Exploring Ideas for Wellness (Ep. 342)

Jess Madenford joins Tim today to explore ideas for wellness that can help art teachers everywhere. Jess is a current art teacher and former AOEU writer who is interested in health and how the idea of focusing on wellness can help all of us. Listen as she and Tim discuss some of her best tips to avoid burnout, why we should focus on a growth mindset, and how we can organize our time and energy. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. Today’s guest will be Jess Madenford. Jess is a longtime teacher, former writer for AOEU, a guest host for Everyday Art Room, and is now, along with teaching, doing a lot of work based around educator wellness. I’ve known Jess for a while and I know the idea of how we as educators can take better care of ourselves is something that has always been a passion of hers. She has so many ideas, so much advice, and I’m hoping that her sharing that today will be worthwhile for everyone to hear. So we’re going to talk about wellness, we’re going to talk about taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally. In all of the ways really. And also about how we can learn to set boundaries and do what we need to do for ourselves. So let me bring on Jess and we can dive in.

All right. And Jess Madenford is with me here now. Jess, how are you today?

Jess: I’m doing well. Thank you. How about you?

Tim: Good. I am well also. I am thrilled to talk to you today. We’ve touched base off and on. You hosted a couple Everyday Art Room episodes, which were spectacular at the end of last year. But I’m excited to have you on today just to talk about a lot of different things that I think are important. But before we get there, can you just give our audience a quick introduction? Tell us about yourself, your teaching, and just everything else that you’re doing right now.

Jess: Yeah. Sounds good. I am in my 19th year of teaching. I have taught just about everything under the sun, K to 12. But currently I’m in K to six. And I’ve been a department leader for several years. Both for art and music, which pushed me a little bit out of my comfort zone.

Tim: I can imagine. Yeah.

Jess: We handled it okay. And I’m a former magazine writer for AOEU, which man, was a little dream come true, working for AOEU. I have two master’s degrees and my second one is from The Art of Ed. And aside from teaching, I am a business owner and entrepreneur or teacherpreneur. This month I’m wrapping up my NLP certification, which is neurolinguistic programming. It’s like the language of the mind and how you’re programmed, how you communicate, and how you use all of that to reach your goals and experience life. With my business, The Journey To Here, I help teachers overcome burnout to regain their health and it’s like a mind body spirit approach to that. And I am just a firm believer in that everything that we’ve experienced on our journey to right here, this moment, has happened for us, not to us. So we just have to learn from those lessons to move forward. So that’s me.

Tim: I would love to I guess just talk a little bit about wellness and just why it’s so important. I feel like there are a lot more teachers this year who are in a better place than they have been for a while, but it still seems like there are a lot of teachers struggling just with all of the difficulties that come from teaching. They’re still feeling really burnt out. And so I guess my question for you with all this is just why do you think so many teachers are neglecting their own wellness?

Jess: Yeah, sure. I think that teachers are just conditioned or programmed to go, go, go. We do that all day. We wake up and we’re already turning on our teacher brains. What do I have to do for the day and what do I have to get done? And then they don’t stop. It’s like that work before play saying, because they can last even after our day is over. And I think that for some of us, those expectations may have been programmed at an early age to be people pleasers or high achievers, or maybe they did start whenever the teachers began their teaching career. And teaching is very demanding mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually. And if you don’t put that pause button on and really take care of yourself, then you’re going to have that power switch on all the time. And then teachers really get into the habit of overextending themselves.
And sometimes when we go home, we just keep on going. And maybe we’re bringing school work home because there’s just not enough time in our day. Or maybe we are in the AOEU master’s program and we have work to do at the end of the day too. But it might just be that we can’t stop thinking about some things that happened during our day. Maybe we had a difficult situation with a student, or our evaluation, an observation happened today, and we just can’t … Or we can’t stop replaying what happened, or I could have done this better. I could have done that better. And you get caught. So I think that for some teachers, they’re feeling a lot of stress, overwhelm and burnout because they’re not stopping. They’re not actually turning off that switch and taking care of themselves. Maybe they’re doing some quick fixes, but it’s not making long lasting changes. So yeah.

Tim: That’s an interesting point. And I love the idea, of just conceptualizing it as a pause button where you can pause and step away and find different things to do. But like you said, that’s a huge struggle. And so I guess I want to ask too, what are the best ways to do that? Can you share some of your best wellness tips? I know we hear the phrase self care all the time, and I think a lot of people are getting tired of the phrase self care and everything that is implied with that. But just at the risk of going there, I would love to hear from you and just what you think we can be doing on a regular basis to make those changes that you talked about, do what we need to do to take care of ourselves, either at school or outside of school.

