Supporting the well-being of early childhood teachers

Many early childhood teachers have to support young children with challenging behaviors. These situations can be stressful for a teacher, who has to manage his or her own physiological and emotional response before being able to implement strategies to help the child.

How can early childhood teachers learn to manage their own emotions and reduce job-related stress? Cathy McCarty, vice president of learning and talent at Clayton Early Learning, home of Educare Denver, couldn’t find many resources to address this challenge, so she decided to create one.

Giving early childhood teachers tools to support their mental health

Embrace (Effective Mindfulness Building Responsive and Confident Educators) is a new approach that gives early childhood teachers tools to support their mental health. The program includes a mindfulness toolkit, curriculum, training and ongoing coaching.

“Embrace provides teachers with the tools to support their own well-being doing this hard work,” McCarty says. “These practices help keep teachers grounded, resilient and emotionally available.”

McCarty hopes Embrace will address the job-related stress that leads to teachers leaving the field. Studies show that among early childhood teachers, 42% report emotional exhaustion, 32% exhibit highly depressive symptoms and 40% leave the teaching field entirely.

McCarty researched techniques on incorporating mindfulness in education settings to develop Embrace. “Mindfulness is an approach, grounded in science, that focuses our attention on the present moment, and allows us to nonjudgmentally accept our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations,” McCarty says. “It’s like a reset button in the face of stress.”

For example, Embrace includes a lesson on physical activity. Teachers reflect on their level of energy and areas of tension in their bodies. The lesson includes suggested stretches and exercises teachers can do to increase mindfulness and decrease stress, including suggestions to use during a stressful moment in the classroom.

McCarty and her colleagues developed Embrace during a 9-month coaching program sponsored by the Innovators Society. A program of Community First Foundation, the society is committed to improving mental wellness in the Denver area.

At the end of the coaching program, McCarty and other innovators pitched their ideas to community leaders to win funding. Embrace was awarded nearly $50,000 in September to continue developing the program.

In February, McCarty will launch a 6-month pilot of Embrace at Educare Denver in one infant-toddler classroom and one preschool classroom. “We can build an evidence base about what works with these practices,” McCarty says.

McCarty plans to refine Embrace after the pilot and find ways to share it with early learning programs across the country.

“Through this innovation, we are impacting the academic trajectory for children by building strong healthy relationships with their educators,” McCarty says.

Learn more about Embrace and watch McCarty’s pitch to the Innovators Society in the video.