By, Simona Baciu President & Founder Transylvania College Foundation
The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for those already suffering from mental illness. Teachers around the world have been challenged to reinvent themselves and find new ways of engaging with their students while keeping them focused and motivated in a whole new world of online learning.
The situation was new to everyone and at its basis lie the concept of trauma. Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a terrible event, so for many of us, this pandemic fits the definition. During the event, people may have felt extreme emotional reactions, such as fear and anxiety at the beginning, followed by anger, sadness, shock or denial. All these emotions left an emotional scar on many, while unpredictable symptoms may have begun to appear. While tackling with all these challenges themselves, teachers had to stand tall, become good strategists, compassionate educators, empathic counselors, and skillful communicators for their students. They had to acknowledge the need of becoming learners themselves, adapting their skills, knowledge, and personalities to best impact their students’ learning.
The key to accomplishing all this is the emotional resilience. Teaching, as it has always been throughout the years, is a calling. Imagine the change that can be brought about if teachers felt fulfilled and happy, and if every teacher role modelled such behavior to the students. An emotionally rounded teacher bears a special wave of energy that brings on love and happiness, thus making a strong positive impact on each student in every class.
In face of a mental health crisis sparked by the pandemic where children and teenagers’ depression rate skyrocketed, teachers’ emotional well-being is crucial. Therefore, the investment in their mental health is needed to future-proof the well-being of the next generation around the globe. Starting from the hypothesis that each student has the right to the best education, teachers can choose to take control over their mental wellness, to stay motivated, teach from the heart, and empower their students to achieve their best.
The ARAT method, originated in the book “The Teacher Within: A Mindful Journey for Teachers’ Well-Being in the 21st Century ” by Susan Shapiro and Simona Baciu, is a great tool for achieving emotional resilience and mental wellness. ARAT is an acronym, made up of four words, Awareness, Recognition, Actions, and Transformation, constituting the four main steps taken toward a better understanding of life experiences through self-awareness and resilience. No matter what you are now experiencing, no matter what emotions visit you, you can respond in ways that produce mental wellness. When your judgment gets clouded by your challenges and you react in ways that don’t serve you, you can always turn toward ARAT that will guide you to a new perspective.
The method works through guided practices. These embrace the mind and the body, beginning with mindfulness practices which have an effect on brain regions linked to perception, pain tolerance, and emotional regulation. The most efficient ones are: conscious breathing, meditation, concentration. Positive emotions generated by these practices in our heart, such as appreciation, gratitude, compassion, and love can regulate our brain, lower stress level and improve our health. From mindfulness skills, teachers move toward resilience. When teachers are resilient, they develop a mindset that can help them regulate their emotions and improve their self-care.
Mindfulness and resilience skills lead teachers toward a better quality of life. Small steps toward improving one’s lifestyle increases success and a daily routine of even five minutes a day may create a healthier and more fulfilling life. Thus teachers will have the opportunity to take responsibility over their mental wellness and radiate positive emotions to best impact their students.