EMS and fire educators are always on the run, teaching and preparing for the next session. The pressure continues to increase as resources dwindle, and both educators and students find themselves working at a frenzied pace. Many are also tackling a second job, family life or other internal or external problems, but we don’t take the time to slow down and have those quiet moments that allow us to recharge and refresh our brains. Simply put, we don’t take the time to dream.
To varying degrees, educators are type A and like to be in control. They think, “If I take the time to dream, who will steer the ship?” This may partially explain why the average American still works during their vacation–dreaming isn’t possible when there are tasks at hand.
So how can we ease our on-the-job stress? In a Scientific American Mind article titled “How to be a Better Boss,” researchers came up with simple steps to be a great leader: Don’t have an ego, give employees some control, take the weekends off, and use rewards as motivation instead of punishment.1 These steps would be just as relevant if we changed the title to “How to Be a Stress-Free Educator.”
We need to encourage ourselves (and our students) to begin a process of slowing down. By taking a moment to breathe we can create more time for thinking and build our brain’s resilience. The following can help reduce the frenzy of spending a day in the classroom:
- Spend time daily with students and faculty brainstorming and sharing ideas.
- Make students and instructors stakeholders, not tourists, in the education process by inviting them to take over some of the responsibilities for the program.
- Take a five-minute meditation break. Educators should sit quietly and meditate, clearing their minds and concentrating on their breathing. The physiological benefits that can be gained by lowering stress, lowering blood pressure and increasing a sense of well-being are well documented.
- Take the weekends off to recharge.
- Have weekly conversations with your staff and students about fun topics.
Educators will cultivate a consciousness centered around mindfulness, which will strengthen neural networks. This process of taking time to slow down and dream can help the brain go from a one-dimensional to a multidimensional level of thinking; this can lead to a more attentive state.2 An attentive state is critical for someone who must maintain an edge for teaching or performing in the stressful situations EMS provides.
Thinking is a complicated process that can be made more effective by taking the time to improve our response to daily stress. This can make us, our students and our faculty better able to meet challenges. After finishing this article, I’m going to heed its message and head to Texas for some rest and relaxation. You’ll find me surrounded by my family at a Texas Rangers game with the largest piece of barbeque and the coldest beer this Texan can hold. Enjoy some time off, rest and remember to dream of the great opportunities that lay before you, your students and your profession.
Fontaine’s Formula for Success
My friend and colleague Robert Fontaine, associate professor at Moreno Valley College in Riverside, Calif., has 10 tips that will help us and our students have time to dream.
1. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
2. Trust others and give them tasks. Remember to mentor them along the way.
3. Don’t eat lunch in your office. Get out and socialize with your peers.
4. Walk through the halls, sit in a class and see how the students and faculty are doing.
5. Set flexible goals that can be reached.
6. Dream big, and ask for the impossible.
7. Leave the job and spend time with family and friends–the piles of work will always be there.
8. Exercise your body, mind and soul.
9. Live your values; be courageous, bold and dauntless.
10. Pray often.
1. Gold SS. How to be a better boss. Scientific American Mind. 2013;24(3):18.
2. Rogers S. How the science of mindfulness can improve attention and lift your mood. Scientific American Mind. 2013;24(1):33.