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5 Back-to-School Mental-Health Tips

It's time to set up your classroom for the school year—boxes, rugs, chairs, shelves, books, handouts. . . . You want to organize the room just so, but the task can feel overwhelming.

How can you organize your classroom space while your mental space feels so disorganized?

Use these mental-health tips to put your mind in order and feel cool, calm, and collected—inside and out. 

1. Combat imposterism.

We've all had those nagging feelings that we aren't deserving of our position or capable of doing our job. We feel like imposters, having fooled others into trusting our competence but fearing we will inevitably be "found out."

Though most of us have thoughts of imposterism, we don't discuss these thoughts. Our reticence makes us feel alone. Also, we have few definitive benchmarks that allow us to feel that we have finally "arrived."

Solution 1: Talk to a trusted colleague. The person will not only assure you of your ability but will also share similar struggles. If you have a mentor, you might broach the subject with that person. You'll be amazed to discover that even highly accomplished people wrestle with feelings of imposterism. You aren't alone.

Solution 2: Review your achievements. Create a mental highlight reel of your accomplishments. Celebrate your big victories. See yourself as others do—as highly capable and hard working. Then believe it, yourself.

To learn more, watch this imposterism video.

2. Create a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset assumes that you are what you are. You won't get any better or any worse. Such a mindset struggles with setbacks. When tasks get hard, a fixed mindset tells you that you aren't smart enough to succeed.

A growth mindset recognizes that you can improve. It is resilient and positive in the face of challenges. Instead of taking setbacks as proof of inability, a growth mindset sees them as opportunities to improve. "I'll try this other approach." Growth mindset creates persistence, and persistence leads to success.

Solution 1: Switch your thinking: Replace fixed-mindset thoughts with growth-mindset thoughts:

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
I'll never get this organized. I'll organize one part at a time.
I'm terrible at writing lesson plans. I'll create a lesson-plan template that gives me a starting point.
I don't have any teacher friends to rely on. I'm going to gain friends by helping colleagues set up their rooms.

Solution 2: Review your growth. Remind yourself that you have skills and insights now that you didn't have in the past. Think of how your competence has grown year after year. Then project growth into the future, seeing yourself do things that right now would feel impossible. Manifest yourself into that future level of achievement.

To learn more, watch this growth-mindset video.

3. Break down your task (not yourself).

Shifting from your summer self to your school self is quite a transformation. Everything changes: schedule, workload, priorities, social circles—even diet and sleep. Trying to take on all that change at once is overwhelming.

Solution 1: Break big tasks into small tasks. The task "Set up the classroom" feels overwhelming. How about the task "Set up the reading corner"? That feels more manageable. But if that task still feels overwhelming, break it down further into "Bring book boxes out of storage" and "Set up shelves" and "Hang reading posters." Then tackle whatever task matches your current levels of energy and focus.

Solution 2: Plan your work (and work your plan). List the tasks you need to accomplish and put them in order. List any resources you need, such as dollies and tools. Then follow your plan. Finish what you can and cross it off your list. Each time you do, send up a little burst of confetti in your mind—a dopamine release to keep you going. Celebrate small achievements, which add up to large ones.

To plan complicated projects, you can use a planning sheet.

4. Work with your body.

Mental health starts in your body. When you are dehydrated, you can't think straight. Drink some water. When you are exhausted, every task seems impossible. Get some rest. When you spend the day hunched over boxes, your muscles and joints shout, "No more!" Listen to them. Stretch those tired muscles and get someone to massage them.

You can also try these bodily strategies for calming your mind.

Your body produces your mind. Give your body what it needs to succeed, and you'll simultaneously boost your mental health.

5. Be the lead learner.

Your students learn by watching you. If they see you use a growth mindset, they will develop one. If they watch you break a task into manageable chunks, they'll learn to do the same. If they see you taking care of your body and mind, they will follow suit.

Go beyond just modeling these mental-health strategies. Talk about them with students. Here are some minilessons to get you started:

As every teacher knows, you don't really understand something until you teach it. Teaching your students these strategies will improve your mental health while it also improves theirs.

If you'd like daily mental-health activities to practice with your students, check out In Focus: Improving Social-Emotional Intelligence One Day at a Time.

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.