The Importance of Self-Care!

teacher working with students at computer
iStock/DGLimages

As an educator, you know that teaching can be extremely stressful. The profession requires you to teach specific academic content, respond to students with care and sensitivity, and communicate clearly and effectively with everyone: students, parents, colleagues, and administrators.  Given these stresses, it is essential to take time to care for yourself.  In fact, learning to balance the emotional demands of teaching with other professional and personal pressures is central to the teacher’s art, and vital to professional longevity.

Data from other caring professions (and teaching is definitely a caring profession) shows that mindfulness practices decrease burnout, increase compassion, and allow for more effective communication. In addition, work by Dr. Tish Jennings in the UVA Curry School of Education and her colleagues on the Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education project found that their mindfulness-based professional development had positive impacts on teachers in and out of the classroom (http://www.care4teachers.com/).

What’s going on in the brain?

thinking woman with question mark
iStock/SIphotography

We all now know that stress can have a negative effect on our health and wellbeing. When the body is in chronic stress (stress that is prolonged) the sympathetic nervous system is activated (what we call the ‘fight-or-flight’ mode) – our breathing and heart rate increases, our ability to properly digest food decreases, all of which can lead to muscle tension. This mode also increases the amount of cortisol in our blood, which leads to weight gain and suppresses our immune response. [how-stress-affects-the-brain]

Another fact about the brain — the brain continues to make new cells throughout your life (a process called neurogenesis) – even into old age. On average, a person makes about 1400 new brain cells (neurons) each day. Things that cause more neurogenesis include learning new things, exercise, and getting enough sleep. On the other hand, being constantly stressed, seeing life from a ‘glass-half-empty’ point of view, and not getting enough sleep can lead to decreased neurogenesis. [new-brain-cells-many-triggers-for-neurogenesis]

How Mindfulness Helps

lotus yoga position
iStock/DragonImages

How can we address this imbalance and get back to a more centered place? Mindfulness practices lead to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system – or the ‘rest and digest’ mode. It is in this state where we feel relaxed and calm, where our digestive systems operate as they’re supposed to, where our immune system is activated and healing can occur. [meditation-relaxes-your-nervous-system]

Simple Mindfulness Techniques to Try

Relaxation reminder to inhale and exhale handwritten in textured sand with selective focus bokeh effect
iStock/PeskyMonkey

There are several simple ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. One of my favorites is diaphragmatic breathing. Simply put, breathing like children do – instead of breathing from the top part of your chest, put your hand on your belly and as you breathe in let your belly distend into your hand. When you exhale it will naturally retract. Repeat three times, each time letting your belly fill up like a beach ball. This practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system and allows you to calm down and feel more centered.

Other practices for making new neurons, which restore and refresh you:  keep your mind open to new things, get out and go for a walk, and (best of all!) catch up on your sleep!

Susanna Williams, PhD
Faculty and Researcher
UVa Mindfulness Center
School of Medicine
School of Nursing
UVA Mindfulness Center


More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email vkrp@virginia.edu, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

I finished my VKRP assessments… Now what?

If you’re like me, you might be feeling like fall is flying by. How is it already December?

I realize that many of you finished your VKRP assessments and went directly into your PALS-K assessments, leaving little time to explore your VKRP data. You may have asked yourself, “What does all of this data do for me?” The answer is: A LOT! The data you collected can help you identify where your students need extra support, and the VKRP reports include links to resources that help you provide it!

Here are 3 steps for exploring the data you collected.

#1. Access Your VKRP Reports

You can access your own reports from the VKRP landing page in your PALS account.

  • On the VKRP landing page, you will find VKRP Reports under the View Results column on the right side of your screen.
  • The Classroom Overview is the best place to start.   It shows scores for your entire classroom in math, self-regulation, social skills, and literacy. (You can sort any column by clicking on the header.)
  • You can access other reports from the menu on the left side of the Classroom Overview. To see student level reports, you can click on individual students’ names or scores.
  • For a quick overview of the VKRP reports, visit the VKRP YouTube channel and watch the first section of the VKRP Reports & Resources Overview 2017 video https://youtu.be/nhu_5fwtp6s

VKRP classroom overview report

#2. Look for Patterns in the Data

Now it’s time to think about what you see. On your Classroom Overview Report, you can easily see who is At or Above Benchmark (in green) or Below Benchmark (in red).

Ask yourself…

  • What’s happening in the classroom?
  • Where are students doing well?
  • Where do students need support?
  • Is support needed for the whole classroom in any area?
  • What about individual students?
  • Do students below benchmark have anything in common?
  • Do any stand out as needing more support?
  • Why might that be?

#3. Access VKRP Resources

After looking at your data, it’s time to take action! Based on your data exploration – you are likely asking yourself: What can I do to support my classroom as a whole? What can I do for individual students?

VKRP reports include a Recommended Resources section based on your classroom’s scores! You can easily access them by just clicking on the domain/subdomain name in the list.

Recommended resources listed on your Classroom Overview(below left) are based on your entire classroom’s scores . You can see recommendations for individual students by clicking on their names to see their Student Overview report (below right).

classroom overview available resourcesstudent overview available resources

VKRP resources include information on key skills, strategies for supporting those skills, and a great variety of suggested activities! For more information on the VKRP Resources, watch the remainder of the VKRP Reports & Resources Overview 2017 video (https://youtu.be/nhu_5fwtp6s).

Now you know the 3 steps for making the most of your VKRP data!


More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email vkrp@virginia.edu, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.