Nature inspires awe
During this time of the year, my attention always turns to educators and how best we can support them. This May, I will celebrate my 6th-annual My Teacher Rocks ceremony, a ceremony that recognizes educators for their work with children. These educators are nominated via videos by students in the Uvalde area.
If you have ever been involved with education, you know that teaching and administrator work can affect your health in a myriad of ways. Taking care of your well-being is extremely important in order to sustain the stamina required for teaching. As I read some articles from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, one article stood out. Titled, “Why is Nature So Good for Your Mental Health?” by Jill Suttie, the article talks about a recent study that found that nature may make us happier and healthier because it inspires awe. Study participants included military veterans and underserved youth. The participants went either on a one-day or four-day river rafting trip though the forested canyons of the American River in California or the dramatic rock formations of Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Before and after the trip, participants reported on their well-being, including mood, stress levels, and satisfaction with life. During the trip, they kept diaries at the end of each day where they documented whether they felt awe, amusement, peace, joy, gratitude, or pride that day. The study found that at the end of the trip, participants’ well-being had increased dramatically and that the youth had shown a significant improvement. The researchers who studied the journal entries discovered that awe, above all the other positive emotions, seemed to explain the reason for the improvements in well-being.
In order to see if awe played a role in everyday, nature experiences, Anderson conducted another experiment with undergraduates, and, again, found that students who spent more time in nature over a period of two weeks saw greater improvements in their well-being. So one does not need to take an expensive nature trip to experience the benefits that nature provides.
How can we use this information to support our schools? Why not build small, nature meditation spaces filled with rose bushes, other aromatic flowers, and water fountains where educators can spend some quiet time? These include cafeteria workers, counselors, librarians, janitors, superintendents, principals, and everyone who works at our schools. What good is the best curriculum if our teachers cannot fully implement it because they are experiencing burnout? How can principals and other administrators who are stressed out lead? Educators are not robots. They experience emotional burnout because they are human, and we must do whatever we can to sustain and support them throughout their careers so that they can be more effective.