Making the Most of Your Mornings (Ep. 218)

In her first episode as guest host, Jessica Madenford is joined by Dr. Rachel Hallquist to talk about how teachers can set themselves up for success through their morning routine. Listen as they discuss the importance of mindfulness, strategies for avoiding burnout, and Dr. Hallquist’s MEGA Morning routine. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Jessica: Looking ahead, many of us may be thinking about ways to kickstart the new year with a desire to be better, do better, and live better. What if you could begin making small changes to your morning routine that could set a positive tone for your day in the art room and also have a lasting impact beyond your studio walls? Today, we will explore how you can start your day with purpose with Dr. Rachel Hallquist, author of MEGA Morning Routine and AOEU Adjunct Instructor. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Jessica Madenford.

Dr. Hallquist, I am so thankful that you are joining me today on Everyday Art Room.

Rachel: Thank you so much, Jessica, for having me here. I’m so excited to be here and just to talk our teachers.

Jessica: Awesome. So before we dive into your work, supporting teachers’ wellbeing, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, introduce yourself, tell us about your education, your teaching background, whatever is on your mind.

Rachel: Yeah. I would love to. So I am an director here at Art of Education University. I’m an adjunct instructor and I absolutely love it. And I’m also a high school teacher in California. So currently I teach photography and digital art and absolutely love it. So glad that we’re back in classrooms and we’re all have in such a great year. My education background, I studied art education, my degrees are in art education. And then I have a doctorate in education as well from Arizona State University.

Jessica: Wonderful. I love that you teach digital photography because that is a course that I have taught for years and just absolutely love it. And whenever I went from teaching high school and middle school back into elementary where I’m at now, that was one course that it was like, it was one of my babies whenever I was teaching. And then to let that go, I have missed it so much.

Rachel: It is a really fun one to teach, especially now that students come in with so much digital photography background. And then when they’re outside of school, they’re naturally taking photos and editing photos on their own. It’s just so interesting. It’s such an exciting time to be a digital art teacher.

Jessica: I know. I love that. I always loved it whenever they’re like, “Let me show you this Mrs. Madenford. Look what I took over the weekend.” Oh, like, oh, my heart is so happy because you’re using your photo skills.

Rachel: Yeah. Absolutely.

Jessica: All right. So you mentioned that you work with AOEU. Can you tell the viewers or the audience, I guess they’re not viewing this, but tell our listeners a little bit about your journey with AOEU?

Rachel: Yeah, like so many people, I started my journey at AOEU just gleaning awesome resources from the website and from the magazine. Prior to being a digital art teacher I was an instructional coach for a long time, six or seven years, working with new teachers. And that’s how I discovered AOEU. I was using resources from the website and referring teachers constantly to resources from AOEU like the PRO Packs and different things to support their practice. And I was finding the best most high-quality things that were super relevant. So that’s how I fell in love with AOEU. I just felt like they’re constantly putting out new stuff that was really cool.

So when an opportunity popped up to join the faculty, I just jumped on it and I haven’t looked back. I loved the whole thing. It’s so much fun to get to… It’s such a special university and everyone who’s been a student there or an instructor or been involved in the university in some way, I think feels that there aren’t often other places for us as art teachers to gather with other art teachers from around the world maybe at a conference a little bit, but not throughout the school year to get support from each other and to learn from each other. So I love getting to work with art teachers from around the world. It’s been really fantastic.

Jessica: I totally agree with you. AOEU has such a special place in my heart as well. And I am just like you, anytime that I can tell somebody, “Hey, go check out this.” Or to my art team at my school district, I have gotten pro into their hands and I’m working on flex too. And it is just awesome to share resources that they can use immediately and it’s just so relevant to what we’re doing. So I am glad that you are a part of that.

Rachel: Yeah. I am too. I feel really grateful and I absolutely love it.

Jessica: All right. So we are going to dive into something that you have been working on for a while. And so you’ve recently published a book called MEGA Morning Routine: The secret self-care morning routine for busy teachers. And this book emerged from three years of research to support teachers’ wellbeing. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your why and what motivated you and drove you to write a book?

