The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful, particularly for teachers as they began instruction in remote classrooms they were exploring for the first time. One former teacher understood the stresses well and set out to help.
About three years ago, Erin Sadler founded The Rooted Family, which offers wellness programs for workplaces, classrooms and families to help manage stress.
After 20 years of teaching all grades through middle school, Sadler retired and became a brain-health coach, which she described as “coaching people about their brain and helping them make sustainable changes.”
As a former teacher, Sadler knew the stresses educators feel first hand, pressures the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated.
Sadler was just about to launch The Rooted School wellness program for teachers when COVID-19 made budgets uncertain.
“Everybody we had on the docket to the program, we had to put the brakes on,” Sadler said.
Sadler had been providing a corporate wellness program, The Rooted Team for employees, and appealed to them to sponsor the curriculum for teachers. Through a buy-one, give-one wellness match initiative, the Rooted Team automatically gifted the same number of licenses to a school or district for every one purchased by a business.
TDS was the corporate sponsor for the Waunakee Community School District, along with the Verona, Sun Prairie, Stoughton, Monona Grove and McFarland districts.
“This collaboration enabled The Rooted Family to provide 708 staff members (118 from each of the schools) a year-long license to The Rooted School: Employee Wellness Program,” said Sam Abolkhair of TDS.
Abolkhair said the goal was to support these essential workers as they went through unprecedented changes in their teaching process and the turmoil imposed by the pandemic, particularly as they began teaching remotely, Abolkhair said.
“TDS believes in giving back to the communities we serve, and we wanted to take care of our teachers who were taking care of the students in those communities,” Abolkhair added.
TDS also utilized digital Enter-to-Win entries for districts and raffled off gift cards for teachers to purchase equipment.
Carrie Swanson, a kindergarten through fourth-grade counselor at Heritage Elementary, said the past year has been stressful, especially as plans constantly changed.
“You needed a lot a flexibility,” Swanson said, adding students felt the stress, as well.
“So you’re trying to be as supportive to students as possible and to families,” Swanson added.
The Rooted School offers mindfulness exercises to practice, but also teaches the neurological science behind the practice.
Swanson said she uses the curriculum with students, too, and teaches them about the brain.
Tools, such as breathing exercises, have been shown to help manage stress.
“So when their emotions are getting bigger, they can kind of use their tools to stay calm and focused. When they’re using the tools, it helps to understand why our brains are doing what they’re doing,” Swanson added
As Sadler explained, understanding the neurology creates “a bigger buy-in” to practicing mindfulness.
“Take gratitude for example. When we say, ‘You should practice gratitude,’ it sounds very feel-good, but you may not know why it makes such an impact,” she added.
Sadler said when the brain processes gratitude, it boosts neurotransmitters that produce feelings of happiness, safety, love and reward, and that by practicing gratitude you are training your brain to be more resilient when facing setbacks.
“You are wiring your brain to look for more of the transmitters it produces by being grateful,” she said.
Also, that feeling of gratitude reduces the stress hormone cortisol and aides in managing the stress cycles, Sadler added.
“Too much cortisol in our bodies due to stress causes long-term damage and disease. So all of a sudden, having a practice of gratitude isn’t just feel-good; it’s something active you can do to improve your brain and body health.”
Therapists at CI Therapies, which has a Waunakee location, have begun using The Rooted Family’s curriculum as well, Sadler said, providing licenses to teachers through the buy-one, gift-one program.