Caring for Self While Fighting for Social Change: Changing the Narrative

by Candice Valenzuela, edited by Sonya Mehta

As we speak, many of our fellow teachers around the nation are rightfully enraged and taking action against worsening working conditions, increasing demands, unequal pay, large class sizes, and the continued failure by school districts, and ultimately our society, to provide the adequate, equitable, and appropriate resources to ensure that every student can and does achieve. Right now in Oakland, Teachers are facing the specter of school closures and a 30 million dollar budget cut on an already over strapped system. In Los Angeles, teachers have courageously gone on strike to demand better working and schooling conditions.

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Working under these conditions daily is demoralizing. I have seen teachers crumble under this weight – losing sleep, weakening relationships, experiencing anxiety and panic at work. Over time, these experiences drive teachers to quit, and those that stay often numb their pain – either through substances or lessening the amount of “care” they can actually give to students. Many teachers fall ill – either to seasonal illnesses due to weakened immunity, or to longer term illnesses exacerbated by toxic stress. A  recent Times article painted a heartbreaking picture of what public school teachers endure in order to teach our nation’s most vulnerable children.

Those who choose to teach in this environment are incredibly resilient, committed, caring, and high capacity people. I know I was.

The False Dichotomy

In moments of high intensity such as these, tensions around what it means to care for ourselves can increase. On the one hand, with our minds on systemic change, it can start to feel that we have even less time for self care. Our sense of self care can feel less important in this moment when we want to show up for the collective. In some ways, whatever inner resistance we carry towards caring for self can also gets an excuse to dominate – whether it’s about time, priorities or fear/guilt of being selfish, or something else. In the collective consciousness, we also have a hard time understanding how self care truly supports systemic change because we have long held cultural beliefs that self care is selfish, that it is only for the rich/privileged, or that it can wait for some ideal moment when life is easier.

The truth is that when we are most stretched this is when we need to pay the closest attention to our self-embodiment and self-nurturement. These are the moments our bodies, minds, and hearts are likely crying out for even more support – from the strain of taking action, to the hurt associated with injustice, and the daily labor of holding it all while still showing up for our students and families.

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One helpful way to think about this is to imagine if it were not ourselves, rather a close friend or beloved person. If you saw a loved one in pain, how might you support them? What would you say? Would you push them to drive even harder in a moment of social and political stress or would you urge them to slow down, take good care and ensure they are staying committed to the most fundamental parts of their health such as sleep, nutrition and exercise? Most of us would urge a friend to take care of themselves in moments of crisis – and likewise we must give ourselves permission to use this wisdom within our own practice.

What I mean here more than anything – is that the tension between self-care and social justice is cultural, not inherent. When we take the time to cultivate our mental, physical and emotional health, we actually enhance our ability to show up for the fights we care about. By supporting our energy to endure, we improve our ability to remain clear and focused despite setbacks, and maybe even create more space for us to ensure that we are choosing our battles wisely and fighting with integrity/intention. As Audre Lorde says,

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I view this quote from two primary perspectives:

1)      A radical act of reclaiming self-worth and value. If we are members of marginalized or oppressed groups, the act of caring for ourselves is an act of direct confrontation to hierarchical structures that say we do not matter. When we honor the vulnerability, wholeness, and sanctity of our own life, we reclaim our right to exist in world that denies this daily.

2)      A rallying cry towards sustainability. Part of the contradiction inherent in social movements is that if we burn out too soon due to sheer size of the task – then we fail to see the benefits of our work. Part of how capitalist oppression functions is to keep us too busy to speak truth to power, too isolated to organize, too tired to entertain the notion of a better way. To demand that our social movements incorporate self-care from the bottom up is to begin the work of liberation now, not waiting for the far off moment when we are free “enough,” to make time for ourselves or act as if our very bodies matter. We resist hierarchical, heteropatriarchal white body supremacist notions of work, value and embodiment when we denounce the binary between social justice and self-care.

Sure, we live in an era where self-care is being sold on every aisle, station and social media ad. It can feel like just another arm of the consumerist machine that tries to sell our pain back to us, keeping us numb, complacent and funding the system. What we must understand is that this is the very nature of capitalism itself – it must cannibalize in order to survive. Most things we engage within pop culture originated somewhere more authentic whether it is music, dance, or fashion. It would be a tremendous loss if we allow the bubble gum image of self-care to distract us from the very notion of self-care as a human right.

In many ways, what teachers are fighting for now is the RIGHT to care for ourselves. The right to earn a decent wage so that we feel secure walking into the school house each day. The right to be treated as knowledgeable professionals with authority and value that society respects. The right to work in environments that are safe, nurturing, and sustainable for ourselves and our students. The right to care itself – to serve our communities with all of our gifts without being forced to choose between martyrdom or failure

The reality is that we must hold close our commitment to care for our full wellbeing and each other because in truth, it is the only way we win. Taking steps to preserve our mental health and emotional boundaries during social stress protects us from burnout. Using our mindful tools to engage conflict intentionally supports a healing outcome for all. Allowing ourselves to take mental, emotional and physical breaks when needed supports the body in dispelling tension and traumatic stress, making another day possible. As the Harvard Business Review points out in a recent article, “Resilience is how about how you recharge, not how you endure.”


We at the Teaching Well stand with teachers and we believe in teachers’ human right to be treated with dignity, respect and honor in our sacred profession. When we care for teachers, we invest in a better future for all young people.

Learnings Around the Corner

By Anh Delos Reyes

Hello fellow educators! Another school year in the books! Can you believe you it? You have made it through another year of excitement, challenges, laughs, tears—just another emotional roller coaster.  But it was worth it, as students exit your classroom with more knowledge, skills, and experience under their belts. All thanks to you!

Photo by  Nine Köpfer  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

So our students have left with more, but what about us?  Did we leave the year with more tools or knowledge under our belts?  Do we feel more equipped as teachers? Do we have what we need for another year of teaching? Do we have what it takes to keep educating our students to prepare them for their future?

Before I go on and on about extra work for teachers, let me introduce myself.  

I, Anh Nguyen Delos Reyes, am also an educator, like many of you who may be reading this article.  I just finished my ninth year in education (crazy!). And I applaud those who are new teachers, and those who are veterans! I have taught in Oakland and San Diego, with experiences in teacher leadership, nonprofits, and admin work.  My focus is elementary, but I have dabbled a little with middle school and some outdoor education.

My career began by just focusing on teaching, but as I delved deeper into the work, I began to realize all the opportunities that were opened to me as an educator, and that my role was not limited to just teaching!  To be a teacher, one needs to continue to learn!

With summer here, we ask ourselves, what is next?  

What can I do to be more prepared for my students, my community, my school? Yes, it is summer, so please go ENJOY it.  

But if you are looking to move on the salary schedule (for work you have already done) or to beginning planning for next year, or interested in learning about educational leadership. I may have a few things you might want to take advantage of.  

Some of these programs will even pay you to attend.


District and School-Site PDs

First and foremost, always check in with your admin and/or district to see what is offered. If you are a part of Oakland Unified School District, check out OUSD intranet, and click on On-Trak for a list of professional developments available.  They have something for everyone, and some will even be related to the curriculum your school may be using!  Most of the PDs will also provide planning time (yes, real planning time!).

OUSD will also pay you to attend, yes PAY you to attend.  If you are not part of OUSD, email your admin, I am sure they would love to hear that you want to keep growing! Not in a district? At my charter in San Diego, they were willing to send us to other district’s PDs or the county’s.  Always ask!



If you are already a teacher leader or maybe you are ready to do some exploring in leadership, these are a few options.  Cornerstone is put on by UC Berkeley, it is a great way to learn and practice those teacher leadership skills right at your site.

Want more practice or deeper understanding on how to push not only student efficacy, but teacher efficacy as well?  Check out New Leaders , they have programs that can help you in all levels of leadership (thinking about being a principal?).  

We can not forget all the universities that offer Administrative Credentials programs as well. Reach School Leadership may also be an option, they do have a rolling admission process.  Though the classroom is our forte, we too can make a difference at the leadership level!


Other Opportunities  

There are also learning opportunities happening outside your school, that may not be tied directly to your curriculum, but can definitely lift your instruction.  The Bay Area Writing Project has a workshop for every grade level, and all centered around writing practices. Their PDs are given by educators, just like yourself!  They also provide workshops for those who are interested in joining their team. It is a great opportunity to gain some leadership, and money! They have workshops throughout the year, not limited to just summers.  Learn more here!

My career began by just focusing on teaching, but as I delved deeper into the work, I began to realize all the opportunities that were opened to me as an educator, and that my role was not limited to just teaching!  To be a teacher, one needs to continue to learn!


One more great way to keep moving up the pay scale, University of Pacific, with Courses for Teachers will allow you to earn more credits, so that you can move onto the next column!  The courses are designed around extracurriculars that teachers already do (planning field trips, researching and creating lesson plans outside of your curriculum), just a quick type up of the hours, and you can purchase units (transferable!) to move you along on the salary schedule!  

