The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Episode 028: Wellness Strategies for the Thoughtful Educator with Craig Aarons Martin

March 19, 2024 Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Episode 028: Wellness Strategies for the Thoughtful Educator with Craig Aarons Martin
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Struggling to strike the perfect balance between your professional responsibilities and personal well-being? Craig Aarons Martin joins us to illuminate the path to self-care mastery for educators, emphasizing the transformative effects of physical activity, meditation, and mindfulness. His personal anecdotes serve as a beacon for those looking to rejuvenate not just themselves but also their surroundings, demonstrating how one's own wellness practices can radiate positive influence across students and colleagues alike.

During our heartfelt conversation, we unearth the often-invisible dedication that teachers invest in their craft, extending far beyond the classroom walls. Recognizing the synergy between empathetic leadership and teacher well-being, Craig shares insights on fostering nurturing environments where mindful breaks and clear communication about work-life balance aren't just encouraged but celebrated. We reflect on the wisdom of "The Body Keeps the Score," acknowledging the profound impact that mental and physical downtime can have on both our careers and lives.

Finally, Craig imparts practical strategies for infusing mindfulness into diverse classrooms, offering our listeners a chance to help children navigate their emotions with creative tools like breathing exercises and Legos. We wrap up our enriching dialogue with a call to embrace minimalism and embark on a journey of self-improvement. So, pour yourself your favorite cup of tea, light a relaxing incense, and join us in this episode for a transformative experience that will leave you inspired to take that much-deserved self-date and share your reflections with our community.

Craig Aarons-Martin is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The CCM Education Group, an education consulting organization that provides professional learning services to districts, schools, nonprofits, and businesses worldwide. Craig is an ASCD Emerging Leader & presenter and an author who published an article on professional learning for ASCD EDAdvantage. He currently serves as the President Elect for Massachusetts ASCD and was a President for the ASCD Emerging Leader Affiliate.

Craig Aarons-Martin is an award-winning teacher & school leader with 20+ years of experience in urban education serving as a mentor, instructional coach, teacher developer, and professional learning facilitator. Martin also works with groups, individuals, and organizations to create bold and joyful solutions that amplify equity and belonging. Craig is also the co-host of SELinEDU, The Podcast.


Resource mentions:
https://linktr.ee/craigcmartin 

The Body Keeps the Score:
https://www.besselvanderkolk.com/resources/the-body-keeps-the-score 


This episode is sponsored by CCM Education Group LLC partners with school leaders, schools, districts,  and youth-serving organizations to make bold strategies for creating thriving inclusive, and student-powered learning communities. Learn more at https://ccmeducationgroup.co/

Buy The Minimalist Teacher book on Amazon.
Follow on Instagram and Twitter @PlanZPLS
The Minimalist Educator Podcast is a Plan Z Professional Learning Services adventure.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Minimalist Educator Podcast, a podcast about paring down to refocus on the purpose and priorities in our roles with co-hosts and co-authors of the Minimalist Teacher Book, Tammy Musiowsky-Borniman and Christine Arnold.

Speaker 2:

In today's episode, craig speaks with us about strategies for looking after ourselves in our busy lives as educators. His pared down pointer is about taking time for meditation and for having a little romance with yourself. Craig Arons Martin is the founder and chief executive officer of the CCM Education Group, an education consulting organization that provides professional learning services to districts, schools, nonprofits and businesses worldwide. Craig is an ASCD Emerging Leader and Presenter and an author who published an article on professional learning for ASCD Ed Advantage. He currently serves as the President-Elect for Massachusetts ASCD and is the past president for the ASCD Emerging Leader Affiliate. Craig Arons Martin is an award-winning teacher and school leader with 20-plus years of experience in urban education, serving as a mentor, instructional coach, teacher-developer and professional learning facilitator. Martin also works with groups, individuals and organizations to create bold and joyful solutions that amplify equity and belonging. Craig is also the co-host of SEL in EDU, the podcast.

Speaker 3:

Hello everyone and welcome to today's episode of the Minimalist Educator Podcast. Today, Christine and I are excited to be talking with Craig Arons Martin. Welcome to the show today, Craig. How are you?

Speaker 4:

Doing pretty well. Doing pretty well. It's a little windy outside. It's feeling very much Kansas, you know, if you know the winds.

