Hello teaching world! About a month ago, I was shocked when I was asked to write a post for Brian to share with fellow educators through his blog. I have followed Brian for many years and he has been an inspiration to my mindset in the classroom. Now my mind was running all over the place. I had many thoughts going through my head as this year has been one of many struggles. I wasn’t even sure what I could share with all of you about my teaching practice. When he asked I thought about coding, language, music, mental health and physical health. Who is kidding who, I was just honoured to be asked to be featured. After careful thought I decided that “finding fitness” would be where I would share some of my story. This blog is designed to touch on both mental and physical health specifically within the teaching community and how it also reflects within the classroom.
All too often we, as teachers, focus on the mental health of our students. We make sure our classrooms are inclusive, safe, communities where students are encouraged to try their best, make mistakes and go through positive struggle. They have an outlet to discuss their struggles and we keep an eye on students who may be dealing with mental health issues on a daily basis. But in my opinion, our own mental health is sometimes pushed to the side, because we should be old enough to deal with it and know what to do. Let me tell you, this isn’t always the case. We know what it is like to deal with unhappy days, days where we are celebrating, and days that you just wish the stress would end. What do we do? Anything? Do we keep it bottled up or do you let it out in some way? What is your outlet, when life is just not going in a forward direction? For me, it was fitness.
Let me paint you a picture. Four years ago, I lost over fifty pounds. My class was super supportive, we did workouts together, they checked in and we were in a great place. I was in a great place. A first time contract teacher, a supportive class and a fabulous support system. Fast forward a year, an injury, little motivation, putting the weight back on and well, you have a very unhappy, unmotivated, lethargic Nicole. I wasn’t happy, and this took a toll on my job, and the rapport I had in the classroom. How could I expect my students to work to their full potential when I wasn’t able to lead by example? Forward two more years and here I am, pursing fitness as my outlet for stress, and to keep my sanity (oops my mental health) in check. Everything from Personal Training, Swimming, Yoga, Crossfit and Running help to create a mindset where I believe and am confident in who I am as a person. Having goals, reaching them, making new ones, struggling but still moving forward go hand in hand with changing mindset and the knowledge that things do take time. Fitness and this general way of thinking has become part of my daily life and a way for me to focus on myself outside of teaching.
Going beyond extra curricular for me, fitness then became something that was brought into the school day. I was open with students about my goals and my past, and they started noticing a difference in me as a person and a teacher both mentally and physically. We did weekly workouts together, sometimes crammed in the classroom, other times outdoors on our school property. As with any activity, you get the students who are in it with you, they want to ask questions, they keep you accountable, and then you get the ones who just do the minimum work requirement to get through the process. For me personally, this was a way to stay accountable and show students that goal setting doesn’t just get accomplished over night.
I think the biggest moment I’ve had with my students was in 2018 at Bark Lake Leadership Centre. It was here that I totally realized the impact of everything that I had accomplished the year before. I was always very timid about doing high ropes courses, because of so many different factors. This time, I put trust in my friend Sandra when she told me that I could do it. Changing my mindset was a huge factor to go along with my physical ability to climb. That day was one I will never forget. I made it to the top of the Pamper Pole. I used skills from the gym to take full advantage of my legs to help push me up the course. Inspiring students in the process. This year again, Sandra and I, as well as one of my grade 8 students took on the challenge of the Aspire Tower. Again, mindset along with physical ability was what pushed us to the top! It wasn’t easy and I can say with certainty that there were moments I didn’t think I could continue but having a teammate forced me to dig deep, trust in the ropes team and the skills that I held.
In my situation, one of the biggest keys is staying accountable. Whether it is students commenting on my healthy lunch, to them questioning a treat I decide to eat. Staff members who have also made healthy life changes and are involved in fitness as well. We become a group of people who have made the decision to focus on our mental health in a way that promotes a healthy lifestyle. My mental well being is 100 percent impacted by having a team of people who I trust, that help me chase excellence in this journey. Having a team to keep me accountable allows me to me a much needed break from the pressures that we teachers sometimes find ourselves in.
On my own, the gym is my playground and my safe place to leave behind the stresses of the day. At home, books and podcasts are ways that I learn new things, educate myself and think about what comes next. How do you focus on your mental and physical health when it comes to your chosen profession? I would love to hear about your journey, too!