I hope this provides some insight into extra learnings we all can do, and that you take advantage of at least one of them!  However, please do go and take time for some most deserved self-care!

Wishing you only the best,



Caring for Myself—as Much as I Care for My Students

By Kimberly Berry

If asked to describe myself, the words "kind" and "caring" would come to my mind—I have always found joy in taking care of others. That's part of what led me to become a teacher.

And yet, I haven’t always been good at being kind and caring to myself.  

In my previous role, I was the director of a burgeoning special education program that was a department of one: me.  I was a captain, but I was lacking a crew. In many ways, this role was an amazing opportunity. I was able to use creativity and critical thinking every day.  I felt like I was making a difference and that my work was important. I had great relationships with my students and their families.

But I was drowning. Sunday nights were the worst.  My anxiety about the upcoming week would consume me. I often stayed up half the night working and worrying. Looking back, I can’t even remember the details of what work filled my time or made me so anxious.

As any teacher will tell you, the work never ends.  And for me, stress began to build up and accumulate. Some days I would cry in the car on my way to work and hope that my students couldn’t see how terrible I felt. I had this fear that if I stopped working—constantly—even for a moment, everything would fall apart.  My family and friends advised me to just turn off my work computer and stop at the end of the day or on the weekends. “But they have never been teachers!” I’d tell myself. They didn’t understand the situation. There’s always more to do!

In my new (current) role, work has felt much more manageable.  

Those close to me occasionally ask why this year feels so different.  In some ways, it is the priorities and mindset of the school and administration.  For one, I get thirty minutes of paid work time bi-weekly with the Teaching Well to prioritize my own self-regulation and wellbeing in one-on-one mindfulness coaching with found, Kelly Knoche.

In that time will Kelly,  I have learned a lot about my own signs of fatigue—a lack of patience, less focused thoughts—and can better predict and manage them. Plus, I have the kind of amazing supervisor that everyone should have, who responds to my laments of "I'm behind this Monday because I spent too much time with my family over the weekend," with, “You aren’t behind!  You should never apologize for spending time with your family. That’s what weekends are for!”

By and by, I have learned to accept the grace, patience, and spaciousness that others offer me and extend that grace to myself more often.

I realize now that it wasn’t necessarily the environment or the role that I was in, but rather my own inability to self-regulate and prioritize my own life beyond and outside of my classroom. I think about those moments, overwhelmed and crying in my car, and I realize how obvious it is that you can’t give 100% to your students if you’re not at 100% yourself.

Making sure that I am committed to taking time for self care—even just 5 or 10 minutes of quiet within my ever-chaotic days—has helped to make this my most successful year yet. I love my students as whole people, with all of their struggles and amazing successes. And, now, I’m learning how to bring that love home to myself, too—along with all of my struggles and successes.


Being "Real" With Students is the Best Lesson Plan

By Yasamin Salari

Take a moment and visualize your personal stereotype of a “teacher”.  Go ahead, I’ll wait...

Photo by  NeONBRAND  on  Unsplash

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I call to mind someone prim, restrained and deeply conventional. Even as someone with many friends in the field—most of them nuanced, energetic and creative people—the person I imagine doesn’t do fun things in their spare time. They mostly exist to make sure I’m paying attention to my penmanship (thanks Mrs. Cohn). I mostly speak to this teacher once a month to make sure I’m still getting my A. This teacher fears colors he or she deems “too bright.” They hear an amazing beat and feel…nothing.

Isn’t it interesting that in this profession filled with individualists, thinkers, and innovators, we tend to externalize so…uniformly?

I’ve seen it first hand. The best happy-hour conversationalist on staff shrinks down to the Ben Stein monotone from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when organizing class, mediating conflict, or discussing social/emotional learning.  I observed a colleague*, new to the field but well-trained, watch a child spill a whole pint of milk because she wasn’t paying attention and say…nothing. She quietly mopped up the milk and carried on with the morning ritual.

To this point, I would like us to collectively consider how it affects our children to view some of their primary caretakers as emotionally monolithic or even worse—to not consider them emotional people at all. There is a devastating ripple effect when we remove our own emotional process from the emotional growth equation.

In service to illustrating these consequences, I would like to share a difficult story of my own. Using my story as a case study, I’m advocating for teachers to make space for emotions by narrating their process for their students and modeling the tools they use to maintain their own well being.

The Lesson Plan

There was a science lesson that I was very excited about. By popular demand, we were studying microorganisms. Ebola had devastated Africa and many of my students were either first generation African Americans or had themselves recently arrived from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Naturally, they were curious, frightened, and fascinated by this terrifying disease and wanted answers.

We were in the phase of the lesson plan studying more benign creatures. Ten Petri dishes were populated with yeast at exactly the right timing and temperature to rapidly reproduce under a microscope. Instructions were on the board and I had done a pre-teach of procedures and guidelines for microscope use.

My students had been asking for this all week. They were so excited to finally get their hands on some “real science,” as they put it.

The pre-write was going smoothly and the hypotheses were handed in, with coherence. Until that kid (you know the one) knocked over all of the Petri dishes into a bready, fermented splatter on the floor.

My heart dropped into my stomach, closely followed by a warm rage that washed over my face. My lips scrunched into a wrinkly line. “Come ON Eric. Seriously?” I growled in my head.

This shouldn’t have happened: the countless reviews of the expectations; posting instructions above each station in cutesy, colored fonts. We had passed the halfway developmental point of 4th grade when this should be no problem. “I don’t teach Kindergarten” was and is my favorite maturity prompting phrase.

The worst part was that he didn’t even look sorry—he actually maintained the usual smug grin. I’ll just admit it. I didn’t like him. Before that moment I tolerated him. But in that moment something turned, and the dislike became personal and genuine.

I opted to do exactly what my colleague with the milk carton did—just silently mop it all up. But the incident stuck with me. Much later I figured out why the exchange didn’t feel complete.

From the outside, forgiving and forgetting seemed like a mature solution…but let’s look deeper into what was motivating each of my moves.  

In masking my feelings I robbed Eric of a critical growth opportunity but I did something worse to myself...


The Actual Lesson

The less attractive but truer version of events is this: I used a façade of calm to create an insincere teachable moment.

And, as we all know, children are sharks—they can smell one part insincerity in a million parts good intention. What he heard was: “Ok, its ok.” What he felt was likely: “I’m ignoring you and your needs because I’m clearly angry and I’ve given up on even trying with you.” This suspicion is supported by the fact that Eric stopped talking to me altogether after that day. He mostly just avoided and mutually tolerated me.

Another facet is that I pitted the other children against Eric by playing the bigger person. Literally. There’s nothing that decades’ edge that turns sarcasm into a weapon. “Guys, guys. It’s no big deal” was an exact lie. This lie, more than anything, served to frame ME as the awesome person. It was self-serving in the extreme. And childish.

Because children, disliking the struggling member of the pack, play right into the cycle I was perpetuating. “Oh my gosh Ms. Salari!” my favorites (we’re being real, here) groaned, “Don’t worry, we’ll help.” They scrambled to clean it up.

The gifted stayed valued and the struggling became isolated.

I roll my eyes at myself look back. This was not my best. It was a coping mechanism. My approach was passive-aggressive.  I just really didn’t feel like dealing with Eric anymore and I resented needing to
teach down to his level of social and emotional learning. We’ve all been here.

Now, a few more years into teaching, I know a bigger truth: we don’t teach developmentally appropriate patience practices often anymore. It’s entirely likely he never learned how to take his time and be careful.

A Do-Over

Let’s take a moment and do what teachers do best: let’s consider the student.

My lobotomy of that exchange robbed Eric of an opportunity to atone for something and to grow his empathy. A mistake like this could have fostered a moment for the two of us to interface honestly—one person to another—without classroom politics interrupting. He could have felt truly forgiven and welcomed back in.

Here’s how I would do it again, given, I don’t know, maybe a magic school bus that travels back in time:

  1. I would put the rest of the class on computers, calmly assuring them that these things happen and that we can do the experiment tomorrow.

  2. I would say publically and without shame that I am upset with Eric and that the two of us need to talk.

  3. I would pull him aside, look him in the eye and tell him, step by step, everything I had to do to prepare the yeast sample.

  4. I would communicate honestly that it was really hard for me to watch him mess up all of my hard work with his carelessness.

  5. I would help him clean it up. Not do it for him, but help, so that the consequence is logical, but I am still being supportive.

  6. Finally, I would require that he help me set up the Petri dishes for the next day, and pass them out.

This sequence puts the focus back on the task at hand. The point is that the class was not able to learn the lesson plan because of Eric’s lack of social and emotional development. Now I understand better that until kids like Eric have their emotional growth needs handling as well as possible, the rest of the class will not be able to learn.

Takeaways: Personal and Professional

Here is the other major consideration in the exchange: me and my emotional health.