Rachel: Yeah. Absolutely. So the motivation for the research started when I was an instructional coach. I was coaching full time brand new teachers and some experienced teachers as well. And I was seeing just year after year, all year long, really amazing dedicated, enthusiastic teachers burning out year after year. And so I was trying to find just as you want to find resources to support teachers’ instruction. I was trying to find resources to support them avoiding burning out because it was just constant. And I was seeing how it impacted students as well, having high turnover in schools, how that impacted the faculty and the students learning.

And I talked to so many people in my area and I just kept hearing the same thing which was what I had heard since I started teaching was like, well, that’s just how it is. That’s how it sounds like, that’s just how it always has been. So many people leave the profession, they burnt out. And I just found that response so frustrating. I just found it so frustrating and so unacceptable. I just kept thinking we have to do better for teachers. We have to have a better place for them to work and we can do so much better for our students as well. So that was really what motivated me to get started with that, figuring out how leaders can make schools better places, but also what can we as teachers do to change how we think about our workplace or just find different ways that we can support our own wellbeing. That was my motivation.

Jessica: Awesome. I am so excited to listen to what you found. So before we find out what you did find out for strategies, can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to engage in this kind of research? How were you working with teachers? How did you discover these tools? Are these things that you’ve used before? And I know that in your book, you talked about how you worked with two different groups of teachers. Can you tell us about those participants? How did you select them? Like give us all of those details.

Rachel: Yeah. It was really fun. And I’ll tell you, I was really nervous jumping into it because I was just nervous because teachers are so busy, we’re all so busy. I was like, is anyone really going to want to join a study or participate in any kind of these activities that I’m talking about, teachers already feel like they’re doing so much. And then to ask them to do more, take my surveys and participate in these self care strategies. I was really thinking no one would have time or want to participate, but it was about 26 teachers that joined in. The first part of my research I spent a long time just understanding burnout and there’s lots of great research on it. And what I learned is a definition that was really helpful for me, which is burnout is when we’ve depleted all of our internal resources and we feel like we just have nothing left to give.

And I think any of us who’ve come close to burnout or who’ve been on the brink of burnout, we have experienced that, like I just can’t do another thing. Like I just can’t do anything else. So I feel like we have nothing left. And I also found another thing that was really interesting, getting ready for this study was that those of us who really love our jobs are so susceptible to burning out because we want to give more and we can see ways that it’s more to do in education, right? So I learned that.

And then I found a really great book that I think your listeners might enjoy as well by Dr. Barbara Lavi. And she gave me a new way to think about burnout that I really liked. So if burnout is when we have depleted our resources, we need renewal strategies, ways that we can replenish those resources. And one time a therapist framed it for me as like, burnout is when the cup is empty and renewal is when you pause to fill the cup again. So understanding that really shaped and guided the direction of my research. So I was looking for research backed ways, things that people had studied that supported refilling the cup, renewing your wellness. And I found a really great experiment by Dr. Martin Seligman where he was using gratitude with people. And then I also kept coming across, in my research, meditation kept coming up.

So my study was with 26 teachers. I split them into two groups. One group did a daily gratitude practice and a little bit of meditation as well, actually I’m remembering they didn’t do the practice every day. It was just twice a week. They did this little gratitude journaling and then they also got a training in meditation and how to use that every day, just a few minutes of mindfulness to clear their mind. And then the other group, I just asked them to write down any three things that happened during the day. So they were the control group, just writing three things whereas the other group was writing down three good things, things they were grateful for. And they only did these things for three months of the school year, so towards the beginning of the school year, they did those things just for those three months.

And then I checked in on them through a wellness survey at different points during the year, the beginning, couple times in the middle and one at the end of the year. And it was just really, every time I checked in with them, I was really surprised and just shocked at the difference between those two groups and how they were reporting their experiences in the school year.

Jessica: Okay. So can you tell us a little bit about those experiences of how they were reporting them?

