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Physical Educators: Be Well

If you’re not following @MoveLiveLearn (a.k.a. Amanda Stanec) on Twitter yet, you’re missing out. Not only is she the #firecracker of the #physed community, she also just won “Best Individual Teacher Twitter Account” at the 2013 #PhysEd Awards. Since she’s kind of a big deal, I asked her if she would like to share some thoughts on teacher wellness through a blog post for ThePhysicalEducator.com. Here is the very awesome result:

Introduction

Each day, when I turn on news, open the paper, or click on a link, I’m reminded of how education is portrayed in society. Test scores. Common core. Standards of Learning. No Child Left Behind. School violence. This leaves me feeling confused because when I am in a school community – I see innovation, collaboration, smiles, inspiration, and most of all, a heck of a lot of love.

Admittedly, I also see various forms of stress in almost every school I visit. I am not saying that all teachers in all schools are stressed – not at all. But, I am willing to wager that every school employs some teachers who aren’t living as well as they could.

Teacher Wellness

I think a lot about teacher wellness. Almost daily, in fact. I’m currently enrolled in a nutrition school to become a certified health coach. It’s a goal of mine to help teachers everywhere live more well. I believe wholeheartedly that a healthier school community will not just aid teachers’ health, it will enhance student enjoyment and learning.

Physical educators’ wellness is perhaps even more of a concern to me. I have always been curious as to how a physically inactive physical educator can teach fundamental movement skills, tactics, strategies, life skills through activity, in an inspiring and motivating manner. I always wonder how unhealthy physical educators (often the ones who teach health in addition to PE) teach nutrition when they do not prepare healthy foods for themselves. When I say ‘I wonder’ I mean, ‘I wonder’. There is no judgment here, folks. It’s not who I am. It’s not who I want to be. I don’t know your story – I’m not here judging why you’re perhaps quite sedentary and have a poor diet. I’m also not suggesting that we need to pass skill competency tests in order to receive our teaching certification.

I want all people to live life to its fullest potential.

If you are taking the time to read this post, you likely work tirelessly to hone your pedagogical skills. Adopting a health lifestyle (okay, here comes the ‘preaching to the choir piece’) will help you: further hone your pedagogy skills because you will have more energy; feel empowered; fight illness and disease; increase your mental resiliency; and, make you more fun to be around (a very important one for physical educators).

Before I share some “do’s” and “don’ts”, please know that I get it. I get that life gets hectic. I get that teaching and coaching require a lot of you. I get that you are attending graduate school at night. I get that you have a commute. I get that you have to pay bills, get groceries, plan/cook healty meals, take your car in for an oil change, and even do laundry. I get that you have kids. I get it. So, rather than focus on these “potential barriers” let’s focus on the positives [because – let’s face it – this is how I roll].

You are fortunate to be able to move.
You are fortunate to teach a topic that literally impacts individuals’ health and prevents disease.
You are fortunate to help a smile spread across the face of a child who is morbidly obese as s/he reaches his/her personal goal on her timed speed walk or run.
You are fortunate to have a job in a field that it isn’t always easy to crack.
You are fortunate to be viewed as the Healthy Leader in the school.

Without further adieu, I share some tips that work for me. [Disclaimer: The most important lesson learned throughout my three degrees of higher education is that I have a lot to learn.] Hence, this list is not exhaustive. But, these are tips that have worked, and continue to work, for me in my pursuit of living life to its fullest potential.