In masking my feelings I robbed Eric of a critical growth opportunity but I did something worse to myself; I created the perfect environment for resentment to grow. Just like my little petri dishes of yeast, my resentment was warm, contained, and fed by the attention of the other students. I allowed myself to develop a fixed mindset about Eric that became a label. I shrunk my own capacity for problem solving and empathy.

To make this career sustainable, teachers have to so some social and emotional learning of our own. Critically, we have to collectively reimagine the idea that adults are supposed to be monolithic providers of comfort and warmth. Instead, we can model a process of transparency and comfort with our own imperfections, giving students permission to understand their own learning curve as being human.

As a teacher, ask yourself the following in the course of your interaction with a child who has recently made a frustrating mistake.

  • Am I taking care of myself emotionally in this interaction so that I can continue this work?  If not, how can I?
  • What do I want (my student/s) to learn?
  • How can I empower my student to learn this?
  • What is the rest of class learning from how I handle this interaction?

These four simple but powerful questions can organize and decompress the chaotic moments of frustration we all experience in classrooms.

Be real. Say how you feel. Be imperfect.

Do it for you or do it for them. But do it. Because if you burn out you won’t sustain this work and we need you, with all your expertise and humanity. Now more than ever.  

*This observation is anecdotal of course. If you are one of the yoda-level teachers I’ve met who bring their entire nuance to the classroom while supporting kids, this post isn’t for you. Also, call me. I want to learn.

4 Top Wellness Resources for Oakland Educators

The Teaching Well recently had a great inquiry by a young teacher asking for recommendations in Oakland for teacher wellbeing. Here is what Kelly suggested...

Q. Are there any wellness resources or opportunities you would recommend Oakland teachers plug into? If so, what are your favorites? 

A. Four wellness resources that I would suggest Oakland teachers plug into: 

courtesy of the East Bay Times

courtesy of the East Bay Times

  1. Explore classes and trainings at Namaste, Left Coast Yoga, and Niroga to add to your personal well-being tool kit. 
  2. Build Healthy Community on your site by creating a hiking group, masters swim club, or an art-n-crafts night once a month. Healthy after school events can be just as bonding as the happy hour at the bar. 
  3. Join the Oakland Running Festival with your staff and students. It is an easy, connected way to build community and increase your vitality
  4. Investigate who is your Staff Wellness Champion on site and join their Kaiser Permanente health challenge this spring. If you don't already have a program, here's a startup kit

If you live in another city, we'd love to hear similar suggestions nationwide! Please post them to our Facebook page for everyone to share. And if you have more suggestions for the Bay Area, please also post them up!


5 Tips When You Can't Sleep

It's the worst. 

Staring at the clock, checking the time again and again, as it creeps—or leaps—forward and your mind's gears won't shut down, the voices won't turn off, and the worries keep grinding away. 

The more you want to sleep, the less you seem in reach of it. And then the frustration, impatience, and aggravation drive you mad. Now you're angry AND sleepless. 

For teachers, as well as any service profession like nursing or compassionate care, getting your rest, free and easy, each night is a must. There's just no way that we can do our work on the level that we strive for, offering our best selves in our highest patience, generosity, and compassion, if we are sleep-deprived. 

It can drive people crazy, after all, to lose too much sleep. It is even an extreme means of torture. And in the United States, we are especially, chronically sleep-deprived. 

So what are we to do? Late at night, staring at the wall, the ceiling, the back of our partner's snoring head?

Here are the best 5 tips that I use when I cant sleep. Please share your own in the comments section here and on our Facebook page. Healing Camp Day #19 Healing Camp Day #19

  1. Be Kind to Yourself: First step, don't beat yourself up for not sleeping! When you wake up be as kind to yourself as you would to a student who has the flu or another loved one feeling unwell. Ask your body in a soft and soothing way what you need in order to rest. Usually, it can tell you. The stress we add by being angry with our selves for being awake makes it so much worse!
  2. Crystal Singing Bowls: I put them on my phone or computer and then quietly focus on the sound.  As I let the subtle and gentle harmonics fill my brain, it takes up all the space that was just given over to my monkey mind, until I drift off into easy slumber. I especially love this one (image above) from's youtube channel. 
  3. Breathing Options: When we increase our exhale, we increase the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (Read: Sleep!). The 4-7-8 Breath exercise naturally calms the body. Try it as a meditation in your pj's before you get into bed, or when you've cozied up under the covers and are ready for sweet relaxation. 
  4. Bedtime or End of Work Rituals: Tried and true—these really help me and a bunch of other teachers I work with. When you want to turn off, create a specific saying to register to your body that work time is over. "Work is over. I have time to rest and heal my body and mind." Light a candle for an hour, while you do your nightly skincare routine, drink a cup of herbal tea, or read before you go to sleep. Even listening to the same kind of music when you get done with work (celebrate!) or every night before you go to sleep (wind down...) can signal to your body a habitual change. 
  5. UnPlug: Keep those screens out of your bed! I know it's really hard, but if you can end your technology, internet, or device time at least an hour before you want to fall asleep, it will help your body quiet enough in preparation before bedtime that sleep will come to you a lot easier. Even if you have your Night Shift setting on, and are hip to the "blue light" biological science—no-screen is better than yellow-screen. 
  6. Lastly, a Bonus Pro-tip: Ideally transition for bedtime before 10 pm. Your body will re-energize if you stay working after this time, and rally for another cycle of productivity.

With ZZZ's and Sheep, 

Kelly Knoche

Being of Service: Burnout, Mindset, and How Teachers can be Whole

In this conversation between The Teaching Well founder Kelly Knoche and Jenny Grant Rankin, PhD and author of First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and SuccessEngaging & Challenging Gifted Students, and How to Make Data Work: A Guide for Educational Leaders, they explore the importance of resilience and well-being for teachers, administrators, and students.

Kelly Knoche: The Teaching Well works with a third to a half of the teaching staff one on one during work hours. All of what we do is really first aid for teacher burnout. We talk about meditation, decreasing stress response, etc. Have you worked with other organizations like that in the past? Do you have ideas about what that could look like?

Jenny Rankin: I've never conducted a study under those conditions, but it sounds fantastic. When there's talk about burnout, it seems to be exclusively mindset. I'm a huge fan of Carol Dweck.  I love her work on mindset. It's so fascinating to me how the conversation about burnout, it doesn't track to other areas that have such a huge impact on stress overall.

No one comes into this work who isn’t service minded.

I think a study that looked at all these factors of well-being and resilience would be incredible. It'd be a great way, too, to highlight what you're doing in a way that other people can replicate in other countries. It's basically about how to survive as a teacher.

Kelly Knoche: We have to survive because we have to serve kids. No one comes into this work who isn't service minded.

Jenny Rankin: Oh, totally.

Kelly Knoche: We all come into this work to be a service. I had this realization on my yoga mat, which is why it's based on self-care and well-being practices, "How can I be with my kids who I am to myself on my yoga mat." You're doing these complex poses but your breath is calm. I continue to improve, but the goal is not just to improve but to be in the moment.

I brought that realization back to my classroom. For three years I worked out the kinks and found a balance and started telling teachers about some of the units I built for my kids like stress resilience. They'd just done this huge report and identified their body cues. Teachers were like, "Wait, what? Can I have that?"

Jenny Rankin: They talk so much now about mindfulness in kids and all these doing yoga and brain breaks and all these things for kids. Gosh, teachers too, you know? We really need that, too. How wonderful if we had that for teachers how much more easily we could pass that down to our kids--and just shape their whole approach to life.

Kelly Knoche: Yes, and when our educators embody health, well-being, connection, and that ability to be present, which that's when the mindfulness can really transform a classroom.

Jenny Rankin: Yeah. That's incredible and another way to bring awareness to the issue of burnout and to let people know what works, what doesn't work, why this works, why that, you know, all those questions that can help them with implementation.

Kelly Knoche: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I'm just blown away by your book and by meeting you at the Illuminate Conference and feel incredibly honored to be with you today. Thank you.

Jenny Rankin: Oh, thank you. I feel the same. I really appreciate the chance to talk about this and the interview and I love your interest. I love meeting other people who are passionate about this and are doing great things.

Resources for Teachers: Jenny Rankin PhD on Recommended Time-Savers

In our multi-part interview with Jenny Grant Rankin, PhD and author of First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and SuccessEngaging & Challenging Gifted Students, and How to Make Data Work: A Guide for Educational Leaders, we explore her journey from teaching to writing, the best ways for teachers to leverage technology and resources, and how she addresses burnout.

Kelly Knoche: One of the things I think is so unique about your book is the number of e-resources.  As a self-described data and tech nerd, I would love for you to share a little bit more about how you offer e-resources?

Jenny Rankin: Yeah, I'm a total tech geek, data geek, and there's so much online that can make our lives so much easier that's free and easy to access. Teachers can stand in line and look at this, or while waiting to pick up their kid at the bus. Technology in general, it's one of those things that can make teachers cringe like, "Oh, gosh, technology. Oh, I have to learn something new, change is hard," especially when you don't have that time to integrate something new.

