By Ashley Mika Ito-Macion
Educators know the impact of healthy whole-child experiences on our students. With distance teaching and in-person pandemic learning, all educators have been challenged to rise up and do this in creative new ways. I was ecstatic to see Interim Superintendent Hayashi’s 3-1-1 plan. This innovative and compassionate leader gets it. His focus on students, staff and system guides our focus on a healthier future. I found the moving parts can begin to fall into a rhythm when we have the support needed to adapt to new spaces and protocols.
I teach at one of the many wonderful schools in HIDOE, Kanoelani Elementary School. Our school culture lives up to being the “Home of the Rainbows.” We always say that we can enjoy rainbows because we weather the rainstorms together. Our fearless and amazing leader, Principal Stacie Kunihisa, creates a school culture where, when the weather forecasts a rainstorm, she makes sure we put on our raincoats, grab our umbrellas, wear our rain boots, and work together to be able to see the rainbow at the end. She takes the monotony out of faculty meetings by planning games, competitions and ensuring that as hard as we work, we make time to play as well. Principal Kunihisa and the support team planned “Olympic Games,” where grade levels competed against each other on our first day back. Last year, community partners hid over 200 Easter eggs around campus. Each egg had a hidden prize inside, from $10 Raising Cane’s vouchers to Amazon gift cards. Staff well-being goes beyond marching orders to “take care of yourself” or “try yoga or unplugging.” Principal Kunihisa lives and demonstrates it through creating teamwork, finding the fun in the madness and checking in on us personally to care for our mental health.
TEACHER TO TEACHER
To visualize what a supportive colleague is, I’d like to introduce you to Zachary Morita. He is an exemplary teacher to his students at Niu Valley Middle School and an outstanding friend. He’s found creative ways to connect educators across the state, even prior to the pandemic. Most recently, Zachary has gathered teachers for hikes, boba dates, Farmers Market walks, adventuring through Escape Rooms, and more. He has a love for networking and his positive energy will spill into your life after spending an afternoon with him and other educators.
Another great resource is finding new friends on the Hawai‘i Distance Learning Forum (HDLF). Members can search for friends in the same grade level, those with similar interests, or others who are facing issues in which support can be given and received. HDLF filters can easily connect you to a space to build networks and find belonging. Having conversations with positive, impactful people cultivates a healthy mindset.
PERSONAL WELLNESS HABITS
Prior to the pandemic, my self-care routine included face masks, painting my nails and bubble baths. However, I’ve learned that those are great ways to distract me from changes that improve long-term, sustainable mental health. I noticed a dip in my mental health during my second pregnancy as the gravity of the fact that I’m not just living for myself, but for my children, sunk in. I needed to develop real habits of change, so I began to intentionally set boundaries for how I spent my time, implementing the use of tools and timers. When my school day ends, I reflect on the day and create a checklist for the next day. I prioritize the top three goals when school finishes and plan how I can achieve those goals. I leave work guilt-free and feel prepared for the next day. On the ride home to Kaimukī with my 3-month-old, I am entirely focused on my 8-year-old talking about his day, his goals and anything he wants to surprise me with, like a fun song. With my new habits, I am the teacher, the colleague and the parent who supports and is supported. Let’s be there for one another, because it matters.
Little Helpers for Well-Being:
- Leave work at a comfortable time for you to be able to get home and have some time to relax (for some it’s 4 p.m. and for some, it’s 5 p.m.)
- Try to check emails only during school hours
- Enjoy your weekends and days off
- Journal and self-reflect (a daily “Rose, Thorn, Bud” may help)
- Take a walk around the neighborhood to release hidden tension
- Set apart 20 minutes a day to do something for yourself like journaling, drawing, reflecting or binging on a favorite Netflix show
- Spend time with other educators who you can relate to, but who also challenge you
Ashley Mika is a second-grade teacher at Kanoelani Elementary School and is a proud Hawai‘i State Teacher Fellow. She has a passion for helping her colleagues and working to create opportunities for educator growth. Ashley also was recently awarded Teacher of the Year for the Pearl City-Waipahu Complex!