7.28.2014

Before School Morning Routine

With summer vacation winding down, it's time to begin easing into school-year routines.  We know children need to start going to bed and waking earlier so that the back-to-school transition won't be abrupt and unpleasant for them (or their parents and teachers).  These final weeks before school begins are likewise the perfect time for adults to develop meaningful morning routines.

Rise Early
During my career, I have gone back and forth in my feelings about the early start of my work day and the related early bedtime, sometimes enjoying the routine and other times feeling like I am squeezing my adult life into a child's schedule.  Nevertheless, experience tells me I should embrace the routine that fits my job.

To get your day started on the right foot, begin by waking early.  Yes, I know that teachers already start early, even if you do hit the snooze button until the last possible moment before jumping into whatever clothes are close and then applying makeup and eating breakfast drinking coffee at red lights on the way to work.  I have definitely employed this approach with moderate success.  But, often, this harried routine has left me to get through the workday lunch-less, simply reacting to each problem as it arises.  By waking earlier (about an hour earlier than it takes me to get dressed), I can begin my day prepared, confident, purposeful, and with a feeling that I have cared for myself before beginning to serve others. 

Stretch
Once your eyes are open and the alarm is turned off, it's time to wake up your body and prepare it for the rigors of the day.  You should customize this part of your routine based on what your body will be put through during the school day.  Since I have struggled with foot and heel pain caused by taking a zillion steps a day on hard tile floors, I begin flexing and pointing my toes while I'm still in bed, in order to stretch my calves and feet before they take their first steps of the morning.  Then, I focus on stretching the rest of my body.  I like to follow an extremely basic yoga routine called sun salutation.  Visit Women's Health Magazine for a written and visual guide to this series of basic stretches, or check out Portal Yogi for a slightly extended version of the stretch sequence.

Meditate
Now that your body is awake and alert, it's time to prepare your brain for the day.  As humans, we have some self-destructive mental tendencies.  In an article about mindfulness meditation, Psychology Today explains, "First, we cause ourselves suffering by trying to get away from pain and attempting to hang on to pleasure...Second, we cause suffering when we try to prop up a false identity usually known as ego."  Meditation can help our brains form better, more productive habits.  Once you get into this routine, you can customize this part of the morning to fit your goals, but to get started, consider following one of the short, guided meditations provided by UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center.

After this mindfulness practice, I shift my thoughts briefly toward gratitude.  Instead of letting your brain fill with worries first thing in the morning, spend a moment being aware of the people and circumstances that provide you with beauty, pleasure, comfort, and happiness.  We can all think of something to be thankful for, even on the groggiest, greyest morning.  This process will help you start the day with joy instead of stress.  Finally, I move my thoughts to my intentions for the day.  This is not time to make a huge to-do list.  Instead, focus on one or two things that will make you feel proud at the end of the day.  These goals can vary widely from tasks, such as getting to the gym after work, to intentions like treating others with a generous spirit or avoiding vocalizing mundane complaints throughout the day.  This entire brain-preparation routine will only take 7-10 minutes, but it can make an enormous difference in the remainder of the day.

Dress
Now it is time to complete the tasks that were formerly the entire "getting ready" routine.  Treat yourself well by using non-toxic cosmetics (check out the safety of your products using the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database) and dressing in comfortable, well-fitting clothes.  A tight waistband or lack of pockets can lead you to feel annoyed all day long as you sit uncomfortably or lose your keys repeatedly.  Why deal with that frustration?  Dress yourself in a way that is practical and that makes you feel confident.  For me, comfortable shoes are absolutely non-negotiable, due to the aforementioned foot pain.  (Read more about my thoughts on teacher shoes.)  This process is much simpler if you have pre-selected your clothes the night before.  More on this later in a discussion of evening routines.  Also, finish getting dressed now instead of planning to apply makeup or file your nails (or whatever) on the way to work or just after arriving for the sake of your safety and sanity.

Eat
A teacher's job is not for the faint of heart (or soul or body).  If you want to perform well, your body is going to need fuel.  During my first days working as a teacher, I developed a morning habit of feasting on a Nutrigrain bar and a ginormous diet soda.  Although this wasn't even a tasty breakfast, it seemed like the right menu.  After all, I didn't feel hungry at sun's-not-even-up-o'clock, and I just wanted to wake myself up.  Having learned more about the weirdo chemicals in factory-produced "food," I tried slightly healthier variations of this meal, such as a granola bar and a homemade latte.  However, I'm here to tell you, stuffing random food-like substances + caffeine down the hatch is not the most productive approach to your morning meal.  Build a habit of eating a nutritious breakfast, even if it's quick and small.  Some of my favorites are a bowl of real oatmeal (not the packet full of artificial colors and flavors) or a smoothie.  Both of these are great ways to sneak extra servings of fruits and vegetables and even dietary supplements into your day.  For example, a spoonful of ground flax seed, which is jam-packed with Omega-3s and other essential and often under-consumed vitamins, is basically unnoticeable once it's stirred into either of these breakfasts.

Also, drink water.  It's good for your everything.  You know this.  Just do it.  Consider having your first glass of water just after you get out of bed.  I keep a water bottle on my nightstand and finish whatever I didn't drink during the night as soon as I wake up.  Have another glass with breakfast.  With two down, you just have six more glasses to go during your bathroom-break-less work day.

Pack Up
You're almost ready to leave for work, and just look at what all you've accomplished!  Before you walk out the door, though, be sure you have everything you will need.  Yes, you are going to feel like a pack-mule as you walk to the car, but it is so worthwhile compared to feeling unprepared all day.  Check your teacher bag for your school ID and keys, so you don't have to beg a custodian to let you into your room over and over all day.

Fill up your water bottle - the big one.  Yes, I know you don't get to go to the restroom.  Just bring the water and drink it anyway.  Someone will watch your students for the 30 seconds it takes to run to the bathroom as long as you are willing to return the favor.  You're going to be doing a lot of talking and moving, and anyway, water's good for your everything, remember?

Get your lunch ready.  The food that is available for you to purchase at work is not good enough.  (It's not good enough for the kid's either, but that's a topic for another day.)  You are an individual with specific dietary needs and preferences, and a double side of soggy cafeteria fries or an overpriced candy bar is simply not enough - not enough calories, not enough nutrition, not enough enjoyment.  Get out your lunchbox, and fill it with enough nutritious, delicious items to feed yourself a meal and two snacks.  I always include nuts and dried fruits for my morning and afternoon snacks, and I usually pack leftovers and fresh fruit for my midday meal.  Trying to lose weight?  Pack even more fruits, so that you aren't tempted by the box of stale doughnuts in the teachers' lounge.

Morning can easily become a rushed and stressful part of the day if you don't pre-plan a routine and then loyally carry it out.  Trying to accomplish all the things on this list without a plan would be mentally exhausting.  By establishing a routine ahead of time, you can use your morning to care for yourself and prepare for your day instead of getting bogged down with decision fatigue or simply sleeping through this opportunity.

What are your best morning routine tips?

7.04.2014

Fourth of July - Learn & Celebrate


 Happy Independence Day!  Before you don your patriotic mohawk and head out for parades and fireworks, find out a little about the history of this day and the traditions with which we celebrate it.
Visit the National Museum of American History's blog to find out 7 Things You Didn't Know About the Star-Spangled Banner (the specific 42' x 30' flag that inspired our national anthem).

Then read some primary documents that demonstrate various perspectives on our national holiday throughout history.