I really try to convince teachers in that chapter that once you get over the bump, it's crucial. It makes your life so much easier. It becomes a time saver when used appropriately with the right tools. I highlight some key tools and key practices—like using tools for reading multiple choice, either via homework or tests, so teachers can quit hand grading. The kids drop it in a tray and it automatically goes into your grade book and the parent portal. Those sorts of things that exist. Even if something is an open response, you can very easily enter that and instead of it all being by hand it's already in your grade book. It already goes to transcript and report cards.

There’s so much online that can make our lives so much easier that’s free and easy to access.

These are all things that make teachers' lives so much easier and take the weight off. If teachers can get up to speed on using those tools and can advocate for these sort of tools, something that's a district-wide purchase, it's so worth the time.

Kelly Knoche: The question isn't just how we are going to continue to stay engaged with the generation that has grown up with technology, but finding ways to integrate as much as possible to make our lives easier. We do the learning and then connect with our students because they're going to have a deeper understanding of that work too. The last question I have is: do you have a recommended reading list? There were a ton of articles, books, and academic publishings that you reference in this book. Can you give us your top recommended readings to support teacher sustainability?

Jenny Rankin: Oh gosh. When it comes to books, that's a little tricky, because it's so based on whatever the teacher's dealing with. It might not even be something that mentions teacher burnout. It might be something on efficient grading practices or classroom management techniques or that sort of thing. I really think that a teacher who's struggling with burnout, in addition to my book, should go to topic specific books where he or she can then delve more deeply into those areas to really make life easier in that department.

There is one stands out for me because it's such a phenomenal book. Dr. Gail Thompson, she and her husband Rufus wrote, 'Yes, You Can'. That book is amazing. It talks about teaching students of color, but it's for everyone no matter what your classroom diversity looks like, it honors realities teachers are dealing with that they don't even necessarily know. It brings things to your attention that aren't on your radar as a teacher necessarily that are making life harder, making connections more difficult, leading to behavior problems and to poor performance for the kids. The tips they offer are super practical and easy to implement with a big payoff. That is one I'd recommend.

Kelly Knoche: Yes! Awesome. I'm going to check that out. So, how can people get your book?

Jenny Rankin: Oh, it's everywhere. It's on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble. It's also on the publisher's website, Routledge Taylor & Francis, with online resources. Things that didn't fit in the book or are helpful to have in electronic format. Check them out!

Healthy Teachers: Jenny Rankin PhD on How to Grow Resilience and Reduce Stress

In our multi-part interview with Jenny Grant Rankin, PhD and author of First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and SuccessEngaging & Challenging Gifted Students, and How to Make Data Work: A Guide for Educational Leaders, we explore her journey from teaching to writing, the best ways for teachers to leverage resources, how she addresses burnout, and how her work aligns with The Teaching Well. 

Kelly Knoche: Your book's written differently than many books, whether we think of a dense textbook or a narrative self-help book. Not many are a hybrid as thoughtful but still succinct enough to be bite-sized pieces that I could digest. How did you structure the book to make I digestible for teachers?

Jenny Rankin: One big thing that goes in line with what you said and sets the book apart is that teachers are so busy. To sit down and read a whole book, that's a commitment. So it's organized to allow teachers to jump chapter to chapter based on what their needs are. Since every chapter is devoted to a big stressor that contributes to burnout, if a teacher starts in on that chapter and thinks, "You know, I don't connect to this. That's not a problem for me. I have really great grading habits in place, so it's not a big deal to me."That teacher can skip to the next chapter, which he or she might totally relate to. That way it honors the fact that teachers are busy and it honors your time.

Also, they can jump to their biggest stress, even if they connect to the whole book. Let's say their biggest problem is classroom management, that's where they're tearing their hair out. Those teachers can jump to that chapter and start there, start seeing some change. Then come back. "Awesome, I have a little more time now. I'm going to tackle that next chapter on administration, or on technology."

The intention was that it reach teachers at all levels, including aspiring teachers about to start so they can have good habits up front that increase their chances of sustainability.

I really tried to make it work for them. The same thing with how it's broken down with the checklist or bullets of a strategy. Not every strategy is going to be best suited for every teacher or every situation. But having those check listed strategies very bold and clear, backed up with information and research cited, is really straight forward on what those things are to try.

Kelly Knoche: Yes. I really got that. There were chapters where I was underlining every part of the book with strategies I had created for myself, but named differently. Then, there were other portions of the book I thought, "Oh my God, that took me four years to figure out with my planning team." I think this book is very accessible for the teacher who is struggling in the classroom but also for the teacher that's thriving in the classroom. Because it really creates a bunch of avenues for that teacher to continue to hone and grow excellence.

Jenny Rankin: That's great to hear. The intention was that it reach teachers at all levels, including aspiring teachers about to start so they can have good habits up front that increase their chances of sustainability.

Kelly Knoche: The Teaching Well is an organization committed to supporting teacher sustainability on school sites by focusing on the well-being and the health of teachers. So the chapters on mindset, over-stimulation, and tedium address a lot of what we do. We also do a lot of inner personal work—working with teachers on how to collaborate, how to work with behavior in the classroom, how to work with the administration. I really felt my scope was broadened by how you covered logistics, grading, volume, environment, and technology. What was your strategy when you laid out the chapters of the book? Why do you think those are the first line of care that need to be addressed for teacher burnout?

Jenny Rankin: I approached that in a few ways. One, I have my own ideas to start with, so I kind of have my outline—these are the things that I've seen teachers struggle with and I remember being challenging.  Then there's this odd thing about my entire pack of high school friends: we're all teachers.

Kelly Knoche: Wow.

Jenny Rankin: Some have gone to other roles, but they've been teachers. At Illuminate we have a lot of teachers. I talked to everyone. I had my list to ask them up front, "What do you think the challenges are?" Sometimes they might say, "I didn't struggle with that," so I got a lot of feedback. And there was a lot of research. I'm a bit of a research geek, so I read a lot online, studies on what teachers are rating as stressful, studies on everything. All of it shaped the list.

Some things were surprising. For example, in my experience, tedium or monotony was never an issue. My experience was the opposite of that. The same things with the teachers I know. I think if we were in an older age bracket, that would more likely be the case because we would have been teaching for longer. So I was surprised that as I read the research, boredom is actually a huge reason for teacher burnout. Some people don't have that at all, but some people really have that. Doing the same thing year after year after year, they're just, "Oh, I don't want to do that exercise again."

I think to have that be the problem is actually a win because that's an easier one to solve. There are so many exciting things you can do to switch that up. Those are kind of the ways I came at shaping the list. I'm sure each person who reads it thinks, "Oh, I also struggle with this," but these are the most popular amongst teachers.

As far as having the biggest impact on burnout—there might be some other things that all teachers hate, like the parking situation as they come to work, but that doesn't really add that much to burnout. I went for the meatiest and most common ones.

Avoiding Teacher Burnout: An Interview with Jenny Rankin

In our multi-part interview with Jenny Grant Rankin, PhD and author of First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and SuccessEngaging & Challenging Gifted Students, and How to Make Data Work: A Guide for Educational Leaders, we explore her journey from teaching to writing, the best ways for teachers to leverage resources, how she addresses burnout, and how her work aligns with The Teaching Well. 

Compassion and Stress Resilience for Educators

*This blog post connects to our upcoming presentation at the Bridging Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in San Diego on February 12, 2017. Check out the conference to buy a ticket and learn more!

Many times when we talking about teacher well-being, we get the following response:

                “Well! That sounds like quite the luxury.” 

                “So… you bring wellness techniques we can use for students?”

                “Wow! You push into professional development time to support teacher well-being. Is there enough time? How do they fit it in?”

Kelly, our Executive Director, and I love students (extraordinarily). We taught in public schools in underserved communities in Los Angeles and Oakland for six and five years, respectively. We worked every day with students who face chronic trauma—off the charts on the ACES scale. 

In many of our communities, especially in underserved urban areas, school sites are one of the most stable fixtures in students’ lives. Most pre-teens and teenagers actively emotionally develop by attaching to adults outside their nuclear families. In addition, students affected by autism, homelessness, childhood trauma and the foster care system need stability in their teaching populations at an even higher level. When teachers make vital connections to these marginalized youth and then leave, the students in our public schools are affected emotionally and academically.

Right now, 46% of teachers in America leave the classroom within five years of entering it So, all the time we spend teaching teachers how to create mindfulness and compassion with youth? Every time one of those highly-trained teachers walks out of the classroom, we have to start all over again.

At The Teaching Well, we feel incredibly clear about one thing: we cannot ask teachers to teacher mindfulness and compassion to students without making sure the teachers embody it first. That would be akin to asking a mechanic who doesn’t know about car engines to teach you how to fix yours.

