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Wellness Matters at AISC
By Lauren Schneider 22-Dec-17
AISC community members practice cultural wellness through Bollywood dancing, among many other activities (photo: AISC). Schools are always bustling. Teachers face challenging schedules, trying to make time for meetings and lesson planning, not to mention teaching and a whole lot more. While an educator’s primary role is to support student learning, we must remember to take care of ourselves as well. As Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, posits: “Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive, which drives performance upward.” At the American International School Chennai (AISC), the Strategic Planning Committee recognized a need for holistic faculty wellness to support the fast-paced culture of the school. They chose to address this need by cultivating a “positive brain” approach. In 2015, AISC moved to create an innovation team focused on wellness. Using a general definition of wellness as a state of physical and emotional wellbeing, achievable through intentional effort, the team first drafted a philosophy statement: “As a mission-driven learning community, we believe intentional healthy engagement empowers us to inspire others, ourselves, and our community. We believe mental, physical, and emotional health are at the core of wellbeing, and that, as individuals and members of a community, we must strive to lead healthy, balanced lives. Thus, the fundamental purpose of the Wellness Matters program is to promote personal and professional balance by empowering AISC staff to nurture themselves through a holistic approach to wellness.” From this philosophical foundation stemmed the four pillars of our framework: physical, emotional, social, and cultural wellness. Around this framework, we built a cohesive structure, laid out in a handbook that was published for internal use. Throughout this process, we explored the benefits of providing opportunities for faculty and staff to focus on their personal wellness, with the hope of promoting a holistic approach to encourage a pervasive culture of wellness. Faculty who feel positive have greater efficacy in the workplace and beyond. With the framework complete and the early stages of program planning in place, the next step was implementation. The Wellness Coordinator holds monthly meetings with a steering committee comprised of representatives from the elementary, middle, and high schools to organize events throughout the year. In order to reach the largest group of faculty members, wellness events are scheduled to create a wide variety of opportunities. Some wellness offerings coincide with professional development days. We also hold various wellness-funded events throughout the year, such as trivia nights or trips to the local market. Likewise, to reach the widest range of interests, we have created weekly wellness activities, where teachers share a passion or skill. Some courses have included guitar, Zumba, yoga, tai chi, massage, and Indian language/culture. In planning all these events, we strive to offer activities that fall under each of the four categories. Communication is a vital part of raising awareness about wellness activities. We share upcoming opportunities through various channels, such as the Wellness Wednesday weekly blog, a Google+ community, and a wellness calendar. As faculty share their needs and hopes for the program, the Wellness Committee continues to explore new initiatives. For example, we are implementing a Google folder in which faculty members can share travel ideas and itineraries, as well as a currency exchange spreadsheet to allow faculty to trade leftover cash before traveling to new countries. Through AISC’s Wellness initiative, we have created a space for faculty and staff, known as the “Wellness Oasis.” Here, staff can take advantage of massage chairs, yoga mats, puzzles, coloring books, and iPads with apps to promote wellness. The space was developed to encourage employees to take a quick break during the day for personal wellness. Faculty appreciate this quiet, relaxing space where they can silently take time for themselves. Feedback on Wellness initiatives is a critical part of how we further develop plans, and the efforts made so far have received a positive response from faculty and staff at AISC. One faculty member particularly appreciated “the fact that people who wanted to be active could be active but the people who wanted to be quiet had the opportunity to do that too. We all relax in our own ways and that was honored. It’s good that you made us take the time to be mindful about that.” Others noted the importance of making time to connect with colleagues in a non-professional setting, stating that these activities are a “great way to spend time with colleagues as we take care of ourselves. So often, I hear people say they don’t have enough time for themselves and this supported each of us in creating that space, while still allowing us to come together as a community.” These wellness opportunities have encouraged faculty and staff across divisions to connect on a personal level, while providing the time and space to take care of ourselves. Gathering this feedback allows us to tailor future events to their needs. Since the wellness initiative began, we have received extensive support from the school’s administration, which has been an integral part of the program’s success. Seeing AISC’s culture shift and improve over the past couple years further encourages the development of new ideas and implementations throughout the school. As Achor says, “We become more successful when we are happier and more positive,” so let’s continue promoting positivity within schools!
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