Rachel: Yeah. So what they were surveyed on were things about their happiness during the year, positive emotions they’re feeling at work, their relationships, their sense of achievement at work and how engaged they were at work. And what I found was the group that was doing the gratitude and the meditation, they were reporting higher levels of happiness all year long. They were reporting that they had positive relationships at work. They were reporting that they were really engaged in their jobs. They were reporting a higher sense of meaning and purpose in their work. And they even were reporting it months after they had stopped with the gratitude journaling even six months later, they were still reporting benefits from it which continued to just floor me.

Jessica: So whenever they were reporting this even beyond the study, do you know if they were still implementing those strategies or it was just like residual awesome feelings from the study?

Rachel: Yeah. So there were a few of the participants I also interviewed along the way and a few of them did say they continued with the gratitude journaling throughout the year. So it could be that they liked the practice and they continued with it, for sure.

Jessica: All right. I wanted to know a little bit more about the tools and strategies that you had these teachers implement. You talked a little bit about meditation and the gratitude journaling, but what did they look like specifically? So for example, if I decided that I was going to try meditation sometime before work or during my lunch break, what does that look like for me, a busy art teacher, trying to get supplies ready on my lunch break for little hands to work with or a high school art teacher who has grading to do and is neglecting self care, especially during lunchtime, because it’s so easy to just keep working whenever we’re supposed to be eating. So what kinds of things could we do?

Rachel: Yeah, because there’s always so much to do, right? There’s always more that we can do and we love our job so we can find more things that we need to do. So meditation, the participants in the experimental group, they attended a meditation training and the training focused on just doing a few simple deep breathing exercises before school. So just a few breaths in and a few breaths out and just trying to let your mind settle. The metaphor that the meditation instructor gave us was a jar full of glitter if you can imagine a glitter jar shaking that, that can be like our mind filled with thoughts. So just a few breaths in and a few breaths out and allowing that glitter to settle, just letting your thoughts settle.

So that was what that looked like, just encouraging teachers to do a few minutes of a mindfulness deep breathing activity in the morning. And then the gratitude journal was really great. I really like both of these practices, because they’re also free. You can just do them on any notebook that you have and the meditation you can do, sometimes if I’ve forgotten my meditation in the morning, I’ll just even do it like sitting in my car before I go inside the building, right? Just a few deep breaths. Yeah. But the gratitude journaling was really great.

So there’s just three questions and two of them are ones that I borrowed from Dr. Selingman’s study on gratitude and those are the first two questions. So what went well? And then why did it go well? So those two questions are designed to help us find what’s working in our environment and in our school and then why they’re going well, that little bit of analysis helps us understand what are our internal or external resources that are supporting us along the way.

So maybe you had a really great class, the beginning of class went really well with your students and you realized, oh, that went really well because I taught them that routine. So that’s one of your resources. Okay, we’ve got some routines in our class that are working right. And oh, I know how to teach a routine. That’s another one of the resources you have.

And then the final question is why was it important for your students? And I added that question because it helps us connect to that sense of meaning and purpose in our job, which is important for us to continue to reflect on. It’s important dimension of wellbeing as well. Yeah. So what went well, why did it go well, and why is it important for your students?

A really cute thing happened, one of the teachers that I was interviewing for the study talked about, she was bringing these questions to her kindergarten team. She said when they sat down for lunch, they would often just complain about their day and all of the things that were going wrong and what they weren’t looking forward to and the rest of the day. And she said like, “Hey guys, I’ve been part of this study and I’ve been doing these questions and I really like them, could we start our conversation with that?” And she said it led to so many just really great conversations with her colleagues and just strength that she didn’t even know that they had, that she could celebrate with them or connect more with them to make her job better.

Jessica: I think that is so awesome that it overflowed from what was going on in the art room or another classroom, this kindergarten room, and then helped other teachers too. I have to put in a quick little personal story that I have experienced burnout too. And I know how easy it is to get stuck in a negative thought loop.