Our goal is to ask teachers to embody self-compassion, mindfulness and resilience so that they can STAY in the classroom long-term and channel well-being to students. Teacher well-being is vital to a compassionate, thriving school environment. Here are two reasons why:


1. Teachers need resilience against Compassion Fatigue.

 In the context of 2016, finding stress resilience in the face of horrifying news has been part of the national experience, from the death of Americans at the hands of the police to the exhaustive conflict in the presidential race. Constantly “holding space” for the painful experiences of others and our communities is real. And, although it might be new for some, this process of being a participant in someone else’s traumatic experience is a normal, albeit uncomfortable, part of being an educator. 

Every day, teachers “hold space” for 20 - 200 wonderful student who come from homes with a variety of experiences. This includes their accomplishments, happiness and growth as humans but also their challenges, anger, home struggles and tears. We support learning through connecting the unique experience of each child, and this includes gracefully navigating many young people’s emotional responses. 

When educators are given space on their school sites to develop collective skills to stay resilient, they are more effective at redirecting students, supporting families and working as a community to raise our next generation.


2. How we treat ourselves is how we treat others 

Through concepts like Mirror Neurons or research like Kristen Neff’s on self-compassion, it is proven that how we take care of ourselves through times of stress accurately depicts how well we can react to others. And when we are stressed, our reactions are often exaggerated. As teachers, we are consistently in high-energy, high-expectations situations. It is integral that we have the tools to decrease stress at high impact moments.

When we speak of self-care at The Teaching Well, we are not talking about adding fluffy stuff to your day to be nice to teachers. We are talking about creating a team that is professionally committed to each other and personally committed their health and wellbeing. And by doing so, we create adult communities that have greater capacity to support students and families. 

As teachers, working with youth is both our privilege and our life’s passion. It is our responsibility to use mindfulness and self-compassion and care practices to ensure that we are able to commit to our professions for the long-run. An education system full of healthy, mindful and compassionate educators is one that can truly bridge the hearts and minds of youth.

Fall, Reflections, and Smell Goods for Stress Relief

Summer is fading and fall is finally here.  Our students are setting in, and so are we.  I’m hoping most of us are still in our creative calm, and that our stressors are not pushing us to the point of distress or burnout. 

These moments of settling can offer a joyous time of reflection.  Recently, I have been drawn back to reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, in which he challenges us to be impeccable with our words, not take anything personally, not make assumptions, and to always do our best.

 In the teaching world, not taking things personally can be a challenge.  Our students are not tabula rasas, nor are we, and both the beauty and the pain of all of our lived experiences can be triggering in a classroom setting.  As teachers, it is our job to neutralize traumas, to listen, to support, and sometimes it’s hard to do our best.  

Ruiz says, “Your best will sometimes by high quality, and other time it will not be as good.  When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night.  Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick…  Your best will depend on whether you are feeling wonderful and happy, or upset, angry, or jealous.” 

So how do we do our best, and how do we make sure that our best is the highest quality possible?  The answer is clear; we need to take care of ourselves!  We need sleep, we need to be healthy, we need to learn how to de-escalate ourselves before we can de-escalate others.  

When trauma arises in our classrooms we often become reactive because we care.  We immediately try to help our students; putting on their facemasks before thinking about putting on our own.  This means that we carry our students’ traumas with us, on top of our own, which can lead to an extremely heavy feeling throughout our days.  

We will never have the capacity to take away all of students’ traumas or potentially even our own traumas; and in reality we shouldn’t want to take it away anyway because our experiences, our students’ experiences, make them the beautiful people they are.  But how can we focus on what is in our control?  How can we ground ourselves, so we are able to help our students feel their roots and ground themselves?

There are many types of stressors: environmental stressors, chemical stressors, mental stressors, emotional stressors, cultural stressors, etc.  Our bodies react differently depending on the type of stress, our experiences, and our ability either react, reflect, or do both.  

We often think about how our brain communicates to our bodies, but our bodies also have the ability to communicate to our brains; and we can train our bodies and brain with signals especially through our senses.  

Smell is a sense that I have found much refuge in.  Something as small as making a cup of grounding tea and breathing it in before I drink it, has given me the ability to ground myself and be more reflective before reacting.  One of my favorite grounding teas is Tea India’s Cardamom Chai, check it out, and let me know what you think.

Essential oils have also been extremely helpful for me.  There are medicinal blends that can be used for specific kinds of stress.   Here is a list of helpful essential oils that might guide you to grounding yourself in the classroom.  If kept on your desk, you can simply dab it on while walking around, and kids either won’t notice or will smell this grounding, which can help ground them too. 

Type of Stress    

Environmental Stress: caused by bright lights, noise, or cramped space

Oils:    Cedarwood, Coriander, Geranium, Cypress ,Chamomile, Basil, Bergamot    

Chemical Stress: caused by too much coffee, too much junk food, to many drugs- like aspirin or antibiotics    

Oils: Lavender, Patchouli, Pettigraine, Geranium, Clary-sage, Grapefruit, Lemon, Rosemary

Physical Stress: caused by pushing your body to the limits, driving long distances, working out too much    

Oils:  Rosemary, Chamomile, Marjoram ,Lavender, Bergamot Thyme, Geranium, Fennel 

Mental Stress: caused by trying to achieve, anguish over uncompleted jobs, financial worries

Oils:   Gernaium, Lavender, Sandalwood, Basil, Bergamot, Grapefruit, Cardamom, Patchouli  

Emotional Stress: caused by relationship problems, parental guilt, inability to give or receive love, grief.

Oils: Geranium, Sandalwood, Palma rosa, Bergamot, Vetiver, Rose, Cardamom

There are also blends that can be made that are specific for burn out: when you have worn yourself out and are finally moving into distress.  This blend is for when you are no longer able to feel empowered in trying to multi-task 5 things at once, waking at 5 and working until 10, when you are incapacitated and overwhelmed in your tiredness.  This is often the hardest time to relax, and you may feel like you are just spinning in circles.  

Your energy is probably completely depleted. Sometimes when I am in this stage I wonder, "How  am I going to make it out the door?" When you feel like you have nothing left, it is vital to build up your energy stores again.  Exercise and breathing are needed but starting that can be hard.  Scent is a great way to start your breath.  You can use these blends in your classroom or at home.  You can put them in the shower, use them as a massage oil, or you can also just rub in your hands and inhale.

Burnout Exercise Blend    

Grapefruit (5 drops)
Cypress (4 drops)
Geranium (2 drops)
Burnout Relaxation Blend    Sandalwood (8 drops)
Palma rosa (5 drops)
Lemon (9 drops)

Burnout Reviver Blend    

Lavender (5 drops)
Eucalyptus/Peppermint (8 drops)
Grapefruit (7 drops)
Rosemary (4 drops)

I hope this helps you ground yourself and fill YOUR well, so you can give to your students in a sustainable way.

With love and gratitude,


Empowering Teachers By Reinserting Their Voices Into The Education Space

As part of a five-article series on teacher retention, LA Director Jane Mayer details why The Teaching Well's commitment to healthy teacher voice is an invaluable component to reducing teacher turnover. Original link to the article can be found here:

Two previous articles in this series, have detailed the enormity and the complexity of the teacher turnover problem in our country: more than 1 million teachers entering and exiting the classroom every year, and somewhere between 40 percent to 50 percent permanently exiting within five. This lack of stability in many educational communities means less emotionally stable and academically productive spaces for students.

As countless researchers, writers and experts on teacher retention have argued, keeping teachers engaged in our schools is not necessarily about pay. Recently, researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Virginia discovered that the highest indicating factor for teacher retention is whether or not teachers feel that they are part of a productive and meaningful community—one where their voices are heard, valued and collectively used to inform practices and policies on school campuses (Fuller, Waite & Irribarra, 2016).

In order to stop the ever-revolving door of teachers in and out of our highest need schools, schools must become spaces where teachers can empower themselves as expert educators and honor their valuable contributions to our communities. Empowerment in any space must start with voice; Individuals must be allowed to speak what is true for them and have what they say valued by the community.

But how, in a concrete way, do we move away from top-down models of leadership and organization to honor our teachers and hear their voices?

As an 8th grade English grade teacher in Los Angeles, this is the point I used to make again and again with my students: “Anais, but what do you think? What is your belief? What do you have to say—what is the view that you have to offer that is unique to you?”

In the beginning of the year, many of them looked at me as if no one had ever asked or even requested of them to find their voices. Unfortunately this has proven to be the reality for many teachers as well.

In the public education system today, teachers labor in environments in which their voices are marginalized (Fullan, 1993). Federal and state regulations govern standards, funding, and almost all facets of education, which ultimately trickle down through systems. Administrators have less power than superintendents, and teachers are the lowest on the totem pole. Much of their daily lives are governed by grading systems, statewide tests, mandates, etc., all of which their voices have never been a part (Hargreaves, 1994; Ingersoll, 2003).