Speaker 3:

Good, we're glad to have you with us. How are you, christine?

Speaker 2:

I'm doing well, thank you. Less windy, less windy over here, good.

Speaker 3:

Good. Well, we're excited to talk to Craig today because, well, for lots of reasons, he and I met a number of years ago through ASCD Emerging Leaders, and so he's more senior than I am in the program, which is pretty cool to have someone in an organization and be involved as much as he is for over just over 10 years, I think or 11 years with ASCD, as well as your state affiliate. You've done a lot of work. You are an award-winning school administrator, you've got all of the accolades, which is super awesome, and on top of that, you are a person who has learned to prioritize self-care through all of that work that you've been doing. So can you tell us a bit about how you came to realize that you indeed had to take care of yourself?

Speaker 3:

Not too heavy of a question.

Speaker 4:

Great question, oh, my God One. Thank you both, Christine and Tammy, for inviting me to be part of the podcast family. Such a delight. I am glad we were able to make it all work because life has been life, I would say being a school leader, a school leader of color in the American context and leading your community or communities and organization through a pandemic or triple pandemics.

Speaker 4:

At times it wears on you and I understood pride of becoming like an executive director and a superintendent of a district that I needed to build in time to work out because I wanted to make sure I could run around with my students, because I've worked in K-8 settings my career and I just was like I remember one day not being able to make that loop around the building and not being able to run with the kids. Or when the kid ran out the building because they were having their own crisis that I couldn't keep up with them and what happens on my watch if I can't get them. And not to say that I didn't have other people who did it, but when you're the leader, you know as they want to be there.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, so I prioritize working out eating differently. I'm from the South, from New Orleans, louisiana, so we love a little corn. You know, all the carbs, all the carbs we will fry. Everything there's good beverages, adult and non and I became a person of size, breaking bread and enjoying the company of people over good food. But from a health perspective, I was slow, I was sluggish at times, I wasn't as agile as I wanted to be and I just wanted something different, and so I made sure that I prioritize working out at five o'clock in the morning because I had to be to work at seven. I made some decisions that meditation and mindfulness would be part of my toolkit and I wanted to actually share that with young people and adults who are caregiving to them, because I understood the power in quieting yourself and stealing yourself so that you could actually move through your day, and then incorporated some other things like therapy and other modalities that have helped me to cope and manage myself and thrive in this day and age.

Speaker 2:

That's awesome to hear. I'm really glad to hear that. I'm wondering, because you've had these different roles over your career. I'm wondering whether you think the taking care of ourselves will be really investing that. Does that look differently for school leaders, for administrators, than for teachers, or is there a lot of similarities in the way that we can look after ourselves?

Speaker 4:

I think it's a both and, if I'm being honest, I have always been a strong poster child. If you will, for everyone you know, engage in self-care. I was just talking to my husband and we were having a conversation about leading and the importance of modeling. So right now, when we're taping, we're around the winter season holiday season for those who celebrate and acknowledge the holidays and I was talking about OK, so when are you closing shop? When you closing office? Because our team, whoever is leading with us, as well as the constituents and partners, are going to take their cue from how we model.

Speaker 4:

It was important for me as a teacher to say all right, I'm going to create clear boundaries for students. This is your last assignment when I was a teacher. Here's when I will see you. Here is what is expected of you. This is the purpose of why you're getting this winter packet. I want you to read. You know, I want you to stay sharp, Do your math. Facts Like these are the basics you can do with anyone over time.

Speaker 4:

As a principal for teachers, I made it clear I'm going to make sure you get your communication for me on Friday. So anything that might be of reflection, of need, anything that's going to help us catapult us into the next week. Friday evening like Friday hopefully, before you leave work, you get what you need for me. I want to shelter your time for you to take care of yourself, take care of your family, do whatever you need. You're not going to hear from me until you might see something Sunday evening, just as like, hey, check in, but you're not going to hear me like bothering you and ask you to do stuff over the weekend and the same thing over the holiday.

Speaker 4:

It's important for us to build boundaries, and even for people who don't ask for it, like I am personally creating this so that I hope that you're hearing from me, that I care about you. I strongly believe in your sense of agency. I want to help. I want to make sure you are as strong as you can be, and let me lean in with you around that and the ways I can do that is making sure I create clear boundaries for what we're expecting workers to do.

