good, as well.
- Take Time for Record Keeping
Student progress reports will be less overwhelming if you keep weekly records. A few minutes every week to tabulate your daily notes will save you hours when it’s time for end-of-year progress reports.
- Invest in Self-Reflection
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Decide if the weaknesses are a problem or if you’re simply trying to be perfect. Let perfection go.
- Develop Patience and Stay Calm
Teaching, being responsible for the safety and well-being of a group of children, is stressful. To be calm, try yoga, meditation, or visualizations. A mindfulness practice can help you stay present with others and yourself.
- Be Flexible
Curriculum, educational philosophies, teaching methods, and parent involvement change over time relative to societal norms. Step back, and think about the bigger picture to quell your anxieties. This can help bring you back to the present moment and become aware of the actions you can take to become a positive influence for your students and their families.
- Know When to Ask for Help
If you’re having trouble staying organized, look at different tools and planners. If that doesn’t work find an "accountability buddy." Maybe a 30-minute session with a colleague to catch up on recordkeeping will keep you both on track. Find a system that works for you before you become overwhelmed.
Identifying areas that cause you anxiety and learning what action can circumvent that anxiety will set you well on your way to changing poor habits. Remember, it's important to also schedule some “me time.” Self-reflection, planning, and appropriate action work together for those trouble-free days.
About the Author
V. Kulikow is a former Montessori teacher and youth services librarian. She currently works as a UX designer and enjoys content creation both with words and images. On weekends you can find her gardening, taking nature photos, and working on her garden design certification through the Native Plant Trust.
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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.