This has been going on for so long that teachers have learned to accept their powerlessness and adapt to “live within a broken system.” It’s the only way to have any chance at getting to be the change agents they so desperately want to be. But when we strip teachers of their voice and continue to demand that they work in broken systems, we should not be surprised about high burnout and attrition rates that coincide with such treatment.

However, when teachers are actively engaged in systems that allow them to both process (alone and in groups) their beliefs and their opinions, those teachers are likely to sharpen the clarity of their voices and more likely to listen to the voices of others around them. What is created is a dialogue of mutual respect where all human beings are honored  (Darder, 2015; Freire, 1970). And as evidenced above, this meaningful use of voice in contribution to community is the highest indicator for teacher retention.

If we as a society are truly committed to a sustainable education system, we have to make listening to and trusting our educators a priority. Without space for teacher voice and meaningful dialogue, turnover will continue to plague the system.

Teachers are our leaders—we need their voices in policy, curriculum, and philosophical school decisions. We cannot afford to continue this to lose their expertise and passion if we intend to provide thriving, sustainable spaces for young people.

Here are some ways to create space for teacher voice and dialogue on school sites, which can act as a catalyst for teacher empowerment and re-engagement:

1. Create a school culture that values wellness. Body awareness and health are essential to being able to speak our voices. In my years as a teacher and now as a facilitator of professional development, I have found that many teachers are so dissociated from their bodies that they don’t even know when they are stressed. They can’t feel their internal signals because they so often have to deny them (regulated bathroom breaks, anyone?). They aren’t aware that their undeniable desire to say “yes” to every need is detrimental to their health and long-term sustainability as teachers. Fundamentally, when people aren’t well, they can’t feel their truth, much less speak it to someone else. Or, feeling their truth, they lash out in anger and frustration when a sensitive situation calls for calm clarity and firm action. We need teachers who are clear, calm and focused—and able to speak the truth without resentment, anger or punishment.

A culture of wellness is established when personal needs can be balanced with the needs of the community—teachers are encouraged to not work on weekends, to eat full and healthy lunches rather than scarfing down snacks while kids test in their classrooms, or when administrators allow them to say no to commitments that would compromise their physical and mental health. Dr. Patricia Jennings, a preeminent researcher from The University of Virginia and creator of the CARE program for teachers, ran a study on teacher wellness in the New York City public schools that proves that cultures of wellness improve outcomes from adults and students on school campuses.

2. Listen to teachers. We can no longer afford a fundamental distrust of our teachers. Can we let go of our collective fear and trust that most people (most of the time) are doing the best they can in service of our students? That when they report that a student really isn’t responding to a behavior intervention that it’s not just the teacher being inadequate, but perhaps about a system or regulation that isn’t working? No adult is perfect—and every teacher has areas for growth. But we do much better as communities when we honor what people have to say and meet them where they are rather than denying their experiences.

A culture of listening is created when we stop trying to tell our colleagues and employees that their experiences carry no value (or, maybe worse, pay only lip service towards valuing them).  Impactful listening can happen in many ways: 1. At a faculty meeting when an administrator realizes that 50 percent of a staff is saying the same thing (and chooses to use that truth to delve deeper into a possible solution) or 2. When colleagues actually empathize with one another around difficult situations without needs for solution.

3. Create teacher feedback systems for school-wide policies and procedures (i.e behavior, grading, technology, curriculum, etc.) To truly engage teachers in using their voices in meaningful dialogue, we must create systems for feedback and honor voice. For instance, if enough teachers on a campus feel that a technology system is ineffective, the action that would encourage teacher sustainability is honoring their voices and trust that their experiences are valid and an important source of information. Then, use their feedback to inform a new way of creating the technology system that works for the majority.

Steven C. Ward wrote an article in Newsweek about ways to reverse plummeting teacher morale. He explains, “the key to effective schools does not reside in the interventionist strategies and think-tank polished ideas, but in the way teachers and schools are supported…the time is now long overdue to begin an entirely new path of education reform….This path seeks to support teachers, re-establish their autonomy and rebuild the more general trust in institutions.”

Yes, it’s time that the educational system actually heard and valued its greatest asset: the teachers themselves. Start focusing on teacher wellness, voice and meaningful collaboration and watch the as the system changes.

Why Wellness Programs Are Far More Integral Than They Might Seem

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." -Audre Lorde

Talking about self-care and wellness programs can feel a bit light (superfluous). Many times, when I first talk about The Teaching Well with administrators or staff I’ll receive a series of responses:

“Well! That sounds like quite the luxury.” 

“So… you bring wellness techniques we can use for students?”

“Wow! You push into professional development time to support teacher well-being. Is there enough time? How do they fit it in?”

The clients who have chosen to work with us this year understood that when their teachers are fully present (healthy mind, body, spirit) in the room, they are able to get through more content in less time. They also hold more clarity on how everyone can bring their strengths equally to the table. Here are three reasons why teacher well-being is integral to a thriving school ecosystem.  

1. Creating Resilience against Compassion Fatigue

In the context of this summer, finding resilience in the faces of horrifying facts has been part of the national experience. Whether the death of Americans at the hands of police or the Trump/Hillary Campaign has been haunting your social media, this constant holding space for the painful experiences of others and how it affects our community is real. And, although it might be new for some, this process of being a participant in someone else’s traumatic experience is a normal, albeit uncomfortable, part of being a educator. 

Consistently, teachers hold space for 20 - 200 wonderful beings who come from homes with a variety of experiences. This includes their accomplishments, happiness and growth as humans but also their challenges, anger, home struggles and tears. We support learning through connecting the the unique experience of each child and this includes gracefully navigating many young people’s emotional responses. 

When educators are given space on their school sites to develop collective skills to stay resilient, they are more effective at redirecting students, supporting families and each other as a community working together to raise our next generation.

2. Workplace Wellness Programs WORK

As successful companies have shown us,  providing wellness services for employees increases productivity and effectiveness. In the educatoin sector, with a direct focus on serving students, it can be easy to forget the part adults play in the equation. But just as we are looking to our most successful companies for design0based thinking, blended learning and effective management structures, we must also look to them for how they treat their people. And the reasons aren’t only to make employees feel supported through the work day. They’re also for long term financial success. These include:

-Decrease in health insurance premiums
-Decrease in sick days
-Increase in long term effectiveness and retention

3. How we treat ourselves is how we treat others. 
Whether we think of Mirror Neurons or Kristen Neff’s self- compassion research, it is proven that how we take care of ourselves through times of stress accurately depicts how well we can react to others. And when we are stressed, our reactions are often exaggerated. As teachers, we are consistently in high-energy, high-expectations situations. It is integral that we have the tools to decrease stress at high impact moments.

When we speak of self-care at The Teaching Well, we are not talking about adding fluffy stuff to your day to be nice to teachers. We are talking about creating a team that is professionally committed to each other and personally committed their health and wellbeing. And by doing so, we create adult communities that have greater capacity to support students and families. 

Join us in the movement-- and tap the well within!



Guest Blog: LAUSD School Board Candidate Nick Melvoin on Being Mindful about Mindfulness

There was always something ironic about the way I dealt with the stress of teaching. I’d finish the teaching day around 3, stay to coach or tutor or run a department meeting til around 5:30, then race through Los Angeles traffic (or, more accurately, sit in LA traffic) to get to a 6 pm yoga class. Those were always among the most stressful 30 minutes of my day, but I needed to get to that 6 pm class to de-stress. And, while focusing on the stress of traffic, I wasn’t focusing on the stress of teaching, so I guess that was a plus. But I knew that I needed that 90 minutes of yoga and meditation to stay healthy; not just physically healthy—we all know that as a teacher you’re on your feet most of the day—but mentally healthy. And it’s that mental health that we as educators need to spend more time discussing. 

One of the most helpful tools I ever saw as a teacher was a graph that mapped the stages of first year teaching (see below): anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation, reflection, anticipation again. It was helpful to be able to anticipate what I would be feeling—and most importantly to know that I wasn’t alone in those feelings. But when looking at that, I was also struck by how much of the year would be “survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation” and how irrelevant my education in pedagogy and even English (my subject area) seemed to be when it came to facing those feelings. What I needed to not just cope, but thrive—a necessary prerequisite for my students’ success—were tools for self-care.  

Without The Teaching Well, I had to pick up these tools on my own (and, of course, with the help of colleagues). Mindfulness was helpful, specifically yoga and meditation; acceptance became necessary and my students and I put up a poster in our classroom that said “I like it when it rains, because if I didn’t like it, it would still rain” which oriented us towards acceptance and optimism; I really celebrated the little victories, which occurred daily, and that we too often ignore; the camaraderie I built among my colleagues was crucial to my well-being; and, finally, maintaining a healthy life outside of my classroom, one that included exercise and friends and travel and reading, helped me maintain a healthy attitude at work. I also shared these strategies with my students, many of whom were experiencing levels of anxiety and stress far more significant than mine. 