Speaker 4:

Two, that I'm modeling it so I can't say it's important and I'm not also making sure that there's conditions and measures that really promote what I'm saying. And three, that you also invite some of that into, whether or not it's your newsletters, whether or not it's bringing people in as speakers or inviting folks out. Hey, I'm going to do a five minute, 10 minute, 15 minute walk outside, Just as a brain break. You want to come take a walk with me? No expectation, Just we're going walk, Enjoy the sun, that's it, and I think that those have been very strong measures that people would cite that have been gratuitous to our partnership over time.

Speaker 3:

You mentioned over time, because getting these kinds of practices in place don't just happen overnight. So what kind of? Or if you had any, did you have some resistance from anyone that you were working with when you were trying to set boundaries, where maybe people weren't understanding the purpose, or like why some people might disagree with a Friday email that you're like this is the way we're going to do it so that you're prepared, la la la. So did you encounter any of that while you're trying to set up those kind of boundaries and practices?

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. I had some people who have worked over the years on a team or two who were like, well, I don't understand they're managing, so like I'm managing them, they're managing team and they're like I don't understand why they can't. Whatever that is like can't complete the process. This report can't check in for 15 minutes or half an hour an hour on a Saturday to do. I'm like we have to create boundaries for a reason and I need you to trust me that, whatever the work is, it will be here on Monday, let people live. And what are you saying to someone over time if you keep saying, hey, can we do this outside of the scope of what feels like a normal working hour relationship? And I understand.

Speaker 4:

For leaders it's different and even for teachers. You're grading papers at night. You're grading them on the weekend. You're talking to families, you're talking some folks off the ledge. You're doing all the things, the prep that's required, and so, if I acknowledge that, I know you're doing all these things that are going to make your classroom thrive. You're thinking about your students, you're thinking about your team, you're thinking about your families and the other folks who you're working with. You're going to do what you need to do on your own time in whatever way that is.

Speaker 4:

Whether or not that's even a weekend hour, I don't control that, but what I can do is prominently create the sticks. Here is where I'm 10 toes deep. You will not, on my watch, do these things. And I got some folks who are like, well, that's not my philosophy, I like, and I'm like, well, glad that you like, but you're at least my observation, because I feel like I'm about to be judgmental. My observation is, if you don't have a family and you're not part of a family unit, you may not have a regard for a single parent in a way that I may have had, because that was my experience or the experience of the young people I serve.

Speaker 4:

You may not know that this person is working a second or third job because they're not making enough in their regular gig, so they need the time to actually be out working the second, third job or whatever, or working on the passion project. And so I had those relationships and people would say, craig, like we'd love to do it, but I got to you know work and I got to do this other thing. So cool, and because I heard that often enough and you listen and lean into people and they really share their vulnerabilities, then I still am responsible for creating and nurturing the conditions for people to thrive. So, even for those who were resistant, I just said well, on my watch, this is not a practice I'm going to endorse. You need to think differently about this. And Monday it can get done, it'll be okay.

Speaker 2:

That piece about perspective is really important, isn't it? Like understanding those different points of view and different contexts and seasons of life that people are going through. It's a really important part to have empathy for all of those different situations, isn't it? I just want to go back a little bit to something you said before about going on a walk, taking a little brain break in the day, and I think I don't know, maybe I'm generalizing but I feel like most teachers understand the importance of that for our kids, for our students, and how taking that little bit of a break, moving our bodies, actually helps us re-engage and think and take on more cognitively going into the next lesson. But I feel like we're not necessarily transferring that understanding to ourselves. So many teachers like work right through lunch. They don't have a break, they just go, go, go the entire time until they go home. Sometimes they keep going at home as well, as you've said. So what can we do to really help support our teachers understand that that break is important for you as well, not just our students?

Speaker 4:

That's a great question. I was searching for the. There's a book called the Body Keeps the Score right and that's by. That's a Van Cork, I believe, if I'm not mistaken, van Der Cork, or something like that. And in this text and I think about this often and as a matter of fact, I was talking about this this morning my body. I did five workout sessions this week right now, closing out a lot of things so that we can get ready for the winter break holiday. I want to be able to really just unplug and get into, enjoy my time with my loved one, my family and friends and whatnot. And but my body is saying slow down, breathe, you'll get that thing done. It's okay, you know enough in order to have this conversation with this person. Like I have to do this work.

