Leading with kindness

Have you heard the news? Saturday, November 13th is World Kindness Day! We believe a robust systemic social and emotional learning program starts with kindness and empathy. On that note, we offer the humble suggestion that kindness starts with being kind to the most important person in our lives: ourselves!

Focusing on being kind to ourselves is not just about selfishness. In our webinar with Lisa Westman, author of Teaching with Empathy, Lisa emphasized that failing to be kind to ourselves can lead to shame; shame trickles down in all sorts of destructive ways. When we shame ourselves, we begin to identify with our failures, lose confidence, and lash out at others. It isn’t pleasant.

So be kind to yourself and squash shame. In fact, spread this kindness around by helping staff and students be kind to themselves with rest and self-care. To place the critical nature of the task of supporting self-care in context, let’s talk about rest and consider the types of rest staff need to do their jobs well.

Being Kind to Ourselves: Being Kind to Others-The Nature of the Problem

We all know the feeling. We’ve had a great night of sleep, but we still don’t feel rested. Perhaps we’re not getting the kind of rest we need. Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Renew Your Sanity, asserts that humans need seven types of rest: physical, mental, social, creative, emotional, spiritual, and sensory. People who work in mentally, socially, and emotionally challenging environments--like schools--exist in a supercharged workspace that drains mental reserves. The classroom environment puts teachers, and students, at risk of feeling drained, burned-out, and emotionally volatile if space is not made for rest. 

Let’s turn our lens to the pandemic school and classroom environment of today. Increasing numbers of teachers taking leave for weeks at a time due to Covid-19 combined with a shortage of substitute teachers is causing teachers to lose their valuable plan and prep time--the space they would typically use to recharge and rest. 

The question we must ask ourselves as leaders is, “how do we make space for teacher self-care?” Here are some steps leaders can take to help teachers make space for rest.

Relief From the Top

In-House Sub Management

To understand how vital strategic in-house subbing management is, leaders need to practice cognitive empathy by putting themselves in their staff’s shoes. Imagine running full-tilt from 7:30-3:30 in a classroom with no opportunity to recharge or find any private, calming space. For teachers, regularly losing prep time not only robs them of the opportunity to create in a stress-free environment. Lost prep time means losing the chance to recharge and take time for self-care. 

If your school faces a sub shortage, be mindful about who is being asked to sub. Share a spreadsheet listing all the teachers, when they sub, who they sub for, and how long they have to sub with your office staff. When the main office makes calls, they can look on the sheet and reach out to staff who have not had to sub recently.

To make this workflow run more smoothly, leadership should communicate that all staff must make concessions and sub from time to time for the good of the whole. Tell staff what your targets are (i.e. everyone only has to sub once a week) and update the team on how classroom shortages are being filled.

 

Empathetic leadership practices can increase staff innovation, engagement, and retention.

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Magical Meetings

Let’s talk about meetings. Meetings are non-negotiable for schools because they play a crucial role in staff communication, professional growth, and practice calibration. We’re not suggesting that you cancel meetings, but we do suggest that meetings include hands-on, culture-building, SEL-forward activities and conversations. 

Save time at meetings by taking care of staff communication via email before the meeting starts. Open the meeting with questions about school management issues, then dive into professional growth and interaction. Giving teachers the space to connect with their higher selves via professional development is restorative and invigorating. Use this professional development time to learn self-care strategies that fit into the school day when stress is most elevated. The Satchel Pulse Intervention Library offers resources you can use with staff at meetings.

Put Culture First

As you lead, others will follow. Show staff and students that you prioritize their well-being and take meaningful steps towards shifting to a positive school culture using the Satchel Pulse Culture and Climate tools. We’ve designed theses tools to help leaders get a data-informed perspective on the best ways to make their school culture more positive, inclusive, and respectful.

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A recent Forbes article by Tracy Brower cites empathy as a critical skill for leaders. Empathetic leadership practices can increase staff innovation, engagement, and retention. Lead with empathy and kindness by communicating your commitment to improving school culture. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try.

Simple Self-Care Strategies to Use and Share

Make space for meditation

You don’t have to be a guru to get the benefits of meditation. Even ten minutes of quiet time to focus and re-center can make a big difference in the flow of our day. 