Jess: Yeah. And I’m glad that you brought up that self care term because I have been feeling the same way too. Sometimes I’m writing to teachers about how they can take care of themselves, and I really want to avoid using that term. Yeah. I think it’s a little overused for myself anyway. So I think that art teachers have this innate wellness superpower because we can get into the creative flow making art and it comes very naturally to us. And when we get into something that is flowing, we lose track of time. And that ends up creating this zone of being mindful. We are laser focused on what we are doing and the worries of our day do not come in. And for art teachers, I think that we’re in this really awesome position that we have a studio that we’re walking into every single day. And if we have a chance to sit down with our kids and make art alongside them, just to take a little bit of a break with them, it’s a great opportunity. Not just for ourselves, but then for our kids who are seeing us walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
And it’s possible K through 12. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve been able to sit down with my kids who are in high school, middle school. And even though it’s a little trickier with the elementary students, I’m still able to sit down with some of them and they love watching. But aside from making art, there are a lot of other possibilities too. And I think it’s really important to find what works best for you and your circumstances and your situations. And so some of the things that I recommend and also do … One is writing in a journal. And sometimes writing in a journal could be just an emotional dumping ground so that you can get all of those thoughts, the worries out on paper. Externalize them so that they’re not just playing in a loop over and over in your mind.
But journaling can be much more than just writing about all the negative stuff or the challenging things. You can also write about your dreams and aspirations and what went well during your day. Or maybe it is something that has just been on your mind a lot, and you need to keep revisiting that and getting that out. Other things that would be helpful for teachers could be taking some time every day before school or during lunch, or on your prep after school or before bedtime consistently to maybe focus on deep breath work or meditations. One thing that I’ve been getting into is some hypnosis. It’s just very relaxing and it distracts your subconscious mind and you can start releasing some things that maybe bog you down.
But some other things include just listening to podcasts, music that lift you up, watching shows that just allow you to get into that flow of higher energy, things that bring you joy. I think that’s really important for … I’m using this term. Self-care. But if you’re really prioritizing yourself and trying to do things that bring you joy and release that anxiety, you’re raising your energy levels and it makes you feel good. And that is one of the biggest things I think teachers who are struggling need.

Tim: Yeah. No. I like that idea of just being intentional about finding things that bring you joy and just trying to do those consistently. I think that’s great advice. Now, you’ve mentioned a couple times just overthinking things. Things that get stuck in a loop in your head, and you’re just going through them over and over. And that leads me into what I want to talk to you next about, which is the idea of reframing. Just taking something that’s maybe not working for us, something that didn’t go well, something we don’t like, and turning that into a positive. So can you talk about, I guess, how teachers can think about that idea and how we can make reframing work for us?

Jess: Yeah. Absolutely. I think one important thing to note is that when you’re reframing, it is not about making everything into a positive or finding positive in everything that’s going on, because I think that can lead to positive toxicity. And it’s also not getting into the … I think trap would be a good word for this. So not getting into the trap of saying things that are like, “Oh, I really had a rough day at school. The kids were off the wall, or my lesson didn’t click, and I just lost control and it was frustrating, but things could be worse. The teacher across the hall has an awful schedule and I would not want to be in their shoes. They’re coming home every day and they’re telling their family they want to quit.” It’s not that. That comparison is a bad trap to get into as well. So when you are reframing, you are really thinking about the context, the circumstances of what you’re experiencing and really how you think about it.
So then you go one step further and try to change your thinking about it. So my example is that I am a natural over thinker. It can happen to me quite a bit, and sometimes it just gets me stuck or sometimes even just paralyzed. I don’t know what I need to do. But in reframing, if I am catching myself overthinking, I can look at it from a different perspective because overthinking in the negative way, it gets me stuck. But I also know that I am a very reflective and thoughtful person. So whenever I am in that state of overthinking, it is allowing me to really think about the possibilities that I’m presented with and make a decision that is informed so that I can move ahead in peace rather than thinking like, “Oh, why can’t I just make this decision?” And we might see that in our classrooms too. I know that I have, especially with my high school students.
Once I shifted from a teacher driven philosophy to a choice based, and they had more freedom to choose their own path, I started seeing a lot of students who needed time to think over what was going on. And sometimes they did get trapped in that loop of, oh, I could do all of this, or I don’t know what to do because there are too many options. And in those cases, you have to really guide them. But you can raise your awareness of what the circumstances are and then start shifting your own thinking about what that looks like.

Tim: No. That’s good. I need to consider … I don’t know. For myself just what are those behaviors that bother me and how can I reframe those? So that may be my homework from this episode is to put some thought into that.
All right. I also wanted to chat with you a little bit about the concept of organizing your time, organizing your energy. This is something that had brought up. And I’m curious if you can share just what does it mean? Why the concept is worthwhile. How can teachers organize their time and their energy? Is it just a matter of prioritization or does that concept go beyond that?