Speaker 4:

What I found was, especially in the last few years, we put on these meeting agendas. You stock it with 17 different things for a 60 minute meeting. You're expecting everyone to literally drop whatever they carried in their brains, hearts, minds and spirits out like at the door, walk in, be focused, be engaging, you know, show up. You know, for whatever is the conversation and the nature thing and that, all of that stuff that's going on within mind, body, spirit is not also still permeating in their brains. You know you have a loved one who is sick and ill, or maybe you know hospitalized, and you're like, okay, you know you're holding that, you're holding the fact that you know, in this environment we've dealt with so much, so much is going on in the world. There's a war going on, well, multiple wars that are going on. If you look at American media, it's all it's driven on the negative, so that stresses people out the holidays and like all of that's going. And so what I found was, even in the meetings I'm leading or participating in, we had to build in like a check-in how are you doing, how is your heart? Or how are you holding up and allow for folks to say, hey, I'm barely here, but you know I'm willing to. You know, do whatever. Or you know, I don't know whether or not I could give you what you need in this conversation. And so what I found was one building in the check-ins in the beginning of the meetings was important. People don't think that that's important in business, but if you're in a school context, I think it is.

Speaker 4:

Two, I found that I was in this habit of let me stack my entire schedule back to back to back to back, and that wasn't healthy because I still was reeling from one meeting and I brought all of that energy and stuff with me to the next and I was trying to compartmentalize that and I found that by the time I got to my third meeting in a row, that person was not getting the best of me and sometimes it was a person or an experience or like a convenant I really would thrive in but I couldn't. And I found that I was also tired and eating horribly, because you eat the snacks that might be in the space and you're eating some crazy stuff. So I said you know what? I know that if I go take a walk, I'm gonna be all right. So what I started doing is I booked times on my calendar to go take a walk and when I was doing the training with teachers that asked the same question, I said well, I understand that sometimes your lunch break is you getting the chance to go to the bathroom?

Speaker 4:

You still got a call or two to make for somebody. You got these 10 things you gotta do. But what if you only went to the bathroom and you went and took your walk and you came back, would you feel a sense of like I got the sun on my skin, I breathe some air, will I be able to make it and the other things will play out the way that they will play out. Generally, we still get to the right thing in the end and I find it was important to do that. So I would tell people all right, I'm going to take a walk after this because, like, I love you but I need to take care of me now. And folks respected it. And then I heard people like Craig. That was one of the best ideas. I went to me a 15 minute walk too. I just walked around. It just changed perspective. So I think that that's also as part of the magic sauce to doing this and also promoting it as a healthy behavior that you can take agency in.

Speaker 3:

I think it's so, so, so important that we remember, like we have to.

Speaker 3:

This is a tough profession, right, Whatever role you're in, and we are seeing teachers, you know, still even post pandemic pre pandemic too like dropping out of the profession because it's just too much, and so creating these kinds of practices that you've been talking about will help people sustain themselves. Right, Like it doesn't seem like a 15 minute walk will change things, but it can, because when you keep doing it because you know it's good for you, like we can't just do what we often do in education, or it's like, hey, let's try a little sprinkle of this. Oh, we're going to change the initiative now. It really is about sustainability and how we want to create cultures in schools where we're taking care of ourselves and everybody around us, and so what you've been talking about just like is exactly that like take, we have to take care of ourselves, and you've been doing this a long time with people that you've been working with, and what have you noticed about the culture of the school when people start bringing in these practices?

Speaker 4:

There are some folks who say, craig, I really appreciate the fact that you are a huge proponent of work-life balance and that you have promoted, shared and really pushed us to experience that sense of balance. There are some who mindfulness or contemplative practices is not their norm, it's not their toolkit. It may feel it's not part of the culture of how they were brought up. This even wasn't the way I was brought up. I was brought up in the Catholic faith. You just prayed through things and you just kept taking it. You just kept taking it. Sometimes I felt guilty like, okay, the great power, ooh, all of that, that's a whole other podcast. That's a whole other podcast. What I found is some people adopted it, some people will be hesitant and some people will completely ignore and keep moving. What I did notice is our kids. If I kept doing it and I did it with the kids then they would start having conversation. It would generate a lot more energy in them because they're like I want to do something. That's not going to make me feel crazy. They want a sense of agency in their bodies. They want to have different tools. They may not use them. They might use it one out of 10 times because I've had so many kids like, ah, and they're ripping things and pushing stuff off the desk and all this stuff. I'm fly baby. What are you going through? You ain't paying no mortgage, honey. What is going on? But you find that I'm like all right, cool, I understand you're upset. We can see that.