These were the tools of self-care that worked for me. They will be different for other teachers, but the important thing is to focus on this toolbox the same way we do on the pedagogical one.  

And the reasons for this are many. For one, the stress of teaching forces many teachers, especially ones at the beginning of their careers, to exit the profession, which not only is disruptive for them, but also for their students and their schools. Teacher turnover is also not without cost; teacher attrition costs the U.S. roughly $2.2 billion each year (in recruitment, teacher development, placement, etc.). In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), attrition at some schools is well over 50% a year. 
For those teachers that stay, stress can lead to unhappiness and, as in most professions, unhappy teachers are less effective teachers. One study found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity among employees; it’s likely quite higher when your profession is built on human interaction and the ability to motivate and inspire young people. Teachers are of course some of the most selfless individuals in society and, along with that, I find there’s often an unwillingness to focus on themselves because of the need to focus on others, notably their students. But as I always tell young teachers, you can’t be good to your kids if you’re not good to yourself.  

Then there are of course the non-educational reasons we want teachers to take care of themselves: as people, we simply want them to be happy and healthy. 

After my time teaching, I decided to run for the LAUSD School Board because of a belief that our educational ecosystem is in need of repair: that everyone in the system, from student to parent to teacher, is not being supported in the ways that would make us all more successful. The true promise of teacher wellness and The Teaching Well is that by focusing on the health, well-being and happiness of teachers, we also improve outcomes for students and schools; the return on this investment, in the form of higher rates of retention and more motivated educators, is one of the highest we could imagine. 

Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Teachers work around the clock, for little money, with extremely high stakes; it is undoubtedly going to be a high stress environment. Ensuring teachers’ well-being is the least we can do. Amidst all the talk of policy panaceas and educational silver bullets, I hope we can focus on the simple, yet profound act of ensuring our teachers are healthy. 

Nick Melvoin, a former LAUSD middle school teacher, is a candidate for the LAUSD Board of Education in District 4. To learn more, check out

Healthy Eating in the Classroom: Kids Dig Kale!

The teaching profession is truly a labor of love, and in low-income or Title I public schools, many teachers go above and beyond in their deepest efforts to close the achievement gap. I honor and have so much respect for all the teachers who get creative in motivating their kids, stay late hours to differentiate instruction, and do their best reaching out to parents, all while having a substantial amount of patience and positivity day in and day out. 

There are many factors that affect the health and wellness of students (and teachers!) and the quality of public school lunches is atrocious. For many students and teachers, the majority of their calories are coming from the low-quality foods served at school (think sugar-laden cereals, greasy pizza out of a bag, rubbery burgers, and a ton of dairy from milk and cheese).

Perhaps this is why so many children can't concentrate after lunch or develop neurological imbalances that make learning new concepts so difficult. Or teachers, why your blood sugar crashes and make you impatient and exhausted. (Sound familiar?)

This dire situation coupled with my own passion for eating healthy foods inspired me to teach my students about health and nutrition every chance I got. One year my school was fortunate enough to have fresh cut fruit delivered to our classroom as a recess snack and I always made the time to promote the health benefits and delicious tastes of these foods. I also upheld a strict “no junk food” policy in my classroom during parent-teacher events or class parties. When students had to join me for lunch in the classroom, I would always show them my lunch (whenever I ate sprouts it always freaked them out). I also always started the morning with a giant mason jar of green juice, and my students could list all the ingredients inside.

Sometimes, the best method of teaching (and keeping up our own death priorities) is simply leading by example. Of course there were parents who showed up unannounced at the end of the day with cupcakes for their child’s birthday, but besides that, my students knew better than to bring in unhealthy snacks.

I remember one time we were having a class celebration. The students and I were doing a math lesson and a generous parent came into the classroom and dropped off two liters of soda. As the beverages were set at the table, silence fell among the students. There were a few quiet gasps, and then they looked at me, as if bracing themselves. I then thanked the parent for their donation and we continued with our lesson. I didn't want whichever student to feel bad about what the good intentioned parent had brought, plus I knew how important it is for students to have a choice.

When it was finally time for the party, not one of my students asked for the soda. Maybe it was that they were too afraid to even ask, or maybe it was the lesson we had just done on sugar in beverages. Either way, I was so proud of my students for embracing the healthier snack options and making a conscious decision about what to put in their growing little bodies. And it helps me to keep the focus on my own health when I am acting as an example for them.And it helps me to keep the focus on my own health when I am acting as an example for them.

Here are some strategies to keep healthy food in the classroom:

1. Celebrate with healthy food presented in a fun way.

The number one way junk food makes it inside a classroom is when there are classroom parties. In my classroom, we had “green smoothie parties” and my students LOVED it. I brought in my blender and all the ingredients (kale, pineapple, and mango for example), and blended it up in front of them. I talked about the benefits of each ingredient and then we talked about all the other combination of fruits and vegetables they could use at home. Then we served it up in little cups and straws and everybody gave each other cheers. The kids had a blast and would request the same whenever there was an opportunity for another celebration.

2. Forget the food and have an epic game of kickball outside. Instead of celebrating with food, celebrate with a fun activity. Kids love playing outside and love it even more if they get to play against their teacher! There are some kids, however, who might not like a friendly game of kickball, so it's always nice to offer another activity where you can still watch them (i.e. let them sit in the shade and do an art project of their choice).

3. If you’re a teacher, send home a letter at the beginning of the year about your healthy classroom policy. Have the parents sign and return. If you’re a parent, talk to the teacher and ask about the health policy and offer to create a letter to send home if the teacher hasn’t done so already. (Many schools also have health foods policy, however many times it just isn’t enforced). Teachers really do love when parents take the initiative to get involved!

4. If you’re a parent and have the time, offer to be in charge of a classroom party (the teacher will love you for not having to organize it) and sponsor a “green smoothie party.” Collecting $1 from each student would be more than enough to cover the cost of food. Or, collect a small sum and set up a beautiful spread of fruit.

5. For holidays like Halloween or Valentine’s Day, swap the candy for little toys or gadgets instead (pencils, stickers, erasers, rings, etc.) The Dollar Store is great for this! Or, change the celebration to a fun event that takes the focus away from food.

6. If you still want to have food at a celebration, make up a specific list of what parents can bring. For instance, each parent can sign up for one of the following: grapes, cut up apples with cinnamon, melon slices, carrot sticks, celery sticks, raisins, hummus, salsa, plates, mini cups with cute umbrellas, etc. This will minimize the possibility of parents bringing cookies and cupcakes. If you’re a parent, offer to create the list for the teacher and get in contact with the parents.

Now, let me be clear: I definitely like to eat cake on my birthday and I'm not saying that eating cupcakes at a party is something kids shouldn't enjoy. But in communities where processed foods are everywhere, and where type II diabetes is affecting kids as much as adults, I think it's important to embrace the classroom learning environment as an opportunity to teach students about real, whole foods and remind myself to do the same so I can be best for my students.




A Full-Bodied "Yes!"

I recently came across a post on Instagram that said, “If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.” It reminded me of a concept I love called “the full-bodied yes.”


As teachers, we say “yes” a lot. We say “yes” to students who need extra help after school. We say “yes” to our colleagues who need extra support during our prep period. We say “yes” to chaperoning prom, to after-school parent conferences, to grading papers over the weekend, to writing new curriculum, and the list goes on (you know what I mean, teachers!)


But, how often do we say “yes” when we really mean, “I’m not sure,” or “no” ? Or, how often do we say “yes” when what we mean is, “I really can’t fathom adding anther thing to my plate, but I know you need it and you expect me to give it and I don’t want to deal with disappointed you or making you upset.”


More often that not, I imagine. (My job is to support teachers is not doing this, and yes, I still do it, too).


So, the concept of the full-bodied yes. Part of what we do at The Teaching Well is help teachers get in touch with their bodies. We support nutrition, mindfulness, self-reflection and self-awareness for many reasons. But one of the reasons we do that is because we need to be able to feel our bodies say “yes” and “no.” Our bodies are actually very intelligent life forms, and they give us an incredible amount of information if we allow them to.


When someone asks you to do something, see how your body feels when you say “yes.” Does it feel excited, giddy, purposeful, joyful, full, peaceful, energized, calm? Or, does it feel anxious, tired, tight, fearful, heavy, resentful and weighed down?


Though we may feel that it’s always best to say yes, it really isn’t. If we say yes when we mean no, we set ourselves up for resentment, exhaustion and burn-out.


Next time you get the opportunity to say “yes” or “no,” at school or at home, try to pause and check in with your body first. Listen to the message it’s giving you. Then, take a deep breath and answer with either a full-bodied “yes”, or another truthful statement like “no” or “I’m not sure.”


It’s not easy at first, but healthy self-awareness and honest communication are essential to sustainable school sites. Try it—just once, and see what happens. Start to tap your well within, and watch how life at school changes.




(Director of the Los Angeles region)

Nutrition for Teachers: Creating a Meal Ritual


By Erica Favela, NC

Erica is The Teaching Well’s in-house nutritionist for all food-related wellness needs!