Do’s

  1. Do. Try to get in the habit of working out in the early a.m. (re: before school). This might require a second hand purchase of some cardio equipment (my stair mill was a refurbished deal of the century). I have baby monitors hooked up so while I get my early morning groove on, I can be certain the cherubs are safely tucked in bed dreaming about what an amazing mum they have (okay, I made the last part up).
  2. Do. Plan your meals and snacks for the week. Grocery shopping and meal planning is a lot like working out. You may not always be motivated to do it, but you will never regret doing so. When you have the healthy options, and are committed to living your best life, healthy will be the choice. [Enough said.]
  3. Do. Drink water. Lots of water. Drink water when you wake before you eat anything.
  4. Do. When you meet with administrators for faculty evaluations, request a walking meeting. Who knows? This might come the norm. It should be the norm, now. I know I think more creatively when I’m in nature. How about you?
  5. Do. When it’s a teacher potluck type of occasion, sign up / offer to bring some healthy choices. Then, be sure to “crowd out” your plate. This means that you will first fill up your plate with the healthy choices. There won’t be any room for the bad foods (or at least most bad foods).
  6. Do. Say yes. Say no. Of course you should fulfill your requirements as an educator – and, then some. But, learn how to prioritize. I don’t need a lot of down time as my workout time is my down time. I usually read and study while I work out, too. Yet, this is all great for me – because I feel good, empowered, and well. You will have to find what works for you.
  7. Do. Try a new physical activity. At 28, I started white water kayaking. At 29, I started mountain biking and moved from skiis to snowboarding. At 30, I took my first yoga class. While I played college soccer and enjoy running and triathlons very much, if you asked me what my favorite activities are, I would respond “mountain biking, snowboarding and yoga”. So, make sure that you learn new things! It will also give you something to share with your students who are nervous about taking risks and being a beginner in one area after experiencing success in others.
  8. Do. Find a way to tap into spirituality. You may find this in religion. You may find it while in nature. You may find it in both. You may find it somewhere else. Tap into your spirituality to: become grounded: enhance your sense of gratitude; and, to let go of that ego. If yoga is your thing, check out yogaglo.com. I know I talk about them a lot – but I swear they don’t pay me. They’re amazing and really perfect for busy teachers (affordable, varied styles, varied class lengths, incredible instruction). Any time I step on my mat with one of the “glo” instructors is a good day.
  9. Do. Get on PHE Canada’s website and check out their excellent section on Health Promoting Schools. Be encouraged to help your school become a HPS.
  10. Do. Set SMART goals related to physical activity and nutrition.
  11. See if is any way to have a fitness room in your school for teachers to access on their planning period. Ideally, Professional Learning Communities (PLN) could gather in such a space to think up creative ways to meet their objectives.
  12. Be humble about your athletic goals and accomplishments. While it’s wonderful that you are “out there” setting goals and working hard to attain them, keep in mind that boasting about your accolades won’t be nearly as effective as sharing with students the experiences when race day didn’t go as well as planned – yet you got back out there.

Don’t

  1. Don’t hang out with the Negative Nathan’s or Negative Nelly’s in the faculty lounge. Not that we usually have time to do that anyway [intramurals, anyone?]. Toxic conversation is contagious. No doubt about it. Avoid it like the plague. [You’re welcome.]
  2. Don’t be afraid to turn down the cupcake. In fact, don’t eat anything in the faculty lounge that you didn’t bring.
  3. Don’t enter a room as the physical educator and let out a verbal sigh. Such behavior makes me want to run in the opposite direction like Pheobe from Friends running in Central Park.
  4. Don’t stop at convenience stores to and from work to buy “food”. Why? They don’t sell food – they sell junk.
  5. Don’t encourage “weight loss” events among teacher colleagues through fad diets. It’s well documented how much money the diet industry makes. I guess that means they don’t work! Repeat customers. How sad. Alternative? Consider ‘healthy cooking recipe shares’ or sign up as a staff for a local fun walk/run.
  6. Don’t forget to breath. When you are caught off guard by a parent, administrator, student, or colleague, take long inhales and exhales in order to become present in the situation. Think before you speak so that you don’t react on emotion and you can respond in a way that is thoughtful, positive, and productive.

Summary

Are you living your best life? I hope so – you deserve to. I hope that some suggestions in this post are helpful to you as prepare to head back to school very soon. While I find the tweets related to PD this summer totally inspiring, I would be even more inspired knowing that you all are committed to your OWN health moving forward.

On behalf of a physical educator, coach, and mum, thank you for helping your students. As you know, each student that enters your class is someone’s precious child. Let us live as well as we can so that we can do our best to help these individuals grow to be physically literate contributors to society.

I wish you happiness.
I wish you professional fulfillment.
I wish you well.

So how about you? How do you relieve stress during the school year? When do you find time to exercise during the school year? What type(s) of snacks and lunch do you bring to school with you? I would love to hear your answers in the comments below!

You can learn more about Amanda by connecting with her on Twitter or by checking out her website MoveLiveLearn.com

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Joey Feith is the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com. He currently teaches elementary physical education at St. George’s School of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.