Fletcher Elementary has four school-wide behavior expectations: be respectful, be responsible, be safe and be caring. The expectations are taught, modeled, practiced and reviewed throughout the year, both in classrooms and school-wide. Recently, as part of a whole-school gathering, students and staff approached being caring from a new angle, self-care.

“We have spent a lot of time thinking about how to be caring towards others and how we respond when someone is hurt or sad or needing support in another way,” Denette Locke, instructional coach and school leadership team member, said. “Historically, we have spent less time talking about self-care, but we’re changing that. We want our students to understand that taking care of themselves is as important as helping others.”

The gathering was one in a four-part series of school-wide assemblies focused on a single behavior expectation. Planned and facilitated by the school’s leadership team, each gathering included hands-on learning in multi-age groups. While learning about self-care, students focused on four main themes including emotional self care, learning self-care, physical self-care and social self-care.

“Emotional self-care is all about having a growth mindset,” leadership team member and special educator Sarah Tucker said. “ It’s about how you keep yourself feeling positive and believing that, through hard work, you will be successful, learn new things and develop new ideas and skills.”

Fletcher’s four school-wide expectations are are the cornerstone of an approach called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. Students are individually recognized when they demonstrate behaviors consistent with the school rules. They also earn classroom and school-wide celebrations.

“Self-care has a lot to do with stress management,” school leadership team member and school counselor Lisa Coale said. “When we are stressed out, overwhelmed and exhausted, we aren’t accessing the thinking part of our brain – the prefrontal cortex – and instead we give control over to the feeling part of the brain – the amygdala. The feeling part of the brain is focused on survival. It controls our breathing, stays alert to our environments and responds impulsively with emotions like fear, excitement, or anger.”

According to Coale, these automatic and impulsive reactions impede students’ abilities to access those executive functioning skills like paying attention and communicating effectively. That’s where self-care comes in. When we use self-care strategies like breathing, movement and relaxation we can better manage our stress in order to help the thinking part of our brain regain control.

“I’m into sports so I think physical self-care is really important,” sixth grader Anna Villeneuve said. “It’s good to be active and if you’re just sitting on the couch all day that’s not good for your body. The more active you are the less tired you are.”

“Emotional self care is really important, too,” sixth grader Bryant Matton added. “When you have a growth mindset you believe in yourself and you believe that with practice and confidence you can get the job done.. You have to stay positive with yourself and just keep trying.”

Students also focused on self-care related to learning, namely how to best prepare for their studies. They brainstormed twenty-two strategies for learning that included being persistent, being prepared and listening to directions.

“I think we often think of self-care in the consumer sense, like eating chocolate, getting a message or drinking tea,” Coale said. “But, it’s a lot more than that. Those things are great, but self care also has a lot to do with learning, developing skills and making choices that will impact your long term wellness.”

For students, Coale says, that might mean learning how to self regulate, self-sooth, think about and plan for their future, set goals, and regularly check in with those goals. It also means learning how to be flexible and adaptable.

“These skills will benefit their long term wellness and can be translated across environments so that self-care for our students is not about escaping or masking discomfort when life gets hectic, but planning and strategizing so they can meet their own needs and aren’t dependent on an external source for self-care,” Coale said.

“Our hope is that when students see each other practicing self-care, it will become contagious,” Locke said. “And the same is true for the adults at school. We all need to take care of each other and being well for others begins with good self-care.”

“It’s like that saying on airplanes, ‘Put your oxygen mask on before helping others,’” Coale said. “You have to take care of yourself in order to have the resources and the energy to care for others. If we are constantly running on empty because we neglect self-care, we won’t be able to offer any of ourselves to support the people around us.”

Read the full list of strategies Fletcher students created for all four self-care categories here.

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