Food serves many purposes; as comfort, as a way to celebrate, or for bonding. I love a great meal with friends or family, when the focus is enjoyment and connecting.

But there can be a darker side of using food for purposes beyond fuel for our bodies. Food can easily be used as a distraction, dealing with stress, or for filling an emotional void. And in most cases, the types of food desired are not typically fish and steamed vegetables, but rather sweets or salty foods that are neither health-promoting nor energy-giving.

Try This: Create a Meal Ritual

Creating a ritual - whether with a snack or full meal - can help to bring back the true purpose of food as nourishment. A meal ritual can help bring attention to your body, and allow yourself to come into parasympathetic mode, or “rest and digest” mode. In this state, your physical body is best able to break down and absorb food. Mentally, it can remind you to be present, and enjoy your food.

You can create your own meal ritual with something as simple as taking a deep breath before eating. What exactly you do isn’t as important as doing it with intention. Here are a few other practices you can consider when creating your own meal ritual:

  • Say one gratitude

  • Turn off or remove all electronic devices (TV, cell phone, computer)

  • Remove any other stimuli - even an innocent good book or magazine

  • Light a candle

  • Use a real plate

  • Set out a place mate and silverware

  • Take 1-3 deep breaths before picking up your fork

  • Set your timer for 1 minute to simply look at your food and smell the aromas

  • Eat outside in the sunlight and take a moment to feel the warmth on your skin

What I do

When I first tried doing a meal ritual, it felt a little awkward because I often eat alone. I felt like I needed to have something to do or something to look at so I wouldn’t be lonely. With practice, though, I’m now quite comfortable turning all my attention to myself and my food.

My meal ritual consists of two things: saying a gratitude, and removing my cell phone. I try to say a gratitude about something simple and specific, like how thankful I am that my partner does laundry, or how amazing it was that my friend from the east coast called me out of the blue. I then try to chew, really chew, and just taste. If you experiment with chewing, you’ll find that the taste changes a bit as the salivary enzymes begin mixing with the food.

Other Resources

Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Eat offers small mediations on mindful eating. Keep this little book by your kitchen table and read a page before a meal.

Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD, is a more in-depth guide on how to implement mindful eating.




First Week of Summer Stress Resilience Toolkit

Every year as summer approaches, I am deeply reminded of my stress levels.   I become mindful of the stress, both positive and negative, that my body feels.  It seems as my mind begins to slow as the teacher to-do lists get shorter and I begin to let my body speak to me again. It realizes that it is both exhausted from the year and exhilarated for summer.  


As summer approaches, I enter the drone zone, where I am excited at the idea of actually being able to make it to the gym more frequently, of being able to schedule more frequent yoga classes, or perhaps joining a summer sports team, of travel, yet sometimes the idea of  just sleeping in takes over.  Summer is also the time where I tend to reflect on how I can not only incorporate these activities in my summer life but remember how to keep my rituals throughout the year so I continue to feel balanced in the classroom.


As a teacher, sometimes it can feel like we live in a polarized environment: giving 150% of ourselves during the school year and then when summer hits, we are re-cooperating the extra 50% we gave.  We often have to re-fill our wells of giving during the summer.  Every year of teaching, I would set grandiose ideas during summer of how to improve my work-life-balance, but now I am left wondering, “How can we make our lives more balanced?”  Surely there has to a less polarized and more balanced way to approach a profession that I love.


As teachers, we know that students need balance and consistency.  We can see and feel how deeply it affects our students bodies, minds, and ability to perform as well as connect socially with peers.  When we think of our students we know that balance is not something that happens to us, it is something that we do. Balance is something that needs to be practiced consistently.  Suddenly I am left wondering, why then, do we as teachers, swing on a pendulum of summer life verse school life?


Recently I have been reading Reflexes, Learning and Behavior, by Sally Goodard,  because I am interested in how stress somatically effects my students. I have been reminded again of the importance of mindfulness for us as teachers.  Goddard claims, “The most advanced level of movement is the ability to stay totally still and perfect balance is the action of not moving.”  


An example of this would be learning how to ride a bicycle.  In the beginning, when we learn how to ride, it is easiest to balance when the bicycle is in full motion.  The hardest part of learning to ride a bicycle is how to slow down and stop without falling off.  


As teachers, how do we learn to slow down and stop with off falling off the bicycle?  How can we bring balance to ourselves?  As our balance improves, we become able to slow down the bicycle and control it at slower speeds.  


I challenge you to practice being present during summer: to set yourself up with consistency of mindfulness that will carry you into your next year.  I challenge you to slow down the bicycle in the comfort of summer to help improve your balance.

Here are some mindfulness and stress resilience techniques from The Teaching Well that might help.

  • Mindfulness in Daily Activities:

    • What: The more you can stay present the better you feel.  Integrating mindfulness into daily life is the best way to practice consistency.

    • How: This activity should be physical so you can focus on details of your experience.  It doesn’t matter what physical activity you choose, rather the point is to focus your attention on the sensations you feel.  For example, you could choose to be mindful while doing the dishes.  You can focus on the feeling of the hot water on your hand, the smell of the soap, texture of the sponge, your feet grounding into the floor, the muscles in your arm as you scrub.


  • Strengthening the Immune System through Mindfulness:

    • What: Inhabiting your body and being aware of your body physically creates a stronger immune system. A body scan can make you more aware of your body’s cues.  Your body loves attention and it is a way of bringing self-healing.  Most illnesses sneak in when we are not present in the body.

  • How: Self-Healing Meditation to boost your immune system is most effective just before you fall asleep at night or just as you are waking up in the morning.  You want to flood your body with awareness.  Close your eyes and lie down.  Then choose different parts of your body to focus your attention on: feet, legs, lower abdomen, chest, arms, etc. Try to feel the energy in those places.  What is your body telling you?  Send your energy to the parts of your body that you feel need it.  Hold the attention for just a few minutes, and if your mind wanders, don’t judge it, just bring your mind back to the focus of your body.


  • Mindfulness through the Senses and the Environment:

    • What: Your senses can often bring your back into the present.  

    • How: Notice three objects you see in a room and pay close attention to their details (shape, color, texture, size, etc).  Linger over each objects and name three characteristics of the object out loud.  For example It’s blue, cylinder shaped, and waxy.”  Repeat this for each sense.  Notice three sounds and now three characteristics of the sound.  “Its loud, pleasant, ticking.”  Touch three objects and describe their characteristics.  Remind yourself that you are present with these environmental objects, you are in the here and now.  


  • Mindfulness through Smell:

    • What: When you feel as though you are not grounded a pleasant smell is powerful way to bring you back into the present.

    • How: Carry something that smells pleasant with you, a lotion, oil, perfume, a fruit.  You can also find things in your environment: a flower, fruit, herb, etc.


Here’s to a balanced summer that will help you take care of yourself so you can teach well in August.






The Teaching Well’s Contribution to the Sustainability of Education

Contrary to popular belief, martyrdom doesn’t produce the best results. When teachers feel fulfilled, that’s when they teach most effectively. It’s unrealistic to expect teachers -- and most people in the public service/social justice sector -- to give themselves unconditionally for long periods of time. What is realistic is for people to give when they themselves already feel at peace.

There’s a famous Sufi saying that says “Give from the overflow of your well, not from its depths.” When we’re feeling unsatisfied or overwhelmed, and our “well” is empty, it’s difficult to serve others.  When we have unmet needs, it’s more common for us to “take it out” on others, including our students. But when people focus first on filling their own “well” by making themselves happy and healthy, it becomes far easier to “give from the overflow.” When teachers feel fulfilled, it creates space for us to take on the responsibility of others and serve without resentment.

As Buddhist Minister and activist Thich Nhat Hanh has famously said, “Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.”   

 So as teachers and givers, it’s important to ask ourselves: “How do I love and take care of myself each day? What do I need to be in a “well overflowing” place?” For some people, there well is filled quite quickly. For others, it takes more time, effort, and prioritizing to ensure that their needs are being met.

This also relates back to the Human Function Graph. The spot before the apex is where your well is filled, where you can are still able to take on the heavy responsibility of a teaching job without feeling depleted. It’s far more realistic to give from that place of extensive resources, than when we’re already in distress.

The Teaching Well is founded and shepherded by a team of former teachers, all of whom have taught in public, private and charter schools around the country—all of them for over five years and many for more than a decade. We were all highly driven, highly successful educators who know what its like to try and give from an empty well. We also have all found that our lives and the lives of our students dramatically increased when we started taking care of ourselves FIRST. In this discovery, we knew we had to give back to our communities what we had learned.

Thus, The Teaching Well was born. As a team, we support teachers and administrators in tapping their wells within, so that they may give from their overflow. We aim to bring this valuable resource to the communities who need it the most—so that they can sustain the lives and dreams of the students who need them.


Join us at the Well!



Kelly and Jane