The Missouri Reader WINTER ISSUE Vol. 44, Issue 1 - Page 20

Classroom Close-up


Special STEM Section

Combat Stress with H.O.P.E.


Julie Bryant and Rachel Wadlow

Children’s literature is full of hope. As we read a story, we might begin to think that what the character is going through is hopeless. However, in these books, hope is never lost. We are left at the conclusion of the story, feeling hopeful that if faced with the same situation, we too would prevail. The character in the story made the right choice, and ultimately we can also make the right choice to combat our own stressful circumstances with hope.

We are living in a time of unrest. There’s a pandemic going on, our nation is dealing with racial disparity, and in it all, we still face day to day struggles. I (Julie) was recently around a group of adults, including some teachers, and this is what I overheard: “It’s only going to get worse!” “This is awful.” “They can’t expect us to teach like this!” Teachers, I personally have felt the stress and sting of loss related to this pandemic. Yet, we need to do all we can to stop this negative thinking...and worse...this negative talking, and instead choose to think and talk with hopeful expectation that things are going to be okay and we are going to make it through this. We are resilient teachers, after all!

We need to recognize that even though school was cancelled, sports seasons were cancelled, and summer camps were cancelled, they did not and cannot cancel joy, laughter, and hope. The things that matter are still right in front of us...our students who need safety, peace, love, and belonging. We can provide this if we shift our focus to one of hope. Like Pollyanna who took the negatives and turned them into positives with her glad game, we too can spread joy, laughter and hope to our students. Hope still remains if we choose it, but we must alter our way of thinking by turning the negatives into positives and turning the stress into hope. The purpose for this article is to offer tried and true ideas, as well as those found hidden in the pages of children’s books, to encourage educators to combat stress with H.O.P.E.

H--happiness, health, and helpfulness

O--opportunities, optimism, and open-mind

P--playfulness, peacefulness, and passion

E--empathy, effort, and enjoyment

H is for happiness, health, and helpfulness.

Happiness--We should consider what makes each of us happy. Then, each day we should do one thing to bring happiness to ourselves and those around us. This school year, set aside time to intentionally spread happiness to others. Suggestions include writing a positive note and tucking it into the backpack of a student, leaving it in the mailbox of a colleague, or emailing a parent. Another idea is to compliment and speak positively to the students and the staff around us. We can work hard to make eye contact and pay attention to details as our students speak to us in class or online. These small acts of love and service will make both the giver and receiver feel happy. I (Julie) recently read the book Pass it On by Sophy Henn. She encourages the reader to pass on smiles, chuckles, joy, and wonder. We are reminded that the fun and glee might be in unusual places, but we still need to be willing to look. As when we find it...we must pass it on! We must do what we can to pass on happiness to others this year more than ever.

Health-- Being a teacher is not easy work. During virtual teaching, I (Rachel) found myself being more physically and mentally exhausted than when I was in the classroom. Some teachers are having to teach both in person and online, and it is taxing to us emotionally and physically. As teachers, we are consistently focusing on the achievement and betterment of others. Often, we put ourselves on the backburner, neglecting our own health. Yet, when we fall in this area, we also neglect providing the best version of ourselves for students. Now, possibly more than ever before, teacher self-care is vital. In fact, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual, and physical health are important to our overall wellness. We cannot fill up our students if we are empty. So, to fill ourselves back up, I recommend starting with strategies that are small, but still impactful. Personally, I go for a run, watch a movie, or compliment a stranger. Other ideas are to exercise, talk through our feelings, practice gratitude, and get plenty of rest. In our classrooms, we could take a few minutes to decompress during plan time or arrive early to prepare for the day. When we feel well, we can pass this on to our students, by implementing small strategies that eventually lead to overall health and wellness. When we as teachers truly make our own health a priority, our students will better succeed in our classrooms.