There are several meditation apps that are free to teachers and students, including:

Of course, no meditation app can be effective if teachers do not have the time to take a break and meditate. That’s where being mindful of in-house subbing assignments comes in.

Breathing Mindfully

Studies have shown that controlled breathing reduces stress, improves cognitive functioning, and boosts immunity. Belisa Vranich, psychologist and author of the book Breath, describes controlled breathing as meditation for people who cannot meditate. Additionally, controlled breathing can reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. 

Matt Dewar, Ed.D., mindfulness and emotional intelligence educator, recommends that people just starting out with controlled breathing focus on building self-awareness through breath awareness. According to Dr. Dewar, breathwork does not need to be complicated. We just need to take a moment to pay attention to our breathing, recognize where there is unnecessary emotional effort/tension/control, and LET GO. Let the breath breathe itself.

What should we try to notice in our breathing? Notice if you are reaching for air on the inhalation; notice if you are holding your breath at the top of the inhale; notice if the exhale is passive or forced. Most importantly, notice what the end of the exhale feels like. When people are stressed, they often struggle with the end of the exhale, reaching for another inhale prematurely. According to Dr. Dewar, ending an exhale prematurely is a classic symptom of chronic behavioral hypocapnia (overbreathing). When we notice all that effort, all we need to do is let go and let the breath breathe itself.

Want an easy structure to help you get started on controlled breathing. Try box breathing. Here’s how to do it.

Note: For best results, box breathing should happen in a seated position in a stress-free environment. Even under less-than-optimal conditions, however, box breathing will send signals of well-being to your nervous system, which is really what we’re after.

Step One

Slowly exhale for a count of four. The goal is to get all the air out of your lungs.

Step Two

Hold your breath for another count of four. 

Step Three

Inhale for a count of four. Focus on filling your lungs up with air.

Step Four

Hold your breath for a count of four.

Repeat

The Mayo Clinic reports that controlled breathing calms and regulates the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary body functions, to provide an almost immediate sense of calm. 

Focus on your breathing when you feel anxiety and stress creeping in during the day. Share controlled breathing strategies with your staff and encourage them to teach students how to focus on their breathing, too. Adults can use books like My Magic Breath and Alphabreaths to teach young children the benefits of controlled breathing. For older students, The Mindful Breathing Workbook for Teens by Matt Dewar, Ed.D, contains exercises teens can use to connect with their emotions, shift their moods, and find inner calm.

To Sum Up

This year, celebrate World Kindness Day by being kind to yourself and teaching others how to do the same. By practicing and advocating for simple self-care rituals and making small shifts to support the well-being of all stakeholders in the school community, administrators can lead with empathy and begin to build a school culture that prioritizes relationships, well-being, and kindness.

Satchel Pulse would like to send a special shout-out to Matt Dewar, Ed.D. for his fabulous insight on breathwork. Matt works in the Chicagoland area to deliver PD and professional talks on breathwork and emotional intelligence. Thanks, Dr. Dewar.

Have a fabulous week!

 

Resources:

Alderman, L. (2016, November 9). Breathe. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/09/well/mind/breathe-exhale-repeat-the-benefits-of-controlled-breathing.html

‌Box Breathing. (2017, March 23). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing#tips-for-beginners

‌Brower, T. (2021, October 1). Empathy is the most important leadership skill according to
research. Forbes. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2021/09/19/empathy-is-the-most-important-leadership-skill-according-to-research/?sh=31ab986d3dc5

Heger, E. (2020, May 18). 7 benefits of meditation, and how it can affect your brain. Insider. https://www.insider.com/benefits-of-meditation

Merritt, E. (2016, December 2). Time for teacher learning, planning critical for school reform. Kappanonline.org. https://kappanonline.org/time-teacher-learning-planning-critical-school-reform/

Shea, M. (2021, March 31). The 7 types of rest you need to actually feel recharged. Shine. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://advice.theshineapp.com/articles/the-7-types-of-rest-you-need-to-actually-feel-recharged/.

Alphabreaths: The ABCs of Mindful Breathing by Christopher Willard, Psy.D.

My Magic Breath: Finding Calm Through Mindful Breathing by Nick Ortner

The Mindful Breathing Workbook for Teens: Simple Practices to Help you Manage Stress and Feel Better Now by Matt Dewar, Ed.D.

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