So when you are talking about these three questions, what’s going well, why did it go well, and why is this important for your students, I think that can be very powerful for someone who is feeling tired, exhausted, drained, and stuck in that negative thought loop. And it helps us to turn those thoughts around and it’s going beyond positive affirmations like I’m an amazing teacher, but putting that why behind it is more reflective. And like you said, it ties us into a higher purpose and whenever you’re feeling burnout, sometimes that’s what you need. You need to rediscover your purpose or reimagine what your why is right in this moment. And I think that’s a really powerful way to connect your teachers or that was a really powerful way for your teachers to be connected with that gratitude practice.

Rachel: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I know what you mean because I’ve experienced burnout too and you can get stuck in this negative loop and then you can start to see that negativity everywhere. But when we pause to take a moment and say, hey, these are the things that are going well, we can think about how we can leverage those to address some of the challenges or give ourselves a break on some of the things. Yeah. I liked what you said about it helps us connect to our meaning and purpose. Absolutely.

Jessica: Yeah. All right. I have downloaded your book, you have a digital version and I have read through all the results. I have seen the acronym and the different tools and strategies. Could you tell us a little bit more about what that acronym MEGA stands for?

Rachel: Yeah. Absolutely. And thanks so much for checking out the book. I appreciate that. So MEGA stands for Mindfulness or Meditation, the E is Exercise, G is Gratitude and A is Affirmations. And those are the things that I use in my morning routine. And I love a morning routine for two things for the morning part because the day can just get away from us. For so many years I always try to go work out after school or take a walk on my lunch break, but as a busy art teacher, suddenly you’re pulled into a meeting during lunch or you realize you’re out of this material and you have to run to the after school or I’m a parent. I like our childcare situation fell through and I’ve got to run and pick up my kiddos.

So the day I always found could get away from me, but when I put things first, put my self-care first in the morning was just a way of really prioritizing that and making sure that that happened in the day. And then routine, as teachers, we all know routines are so important in promoting independence and we use routines in our classroom to establish consistency and get kids doing things on their own. And so having a routine for your self-care can also put some of that on autopilot a little bit, right?

Jessica: Yeah.

Rachel: It takes a little bit of discipline to get it set up, but once it’s set up, you don’t need that discipline because you’re just in your routine doing that. And then the one that I use, I wanted to find a way to bring in the things that I was discovering about burnout, that I found out that work that they burn me. So obviously the gratitude, when I saw the results, I was like, okay, I’ve got to make sure I’m doing that every day. And the mindfulness and then exercise and also affirmations too are part of that, this just different components of self-care that you can implement every day. And you can customize it too. If there’s other things that you want to do for your self-care, you can add that to your routine and you can also customize the times in your morning routine, right? So if you have a busy day and you don’t have a ton of time, you could just do one minute of mindfulness and just do your gratitude real quick and just jump around a little bit to get your blood flowing. Yeah.

Jessica: I really appreciate that you are talking about how customizable this is because I am definitely one of those art teachers who I just feel like I have no time in the morning and for most of my career, I’ve had an hour commute to school one way and I have to get up super early to get myself ready, to get my kids ready to get them out the door and ready for school, all that stuff.

So whenever I’m thinking, oh, I already get up at 5:00 in the morning, do I really need to get up to do some self-care? But whenever you’re saying, like sometimes it’s only going to be a couple of minutes. So even if I’m still getting up at 5:00 I can sit quietly in the dark and really appreciate anything that is positive, but also add in that little why, because again, it brings that purpose and meaning back to you. I am really curious about your personal morning routine because you talked a little bit about some of the things you saw were working. So can you tell us a little bit about what are the things that you absolutely do or what does that look like?

Rachel: Yeah. I use the MEGA Morning, the one that I designed and that’s why I wanted to then share it with people because it was working for me. I do meditation every morning. I wake up, I usually get some coffee going and then I start my meditation. On busy days it’s one or two minutes. When I first started meditating, it was like three breaths while the coffee was proving just like giving myself a moment to let my thoughts settle and I felt great doing that and because I loved it that encouraged me to keep going. If I had forced myself to sit down and do 20 minute meditation right off the bat as a new meditator, I probably wouldn’t still be meditating, right?

