Entering a new school year can be stressful and daunting. The long summer days are winding down and back-to-school anxiety starts to creep in. But with a little mindfulness and intention, you can start off the new school year right!
“Our intention creates our reality,” says Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. Living purposefully helps alleviate anxiety because we feel more in control of our decisions and outcomes. In teaching, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with mounting responsibilities and shrinking time. Teachers often put themselves last, working hard to ensure that others are okay and deadlines are met. Building an intention practice can help teachers remember to take care of themselves when things get busy.
“Teaching is a job filled with joy, excitement, curiosity, love…and stress,” says Jo Sigmund, edTPA Coordinator and Partner Faculty. She says that, “New teachers, in particular, need to remember to put their own oxygen masks on first. Remember that, if you’re not well (mentally, physically, or emotionally), you’re not able to be there for your students in the way you want to be.”
Changing the habit of putting yourself last or barely making any time for self-care starts with making the most of today. “Try to start each day with a focused intention to take things one step at a time, to be present as much as possible. And, when a challenge arises and you realize you’re tensing up, “stop, close your eyes, and take a few slow deep breaths. It sounds cheesy and trite, but just taking a moment to re-center and refocus can make all the difference.”
Chinese researchers found that higher levels of gratitude correlate to more restful sleep and lower instances of anxiety and depression. “Gratitude can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle,” says Dr. Alex Korb, a neuroscientist at UCLA. “So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for.” Cerlito Salarda, an MEd student, uses gratitude to mentally prepare for a new school year. “Be grateful for your health and the health of your colleagues and students,” he says. “Start the year by wearing a positive-themed shirt and greet your students with open arms and a big smile.”
For more on gratitude, check out this two-minute morning journal to help you re-focus and win each day.
As the obligations and deadlines begin to mount once again, get ahead by getting organized. A clean workspace, clear to-do lists and a manageable calendar help mentally prepare you for the year ahead. Staying organized through list-making is actually a remedy for the anxiety of the oncoming year. Lists “foster a capacity to select and prioritize,” says Dr. Carrie Barron, author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It-Yourself Prescription for Happiness. Lists “separate minutia from what matters… provide a positive psychological process whereby questions and confusions can be worked through,” and they “organize and contain a sense of inner chaos, which can make your load feel more manageable.”
Lauren Harness, MEd, is a fan of list-making in preparation for a new school year. “I begin to mentally prepare by making a list of everything I need/want to accomplish before school starts. This includes ways I want to rearrange my learning space, the paperwork I need to prepare, and procedures/strategies I want to work through before school starts. It definitely helps keep the anxiety and stress levels down.”
Jamie Haney, an EdD student, agrees and uses calendars to stay on top of her many tasks. “I work with graduate students (both masters and doctorate level), so my summers are typically spent getting prepared with strategies and techniques to make my year’s work easier. Once the year kicks off, it’s all about maintaining contact with students and making sure they (and I) are meeting deadlines for various tasks or academic checkpoints.”
Feeling prepared and organized can go a long way toward ensuring a smooth start to the year. “There’s a wonderful term that chefs use: mis-en-place, French for ‘everything in its place.’ It describes the preparation done before starting to cook: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, measuring, etc.,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. “Mis-en-place is preparation, but it’s also a state of mind; mis-en-place means you have everything at the ready, with no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. You’re truly ready to begin to work.” Carletta Griffin, MEd, subscribes to this method. “To get mentally prepared for the school year, I scope out all the teacher discount places and start buying things for my classroom.”
For more on classroom preparation, here’s our ultimate classroom prep checklist.
The onset of a new school year can trigger different emotions: anxiety, anger, sadness, excitement. Give yourself some space and time to recognize and feel however it is you’re feeling. You’ll have a healthier start to the new year.
Cavalier Kayla Barbour, an MEd student, likens new-school-year emotions to going through the stages of grief. “I deny that school is starting. I get angry for everything that I wanted to but didn’t. I bargain with myself to get stuff done. I get a little depressed that summer is over. I accept that it has come to an end, and then I get into back-to-school mode.”
Back-to-school nerves are common. “For most of us, nervousness comes with new opportunities and challenges. If we didn’t have that awful feeling occasionally, that would suggest we’re not pushing our boundaries,” says Rebecca Newton, who teaches Management at the London School of Economics and is the founder of the professional development consultancy Moncort. “People who live inside their comfort zone and continue to do the same work feel comfortable. They don’t feel nervous. If you’re feeling nervous, remind yourself it’s most likely because you’re pushing your career forward.”
Each fall, teachers and students return to school with some jitters. Gabrielle Eodice, an MEd student, agrees. “I usually get nervous at the beginning of every school year, so I just try and channel that during my back-to-school prep, realizing there are probably students who are nervous as well… Once I know I’m ready for the kids, I tend to feel much better about things,” she says. “I also try to get as much interaction with other teachers as possible. We do lunch during PD/ teacher work days and dinner the night before school starts. It’s nice to know you can cheer on your co-workers!”
If you or some of your students are dealing with a lot of anxiety, try some of these SEL strategies.
Going from the lazy days of summer to the frantic pace of fall can be a challenging transition. Waking up early again, feeling exhausted and getting back to a healthy school-year schedule is a big adjustment. Cavalier Kayvonna Stigall, MEd, suggests starting the process before school starts. “When I was in the classroom, the week before [the new school year], I would wake up and go to bed on my ‘work schedule.’ This helped me with my own kids, as well. I would get up at six, have a full day of activities, have dinner, a little TV, then bed. It helped me kickstart my body out of my summer days.”
Remember, a new school year may come with stress, but self-care is truly what allows you to be successful and amazing at what you do. Make self-care a priority before challenges arise. Then continue to develop your self-care practice for long-term benefits.