I woke up before the alarm clock on Monday morning, fresh from another stress dream prior to the start of school. In this dream I was in charge of taking our two aging, black and white dogs to the dog park for an afternoon romp. When I got there I was greeted by no less than 20 large black and white dogs running and tumbling happily – all without any fence surrounding the park. My dream self saw no problem with this scenario and and quickly unleashed Louie and Sookie to join the cacophony. Within seconds both had bolted and I spent the rest of the dreamscape running and yelling their names (and the names of dogs from previous chapters of my life).
When I woke up and realized it was not real I was relieved and exhausted. Stress dreams are part of the fleeting days of summer for many who serve our world in schools around the world. The anticipation of the demanding days and a desire to bring our very best to our students and colleagues is just the beginning of the high pressure of working in education.
In addition to working at an international school, I am a certified nature and forest therapy guide. Because of my vantage point of serving the faculty and staff in the elementary division of our school, I see how mush passionate educators give of themselves and the toll that can take on their wellbeing.
As educators juggle a multitude of tasks and demands from creating engaging lessons to managing thoughtful differentiation to learning the latest buzzwords and technology (and in America, the latest lockdown protocol), it is important that school leaders create accessible avenues of support for faculty so that they can, in turn, support students.
“A new Gallup poll shows that 44% of K-12 employees say they “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work, including 52% of teachers who report the same. Moreover, 35% of college and university workers say they “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work – making K-12 and higher education the two industries with the highest rate of burnout, according to the new poll.” writes Lauren Camera at U.S. News
How can a walk in the woods increase faculty and staff well-being and resilience within an educational setting? How can forest and nature therapy help mitigate the stressful demands of the classroom?
Nature and Forest Therapy Supports
Forest & Nature is a research-based approach for supporting health and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. Usually offered as a 2-3 hour immersive experience in nature, participants are guided through a series of gentle invitations to awaken their senses, slow down, cultivate presence and deepen their relationship with nature. Inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, which translates to “forest bathing,” it is a practice of spending time in nature-lush areas for the purpose of enhancing health, wellness, and happiness.
An abundance of growing research indicates over and over again that spending time in nature supports human physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It is also known that when teams engage in shared nature-connected experiences it opens up the possibility for creativity and cultivating genuine connections that inspire teams to tune in to their individual and group potential.
Certainly, the wellbeing of students is at the forefront of every educator’s mind. Unfortunately, the overwhelming nature of caring for students in the 21st century often leaves teacher and staff wellness out conversations about school wellness initiatives. Healthy teachers are the foundation for healthy classrooms.
This year as you plan for back-to-school nights, parent teacher conferences, professional development and implementing the latest learning platform, I encourage you to set aside intentional, regular time to get of the school building into a natural environment.
The forest is the therapist, the guide opens the doors.
When you are ready, I am here to serve as your nature and forest therapy guide. And if you are not in the area, or if I’m not the right guide for you, you can search for a guide in your neck of the woods via the ANFT’s Guide Locator.
Educators Report Highest Level of Burnout Among All Other Industries
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams (find it on Bookshop.org)
Nature: How connecting with nature benefits our mental health
Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy:
A State-of-the-Art Review
A collection of great resources on the ANFT website.