So I just allowed myself to be a beginner with that. Yeah. So every morning I meditate and then usually while I’m sitting down, I do my gratitude practice and sometimes I’m just thinking it, but usually I’m writing it down in my journal, which is just next to me on the couch. And then I have some affirmations and I just write my affirmations depending on what I’m going through at that point in my life. And when I’m writing affirmations for myself, I always try to make sure they actually feel real and they feel true. Otherwise, it can feel silly. I know I’ve read online people will have affirmations like, I have a million dollars in my bank account. And if that isn’t true for me, it’s just not going to resonate with me.

Jessica: Right.

Rachel: So I try to write affirmations for things that I… Just more helpful ways of thinking about things that I’m thinking about or going through during the day. So during the day I might think, oh, my goodness classroom management is… It’s the beginning of the year and classroom management is a struggle right now. Instead of that, I have an affirmation that just says, I’m learning every day, my students and I are learning and growing every day, that kind of thing. So it has to feel like something that’s real. So I have a few of those that I read for myself that I read through those. And on some days it’s just five or 10 minutes and on days when I have a little more time, it might be 30 minutes or even an hour. Yeah. And then I work exercising too. So sometimes that’s a walk and exercise changes, it’s so unique to each of us and our bodies and what feels good to us. So some days it’s a little yoga routine or some days it’s a walk.

Jessica: Yeah.

Rachel: Yeah. And that’s my morning and I start my day knowing my self-care is taken care of. I leave my house with a lot of energy feeling like I’ve got my thoughts settled and the affirmations help me point my thoughts in a really positive direction, in a way that’s going to be helpful and support me and my students throughout our day together.

Jessica: Yeah. It sounds like it really helps you kickstart your day and it sets the tone for the day too.

Rachel: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s a great quote that I referenced in the book and I can’t remember who said it, but it’s in my book, but the morning is the rudder of the day. So how your morning goes can really steer your ship throughout the day. So it’s great for us to really take charge of that and to make it something that’s really going to motivate us and sustain us throughout the day.

Jessica: Absolutely. So now you have talked about so many things. I am curious if you could give the art teachers who are listening one tool, just one tool that they could put into place to help improve their wellbeing, like a mini power step, what would you suggest to them?

Rachel: That’s such a good question. I would say, kickstart a morning routine for yourself even if it’s just one minute a day, just give yourself one minute a day doing something that feels like self-care for you in the morning, whether it’s gratitude or meditation or affirmation or something else, start with something that you can do even if it’s small, you can make it so small that you know that you will definitely do it every single day, the example I always give is like, I started my meditation practice with just like a couple of deep breaths because I knew I could do that consistently. So just start with something really, really small and experience the benefits and the joy from that. And then just keep building on it.

Jessica: Yes. I think you totally have to just relish in how good it feels.

Rachel: Yeah. Savor that moment and let it carry you through the day for sure.

Jessica: Absolutely. All right. Well, I am so thankful that you were able to join me today and share some really good tips for all of our listeners here at AOEU. Thank you again. And I hope sometime in the future we’ll get to visit.

Rachel: I hope so too. I just want to thank you so much for welcoming me onto the show and for letting me talk about one of my favorite subjects, teacher renewal and self-care, and I just wish everybody a really wonderful school year.

Jessica: Thank you. And before we go, just one quick thing, where can our listeners find your book if they’re like, yes, I want to do this, give it to me. How can they find it?

Rachel: Yeah. Absolutely. So MEGA Morning Self-care: The secret self-care morning routine for busy teachers is available on Amazon.

Jessica: Wonderful. So go check that out. All right. Thank you.

Rachel: Thank you so much everyone.

Jessica: Thank you to Dr. Hallquist for coming on and sharing her research and tips to help us be more intentional with our morning time. I love talking about personal development and I hope that you took away some strategies that you can put into practice soon. If you would like to learn more about self care and personal development, there are so many resources on the AOEU website. Be on the lookout for an article I’ve written with more morning tips coming out in the magazine soon. Thank you for listening today. And I hope that you tune in next week for another episode of Everyday Art Room.

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.