Jess: Yeah. I feel like our time and energy keeps us either thriving or just in survival mode. And so much of this comes down to your boundaries and your priorities and what you are willing to do and what you don’t want to do or what you can’t put on your plate. Setting your intentions and then sticking to what you have set for yourself. So like I said earlier, teachers go, go, go a lot and sometimes they go until they can’t go anymore. And then they’re burning through their sick days, or maybe they’re taking their sick days to do their schoolwork because they just can’t do it during their contracted time. So I think it’s important for us to have systems in place to help us preserve that time and energy. So setting clear boundaries and sticking to them is one. Giving yourself permission to say no when you can’t do something for someone and then not feeling bad about it. I think we carry a lot of guilt with us when maybe someone comes to us and says, “I just can’t do this bulletin board. The letters are awful. I am not a good … I can’t. I have no creative abilities.” You know what they say. They say it to all of us.

Tim: I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that.

Jess: Yes. Please help me. With all the desperation in the world. Please help me. And it’s okay for you to say, “Actually, I have a lot on my plate right now and I cannot help you. I really thank you for coming to me and asking, but I just can’t fit that into my schedule.” It’s okay to prioritize your time and energy. Another thing that teachers can do to help with time and energy is chunking or batching tasks so that maybe you’re setting aside a certain amount of time in the morning. Maybe when you get there, you say, “That’s my time to check all of my email, and I’m not checking it again until my prep period or after school.” That’s the designated time. So that you’re not just going and checking it at any point. And the same thing goes with our weekends. Maybe you want to do that with social media and say, “I’m only checking it at this time and this time. I’m not going to have the alerts on. I don’t want to get sucked into all of that.”
Another thing that I like to do is … And this might come from my A1 personality. I love to-do list. But sometimes I will go one step beyond just a regular to-do list and just write down everything that needs to be done. That way I’m getting it out of my mind. Kind of like what I do with journaling. I externalize everything so it’s not stuck in there in a loop. And then after I do that, I can look to see, okay, what needs done now? Because it’s a priority, it has a deadline. And what can be done later? Or maybe what could I delegate to someone?
And we can do that in our classrooms. We could say, “I am not going to have time to wash all of these paint pallets that look like a mess. Maybe I can have a student helper or my classroom …” Whatever it is that you do. But I know whenever I was at the high school, I always had this unofficial helper. They came in all the time, and anything I needed done that I couldn’t do, they were like, “Yes, please, let me help you. I’ll clean the lids of the watercolor tray because they look gross. I can’t take it either so let me do this for you, Mrs. Madenford.” Okay. You’ve got it. I don’t need to do that. And if they want to use their energy for that, awesome. Yeah. So there are a lot of ways that you can preserve your time and energy. And again, just like with wellness, you have to make sure that it works for you because what works for someone else might not be the best for you.

Tim: Great advice. All right. Well, Jess, thank you for all of this today. This has just been a treasure trove of advice. I appreciate all of it. Thank you for coming on. For anybody who wants to learn more, find more from you, or maybe get in touch with you, where can they do that?

Jess: Yeah. I am in a few different places. I am very active on LinkedIn, and you can look me up with my regular name. Nothing fancy. Jessica Madenford on LinkedIn. I’m also on Instagram at Jessica. JourneyToHere. And that I believe is still linked in my AOEU profile if you need to find it.

Tim: Oh. Nice. Okay.

Jess: And I also run a Facebook group for teachers and their wellness. It’s called Educators Meant For More, Discover Your Purpose and Live a Balanced Life. I do a lot of tips. And I’m going to start running some online workshops as I test out some things I have coming up in my mind. These dreams I have. I want to see what works and what doesn’t work. But then I also have a website that you can find me at.

Tim: All right. Sounds fantastic. Jess, thank you.

Jess: Yeah. Thank you so much.

Tim: All right. I appreciate Jess sharing all of that with us. We will link in these show notes to everything she mentioned if you want to find out more or if you want to connect with her.
Now, before we go, I want to mention a couple of things that jumped out to me from our conversation. First, just being conscious of the pause button. Jess mentioned how we wake up and turn on our teacher brains immediately, which I’ve always been guilty of. And if we don’t turn that off, it’s not going to stop itself. So I like the idea of being mindful about when we’re working on school and when we need to step away. And I would encourage everyone to put more thought into that. And second, just the idea that if we neglect ourselves, we’re not the only ones who suffer.

That reminded me of Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith. She was our keynote speaker at the Winter 2021 NOW conference, which … Wow. Almost two years ago now. But she talked about the importance of rest and the seven types of rest. Really powerful presentation if you saw it. And something that she said during that stuck with me ever since. She said that the people around us, the people that we love, deserve to see us at our best. So we need to do everything we can to rest, to take care of ourselves, to be at our best. So not just for you, but for those that you love, don’t neglect yourself.
And finally, make some art along with your kids. As we discussed, the younger they are, the more difficult it is. But it’s absolutely worth it for so many reasons to sit down in class and create with them. And so give that a try when you can. I think it’ll be worth it.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening, and we’ll talk to you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.