Written by Jaelyn Molyneux
Ready, set, roll your eyes. Get it out of your system. We’re about to talk about self-care — a topic renowned for its ability to elicit an eye-roll. It’s also remarkably successful at breaking us out of slumps, boosting coping skills and reducing burnout.
That’s why Dr. Astrid Kendrick and Dr. Theodora Kapoyannis built self-care, or “wellness streaks,” into the field-experience program for students in the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education. Kendrick and Kapoyannis are both directors of the student teacher practicum program. For two weeks of the program, they ask students to try dedicating 15 to 20 minutes out of their workday to wellness. That could mean going for a walk, meditating or preparing a delicious lunch. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it makes them feel good. Completing a wellness activity everyday without skipping a day builds a streak.
The streaking challenge is intended to make wellness part of daily conversation and give these future educators tools for what promises to be a challenging career. A two-year study led by Kendrick, EdD’18, in 2021, found that 50 per cent of education workers in Alberta experienced compassion fatigue and 80 per cent suffered from one or more symptoms of burnout. That research led to the development of HEARTcare, which helps educators develop a plan for responding to stress and maintaining emotional and mental health. HEARTcare is multilevel and robust, but at its core is the value of personal well-being, and a wellness streak is a small way to make that a priority.
While their work focuses on educators, stress is universal. If you are considering embarking on a self-care streak, here are a few takeaways from Kendrick and Kapoyannis.
Streaking is proactive
That 15 minutes of stretching midday isn’t going to solve the litany of complex issues we are faced with each day, but it is a way to claim some space and time for you.
“There are lots of things that are not OK in schools,” says Kapoyannis, BEd’95, MA’00, PhD’18. “There are lots of things that start to challenge our students and will challenge them in their career. This is a proactive way for them to take care of themselves so they can take care of the kids.”
To fully claim that time, add it to your calendar and protect that time.
Streaking is personal
There are no parameters around the self-care streak in the field-study curriculum for student-teachers. The only requirement is that students reflect on what makes them happy, what is good for them and what makes them thrive. “Choose a goal that makes sense and is doable,” says Kendrick. Her daily walking streak is topping 450 days and counting. In 2022, she joined her students in a two-week challenge for which they set a goal of eating a better breakfast everyday.
Streaking gets people talking — and that’s the point
When a wellness streak component was added it to the field-study outline, there was no guarantee the students would do it. Some dove in, others didn’t, but at least they thought about it. It set the tone for the curriculum that continued to incorporate wellness in discussions, even when the two-week streak challenge was over. “It’s an individual decision, but the way we talk about it, share it and encourage each other is really important,” says Kapoyannis. “When our students talk to each other, it begins to create a culture of well-being within the cohorts.”
Anyone streaking was encouraged to use the hashtag #FieldSelfCareStreak on their social media accounts, but they were just as likely to do their streak quietly.
Focusing on today helps
“People look too far into the future,” says Kendrick. “It’s really about what can I do with the day I have and the time I have so that I feel better.” The streak is about deciding each morning that you are going for a walk that day, rather than thinking ahead to the marathon you will run.
Switching the activity doesn’t break the streak
A wellness streak is about doing something everyday. If you trade in a walk for meditation or a few quiet minutes enjoying your favourite snack, it still counts. “The point is to keep it up by doing a good thing for yourself everyday,” says Kapoyannis.
If you break the streak, it doesn’t matter
It might sting a little bit, but all is not lost. “When the Calgary Flames are on a winning streak and then lose a game, they don’t quit hockey,” says Kendrick. “They still play the next game.”
When you miss a day, do like the professional team sports people do: Shake it off and start again.