Speaker 4:

Here is let me give you three things, three options on how you can actually just take a moment, take a breath, take a beat, whatever it is. Come help me with something, walk with me. I need your help because it disarms them from whatever they were angry about. Then they want to help. I find that, regardless of little babes to adults want to help. Come help me with something. You look like you've got enough energy to pick up these boxes. Come on, we're going to move these boxes over, cool.

Speaker 4:

Secondly, I find that breathing helps them. So I'm like okay, cool, you huffing and puffing like you're the big bad wolf. Cool, keep breathing, it's all right. Here's a tool. I give them a scrunchie or whatever. Here's my blanket, because I have a yellow blanket. Wrap yourself up in it, put it over your head, whatever feels good to you. Thirdly, giving them an opportunity to do coloring or drawing. I had Legos in my office, all kind of art supplies, again, build something. So giving them something that was a new focal point from whatever it was, and then they would open them up when teachers would see that so and so who blew up the entire school?

Speaker 4:

Comes in my office and they're sitting with stuff. Some of them be like oh, mr Martin, are they on a field trip right now? Some teachers are really upset because they're like you should be going off. I'm like I can't.

Speaker 4:

If you want me to actually get them to a place where they take us accountability for the thing that they've just done or they're at least open to discussing why the behavior is manifested, then give me a chance to operate in this way. I promise you they will come back to you and they will be the dysregulated. I believe they're going to take responsibility for what they did and they'll have a new tool in their toolkit. They may love coming to me, but they also will be responsible for the thing. And so just creating and making space for that and educating the teachers and staff who come and they're like they have a different disposition. They figure, mr Martin, you're tall, six foot three man, you should just use your booming voice and I'm like that sometimes doesn't work for kids and adults. I'm going to use different approaches for little people who are still trying to figure out how to navigate man, job and stuff. So I would say that some people really appreciate. In other cases they're still on a continuum and that's okay.

Speaker 2:

Unfortunately, I think we're going to have to start wrapping it up. Craig, we could talk to you for so much longer, but something we like to do before we go is ask our guests for a pair down pointer. So you've already given us lots of tips and strategies today, but can you think of one really effective strategy that you have for pairing back? It could be to do with wellbeing and finding balance, or it could be something else that you utilized.

Speaker 4:

So great question. I am still evolving and I think that even I am doing editing and revision, but I think it's well. What has been the thing? What have I seen over time? When I sit and I just posit myself and I think, okay, well, when I did that, this made me feel better. And something I don't do as often as I should is probably mindfulness, and even for five minutes, putting on a self-guided meditation from YouTube or headspace and letting that thing run and sitting I have. It has transformed my life from a perspective of forgiveness. It has given me more perspective and insight and as much as I do all the other things, like when I really incorporate that, put some incense on, like you know, it's a date for yourself. Incense, light a candle and all of that. You just romance yourself for five minutes. I'm telling you life is just different. Get you a good water with some fruits and vegetables and men Huh, beautiful. So that's what I would say has been like Perry. Now get to the one thing I know has worked for me.

Speaker 3:

That's awesome. Thank you so much for being with us today, Craig.

Speaker 4:

Thank you all for inviting me Spitter joy.

Speaker 2:

Today's episode was brought to you by CCM Education Group. Ccm Education Group LLC partners with school leaders, school districts and youth serving organizations to make bold strategies for creating thriving, inclusive and student-powered learning communities. Learn more at ccemeducationgroupco.

Speaker 1:

Be sure to join Tammy and Christine and guests for more episodes of the minimalist educator podcast. They would love to hear about your journey with minimalism. Connect with them at planzpls on Twitter or Instagram. The music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaia Moretti.

Prioritizing Self-Care for Educators
Teachers and Work-Life Balance
Effectiveness of Mindfulness and Contemplative Practices
Exploring Self-Improvement and Mindfulness