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Rest and Recovery: An Essential Element of Educator Wellness

When educators are able to focus on their own wellness, classroom environments and student outcomes are positively affected.

Wendy McArthur | @wendy_mcarthur
October 22,  2019

Wellness in our schools has become an essential topic of focus over the past several years; educators have realized the benefits of helping our students become responsible for not only their educational growth but their social, emotional, and physical development. We have seen a surge in curriculums and programs that help teach and promote wellness to our students, and schools are seeing great results from their focused efforts. Initiatives such as yoga or meditation instead of detention and mindset programs that support positive thinking have elicited outcomes that are clear to all; students are calmer and more focused, which in turn positively affects classroom environments and performance by virtue of less stress and anxiety in students.

We have also known for years that mental and physical breaks for professionals can be very beneficial. Many studies across a range of professions have overwhelmingly been in favor of time for employees to reenergize. When the time to decompress is encouraged, employers see increases in productivity, creativity, positive work cultures, collaboration, and happier employees. However, even with the positive results from the research, many work cultures, including professional school cultures, continue to value working long days, weekends, and vacations and are places where working excessive hours is the unwritten expectation.

Schools generally continue to lag behind other industries in terms of providing time for mental and physical breaks for employees.
Schools generally continue to lag behind other industries in terms of providing time for mental and physical breaks for employees.

I have recently been blessed with the gift of taking some time off, and while it has only been three months, I am beginning to see things more clearly. Upon reflection, I can now see that my excessive, workaholic behaviors were slowing down my productivity, ability to concentrate, and motivation to be the best version of myself both personally and professionally. Although I encouraged work-life-balance on my team, and I reminded people to take their downtime, not work throughout their vacations and enjoy time with their families, I was not a good role model, and I did not “walk the walk,” ultimately creating an expectation for the members of my team to emulate my workaholic and stressful behaviors versus what I preached regarding the importance of downtime and breaks. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and my newfound clarity has allowed me to consider how I would adapt my leadership when I return to work. There is so much information on corporate wellness that the information for any leaders is right at their fingertips.

I now ask myself, why was I so afraid to turn off? I had many symptoms of burnout, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and foggy brain, and so it would seem like a logical thing to step back, take some downtime and rejuvenate. Ultimately, I believe it comes from the fact that workaholism has now become valued and is considered to be a quality of those that are most successful. Admittedly, I took a sense of pride and satisfaction in the fact that I was dedicated to my job and the success of my school; falling into the trap of thinking that the more I worked, the more success I would achieve. After several years of intense work hours and increasing demands, burnout set in, and these symptoms only lessened my job productivity and success instead of helping me achieve my goals. Workaholism is rewarded through constant affirmations of the great job that we do, tasks that took hours of time and preparation, and so positively reinforcing that excessive hour equals success. It has become so ingrained in our work culture that anyone with ambition or the desire to be successful in their work-life quickly adopts the same approach and attitude, and that’s exactly what I did.

The luxury of taking an extended break from work has allowed me to reflect, reenergize, focus, and concentrate on new opportunities and projects.
The luxury of taking an extended break from work has allowed me to reflect, reenergize, focus, and concentrate on new opportunities and projects.

There are progressive corporations that have acknowledged the research and realized the benefits of genuinely allowing people time off to increase their productivity and creativity. Nike has “Rest Rooms” throughout their buildings where employees can go to rest, meditate, or nap. Throughout many of its divisions, Nike also has a half-day workday on Fridays, providing extra time for employees to rejuvenate through time away from work. Apple allows its employees to take thirty minutes a day for meditation and Prentice Hall Publishing has a “Quiet Room” at their corporate headquarters where employees can go to meditate, pray or just take some time to chill out.

As school leaders, we need to be a role model for others, take our vacations, enjoy time with our families, and advocate for the need for change within the school if your school culture has the workaholic virus. Of course, many will argue that educators already get too many vacations already and they do not need any more downtime, but for those of us in the profession, we know that the best educators are spending much of their downtime engaged in professional development, planning, mentoring, coaching or even attending summer programs with students, leaving little time to reflect on the work they do. Let’s not be afraid of allowing ourselves and our teams the time to reenergize through some rest or meditation. Let’s be the example of innovation and creativity for our students and build space and time in our day for professionals to calm their minds, reduce their stress, and rejuvenate so they can tap into their innovation and creativity and help create programs and schools where our children will thrive and develop these same qualities.

Wendy is an experienced, passionate educator with a great sense of humor! Wendy has a Bachelor’s degree in History and Education and has a Master’s Degree in Education. Wendy has twenty years of experience in international school leadership and over twenty-seven years of experience in education; she has worked in international schools in Mexico, Serbia, and Panama. In 2005, Wendy was recognized for her dedication and commitment as a school leader when she was the recipient of the National Distinguished Principal’s awarded for the Office of Overseas Schools. Wendy is well versed in the International Baccalaureate program, American curricula, and school accreditation processes. Wendy is known throughout the international community as a leader and a presenter, presenting at conferences in the United States and regional international school conferences. Wendy believes that schools should be led with laughter and empathy if they are to transform into places where great learning takes place.


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