“I don’t know if I can do this.” “I’m exhausted.” “I’m not cut out for this job.”
Julia King Pool, 2013 DC Teacher of the Year, knows what it’s like to teach with these thoughts running constantly through your mind. She also knows where they too often lead.
"I can't tell you how many educators I meet who have one low-energy moment or afternoon and jump to 'I'm not cut out for this,'" said Pool. "It's as if they think there's some magical subset of people who never get tired or frustrated. If those people exist, I’ve certainly never met them.”
On Wednesday, Pool helped the Robertson Center, Success Academy’s new accelerator for educators, launch its free Wellbeing series for teachers and school staff. With a TED-style Robertson Center “Chalk Talk” she kicked off The Mindful Teacher: Harnessing the Power of Your Attention to Unleash Your Best School Year Yet. Part of a broader program to offer educators high-quality development, community-building and support, the series is rooted in the knowledge that building joyful, engaging classrooms where kids fall in love with learning is demanding work.
Enter Mindfulness - a practice that helps people change their relationship to their own thoughts. Mindfulness gives teachers the tools to recognize when they are falling into thinking traps that lead them to believe they can’t do their job. It’s an easy trap to get tangled in, but once teachers have the tools to climb out of them, they feel less anxious in their daily lives and can more easily focus on the reasons they got into the field in the first place.
The good parts of teaching are better than the good parts of any other job.
“There’s nothing like teaching,” Pool said. “The good parts are better than the good parts of any other job. But the lows hit hard. We know how much our work matters, so when something doesn’t go well, it’s hard to shake it. We carry the shortcomings around all day.”
That is the irony: The very thing that makes great teachers is what often leads them to burn out.
Fortunately, mindfulness techniques and other strategies rooted in human behavior and psychology can flip burnout on its head. “Give teachers some basic tools to manage both the highs and lows of their day and you'll start to see meaningful shifts in teacher persistence and happiness," Pool said.
Those shifts then lead to gains in the driving force of teachers’ work lives: student success. Happy teachers are not only more engaging during lessons, they’re also in a position to model for their students strategies to manage negative thoughts and overcome self-doubt and cynicism and cultivate optimism.
That is the motivation behind Pool’s work as she strives to make sure great teachers have what they need to stay and flourish in the classroom. This year, she founded Burn-In Mindset, a start-up that works with educators all across the country to help them manage the mindsets that lead to burnout so that they can continue in their chosen profession.
“If we want our kids to have these skills, we have to make sure we equip our teachers with them first,” says Kelly Cabezas, an art teacher at Success Academy Union Square who practices mindfulness with her students. “If classrooms are mirrors of the adults who lead them, giving teachers the tools they need to be their calmest, most empowered, and most joyful selves is one important path towards making sure students reflect that sense of endless possibility right back.”
For more information about bringing Burn-In Mindset to your school, contact Julia Pool at firstname.lastname@example.org.