George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Wellness

Clean Eating Meets Clean Teaching

April 4, 2017 Updated March 31, 2017

I have been on somewhat of a mission. A mission to feel good, to feel productive and be the best I can be personally and professionally. I have been following the ‘clean eating’ trend for quite some time and finally took concrete steps to clean up my diet to better protect my health and well-being. I learned plenty of lessons (and fell off the wagon plenty of times) that struck me as powerful lessons for literacy teaching as well. Why not apply a few lessons learned from clean eating to de-stress and power-up our teaching lives as well? Here are a few:

Limit Processed Products:

In a clean eating lifestyle, we limit processed and refined foods. Most foods that comes in a can, box, bag or package contain additives, sugars and salts that should be avoided. Instead, we opt for foods like whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains and unprocessed and unrefined proteins. We rely on ourselves to cook our own meals with pure ingredients that are good for the mind and body. Why not do the same for our literacy teaching? Return to the things we know foster quality literacy instruction: whole books, pure conversation, beautiful writing paper and utensils and real student engagement based on choice and interest. Drink more water? Read more books. Limit salt and sugar? Limit prepackaged, scripted programs. Simply focus on what is most important: real reading and writing with real children based on real topics that matter to them.

Strive for Balance:

Most diets involve restricting one food group over another, but clean eating is different. It is about balancing our diets with a variety of healthy foods. We limit intake of foods proven unhealthy and increase consumption of foods that nourish our body and minds, celebrating the changes we make along the way. Your literacy block should do the same. Cut out the practices that we know do not work, like prizes for reading, whole-class spelling tests or skill and drill teaching. Instead, opt for more healthy, balanced alternatives: workshop teaching with flexible grouping based on a continuum of literacy instruction to build a community of readers and writers. Balance your instructional groupings over time in response to student growth and celebrate success. Often.

Planning is Everything:

In clean eating, planning and preparation are critical to our success. Left without a plan and tasty, healthy meals, we can easily fall back into our old ways, choosing convenience over quality. Teaching is no different. While it may be tempting to rely on purchased curriculum to teach our students, we teach students, not programs. We must plan appropriate, responsive instruction for our students to make each instructional minute count. While you may not need a Sunday marathon of lesson planning as you do meal planning, ensure that your instruction is mindful and strategic to nourish students’ minds. In clean eating, we read food labels. In clean teaching, we read research and professional texts. Your students deserve carefully planned and well-thought instruction, just as your body does.

Stay Connected for Support and Motivation:

Clean eating is not practiced in isolation, but in social networks that provide motivation and support. Articles are shared, recipes are swapped and inspiration is gained by learning from the journey of others. Desperate for that brownie? Try a flourless dark chocolate brownie option found on social media instead. Every journey needs a little inspiration and teaching is certainly a journey that should not be attempted alone. Find a colleague who is also cleaning up her teaching and connect together. Join a digital community of teachers working to better their practices and use social media for teaching inspiration, as well as for recipe ideas. Use technology to transform your own learning and provide your students with the same opportunities.

Remember the Why:

Clean eating is not about losing weight, it is about gaining life: feeling good, enjoying our physical and mental well-being with others and striving to be the best we can be. We remind ourselves of our goals often to help us ‘stay on the wagon’ until we have truly made a lifestyle change, a lesson also applied to the classroom. We must always remember why we continuously change our practices as teachers: to be better prepared for the learners in front of us and to positively change the trajectories of our students’ lives through the work we do. Is change hard? It sure is. But real change, the kind that has the potential to truly make an impact, is worth beginning. So how you might clean up your own practices?  Think about what matters to your teaching. Make a conscious effort to do more of those things and cut out the other additives that might detour us from our ultimate goal to positively impact a child’s life. Post this handy reminder nearby for inspiration and join me on a clean teaching journey!

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • English Language Arts

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