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A Focus on the 8 Dimensions of Wellness in Engaged Pedagogy

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

The APA’s 2022 Trends Report[i] shares that burnout and stress are at an all-time high. Teachers and health-care workers are the two most vulnerable professions over the past couple of years. In January, the NEA reported that 90% of its three million members feel burned out (NPR, 2022)[ii]. According to Nagoski & Nagoski (2019)[iii] burnout is defined by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased sense of accomplishment. Educator wellness contributes to a stable, positive, and equitable school culture (Sackney et al.,2000[iv]; Montoya & Summers, 2021[v]) and should not be ignored since an educator’s sense of wellness supports how they cope with on-the-job challenges. Wellness is defined as “a conscious, deliberate process that requires a person to become aware of and make choices for a more satisfying lifestyle” (Swarbrick, 2012). It is not too late in the school year for educators to focus on their well-being, so I wanted to introduce the “8 Dimensions of Wellness” model used to encourage a wellness lifestyle -- a balance of health habits including adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise, participation in meaningful activity, connection with others and supportive relationships (Swarbrick, 2012). The dimensions of wellness are emotional/mental, environmental, intellectual, physical, spiritual, social, occupational, and financial (Swarbrick, 2012[vi]). Currently I am observing how educators take small conscious steps to focus on their own well-being daily by studying one of the eight dimensions of wellness each week. These are school & district leaders, teachers, social emotional coordinators, and other professionals who are exhausted and know they can no longer afford to ignore their burnout. As busy as they are, they are committed to making self-care a priority which aligns to what bell hooks (1994)[vii] refers to as “engaged pedagogy.” Engaged pedagogy requires that teachers consciously commit “to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students” (p. 15). In this national community of practice, each week participants select a practice from shared resources and track their progress. Forming a habit takes time and this community of practice provides a supportive network to come together every other week in a remote synchronous session to discuss how wellness practices can extend into classrooms. Participants are also asked to reflect on what they learned about themselves as part of this journey to build healthy routines. It takes time to form a healthy habit and can feel overwhelming at first. I remind myself daily to be realistic, and if I forget to follow my strategy one day, I start the next day with the attitude that it is a new day. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits (2018), writes, “On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances” (para. 15). Clear emphasizes that it doesn’t really matter how long a new habit takes to be automatic, just that you focus on putting the practice to work. In our community of practice, participants use trackers to remind and support their goal until that dimension is automatic. While I won’t write about each dimension, I would like to share a few participant-generated ideas. Activities to support environmental wellness include the more known acts of recycling, turning off lights when you leave the room, and using cloth bags for groceries, to less thought about acts of donating unwanted, gently used clothes, decluttering your office, building a lending library, or even hanging a bird feeder. Participants gravitated to decluttering their offices with expressions of relief and clarity impacting their emotional wellness. Activities shared within one dimension also integrate into other dimensions. Extensions into schools included the ideas of creating a school garden, teaching about the environmental impact from discarded plastics and volunteering for environmental community events which also support social and emotional wellness. Some activities take more effort; start small. Even small acts make a difference as we consider focusing on a pedagogy of care for ourselves and for our students.

[i] Spiner, T. (2022, January 1). 14 emerging trends: The pandemic era has changed attitudes toward science and mental health. Special Report. American Psychological Association. 53(1), p. 42. [ii] Kamenetz, A. (2022, February 1). More than half of teachers are looking for the exits, a poll says. Education: CPR News. NPR. [iii] Nagoski, E. & Nagoski, A. (2019). Burnout, burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle. Ballantine Books. [iv] Sackney, L., Noonan, B., & Miller, C.M. (2000). Leadership for educator wellness: An exploratory study. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 3, 41-56. [v] Montoya, A. & Summers, L. (2021). Eight dimensions of wellness for educators. The Learning Professional. 42(1), 50 – 62. [vi] Swarbrick, M. (2012). A wellness approach to mental health recover. In A. Rudnick (Ed.), Recovery of People with Mental Illness: Philosophical and Related Perspectives (pp. 30-38). Oxford Press. [vii] hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

[This piece was originally published as my contribution to a weekly Monday Morning Message for the School of Education and Human Development doctoral studies community at the University of Colorado Denver on Monday, April 18, 2022.]

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