By: Erin Swanson, M.Ed.
On a crisp November evening, I sat huddled in blankets at my kitchen table, clutching a cup of steaming coffee. Stacks of paper covered every inch of the oak tabletop—I was drowning in a sea of essays, tests, and data. Eyes burning from twelve hours of intense concentration on a screen, I squinted at the comment I had just written. Did it accurately sum up this student’s progress? Which student was I writing about again?
My scruffy Australian shepherd mix pressed his wet nose against my elbow, nudging me out of my stupor. He shot me his most pitiful look, pleading for me to stop for a walk. I sighed defeatedly, “I can’t right now, Odin.”
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Report card writing is rough, but it doesn’t have to be this rough. My approach of cramming without breaks was not healthy or sustainable. It didn’t help me, and it certainly didn’t help my students or anyone around me.
With a little bit of mindfulness, we can learn to set healthy boundaries, allow ourselves breaks, clear our minds, sharpen our focus, and even treat ourselves! Is it ever going to be enjoyable or easy? Quite frankly, no—report card writing will always be a tough time of the year. What we can do is lessen your suffering a bit! Let’s find out how.
Communicate & Get Support
People will never know your needs if you don’t communicate with them. Often, we assume it’s obvious to others that we’re going through a stressful time. On the contrary, most people remain wrapped up in their own worlds. They’re not tuned in to your struggles. That’s why we must express what we’re experiencing and what we need.
Communicate to family members, colleagues, students, and parents that this is an intense, busy time of year and that you would like their support. This sets expectations and boundaries that you are not as available as usual.
From your family, you might ask for:
- Extra help with cooking and dishes
- More uninterrupted, quiet time to focus
- Help watching the kids
- Help walking the dog
From your teacher friends, you might ask for:
- A pep talk!
From your students’ parents, you might ask for:
- More parent volunteers during this busy time
- Guest speakers who’d like to talk to the class or read the class a story (this frees you up to rest or get caught up)
From your students, you might ask for:
- Their patience and understanding
Writing report cards can be all consuming. Don’t expect yourself to juggle other responsibilities with ease. Yes, there will always be ongoing responsibilities that you must attend to, but there are also things that can wait.
- Re-organize your to-do list
- Anything unrelated to report cards might fall off the priority list, and that’s okay. It can wait.
- Give yourself permission:
- It’s okay if your lesson plans are more lightweight for a few days
- It’s okay to put on a movie for your students, so you can rest or get caught up
- It’s okay to put up an automatic response on your school email saying you’ll be less responsive for a few days due to report card writing
- It’s okay to put yourself first
Take Short Mindfulness Breaks
You might not feel like you’re able to take breaks. You might feel guilty stepping away—the dread of your workload weighing heavily upon you. That’s understandable. Instead, take brief mini-breaks. Even 2 to 5 minutes makes a difference.
Take 5-minute breaks from the computer. During these breaks, you can release stress from your body with movement and release stress from your mind with mindfulness.
Movement breaks might include— stretch, get a glass of water, run up and down your stairs, do jumping jacks, flow through a sun salutation, cuddle with a pet, or dance to a favorite song.
Mindfulness breaks might include—take a few deep breaths, repeat a healthy affirmation, bring your attention to your 5 senses, or listen to a mini-meditation on the JabuMind app.
The JabuMind mindfulness app for teachers uses the iRest® mindfulness method. iRest® teaches people how to practice mindfulness “a little bit and often.” This approach of doing brief “mini-meditations” throughout your day is perfect for a teacher’s daily schedule or a long day of report card writing.
In the JabuMind app, you’ll find short meditations to break up your day, such as “Start Your Day,” “Break Time,” “Release Your Day,” and “Bedtime.” You’ll find more meditations under these categories, “Breathe Now,” “Stress & Anxiety,” and “Restore.”
These breaks will also prevent eye strain due to prolonged exposure to a screen. WebMD recommends you “follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.”
Pausing for a break is worth it— you’ll clear your mind, regain focus, and restore a sense of calm.
Mindfulness for Report Card Stress
We all know that report card writing is incredibly stressful. We agonize over the exact score to give a student or the perfect comment to write.
Not to worry—there’s some good news! Meditation activates the part of the brain associated with more adaptive responses to stressful and negative events. Check out the JabuMind app’s “Stress & Anxiety” and “Breathe Now” meditations.
Mindfulness for Focus
When you’re lost in a sea of test scores and papers, it’s easy to space out. Everything starts to blur together. Your comments become less detailed, your motivation wanes.
Mindfulness can help you focus with a clear mind. Mindfulness meditation training improves executive attention and cognitive flexibility and decreases mind-wandering.
Another study found that meditators had thicker prefrontal cortexes, the part of the brain associated with decision-making, awareness, and focus.
Report card writing often leads to many late nights. If you can, do your best not to pull an all-nighter. You might think you’re being more efficient by powering through, but your mental strength will suffer. Research shows that sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in attention, working memory, motivation, and decision-making skills.
Do yourself (and the students who will be receiving these report cards!) a favor. Get eight hours of sleep a night. You’ll be sure to fall into a deep sleep with one of JabuMind’s sleep meditations. One of our users shared, “I especially enjoyed the bedtime meditation. It really helped me clear my head and ease my mind to fall asleep.”
Process Your Emotions
I was always a bit snappier during report card writing time. Fatigue and stress led to thinner patience and higher reactivity.
By practicing mindfulness, you’ll be less likely to take stress out on your family members and students. Mindfulness increases emotional-regulation skills. It allows you to pause and check in with your stress level. You’ll learn what your body and mind need to refresh and continue the work.
Use the JabuMind app’s mood tracker to bring awareness to your feelings during this stressful time. Check out JabuMind’s “Breathe Now” meditations, such as “Release Stress,” “Resilience,” “Settle and Ground,” and “Clear Your Mind” to process and release strong emotions.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Make your report card writing environment as calming and inviting as possible. Remember my cluttered tabletop? It doesn’t have to be like that. The act of report card writing might not be your favorite task, but you can enjoy your soothing and cozy space.
- Declutter your desk
- Light candles or use an essential oil diffuser
- Pad your chair with cushions
- Wear cozy socks
- Wrap yourself in a blanket
- Light a fire if you have one
- Work from your backyard (weather permitting!)
- Play soothing music
- Grab a cup of tea or coffee
- Keep yummy snacks on hand to fuel you
Treat Yourself When They’re Finished
Plan a treat to reward yourself once you’ve finished! This will give you something to look forward to, and you deserve to be spoiled! Perhaps it’s an Epsom salt bath, a weekend getaway, a calming hike, a box of chocolates, or a movie night with hot cocoa and popcorn. You’ve earned it!
About the Author: Erin has a master’s degree in Education from Stanford University. Before joining JabuMind, Erin was an elementary school teacher for the first, fourth, and fifth grades in both public and private schools throughout California and Oregon. She is also certified to teach children’s yoga. Erin is passionate about helping teachers address compassion fatigue and burnout with mindfulness.