Episode #42: Burnout: A Cautionary Tale with Danielle Nuhfer

Podcast Transcription

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Amber Harper:So today I’m excited to introduce you to our guest her name is  Danielle Nuhfer she’s a teacher and a certified mindfulness instructor. I'm so excited to share this episode and her story with you because just like me she’s recently turned her passion for helping teachers into a business and it's a  really good one. And if you stick around till the end she’s actually puts something special together for Burned-In Teacher Podcast listeners. I know, it’s incredible. So let me ask you something, Have you ever felt like you can’t breath in the middle of your school day? Or that you’re not focusing on what you should be doing with your students when they’re with you? Or have you ever said to yourself, I don’t know how much longer I can keep going at this phase. Well let me tell you, I knew that I thought  said things similar to this throughout my 12 years of teaching full time in the classroom and I’m sure that if you’re listening to this, you probably have to. And that’s why today’s guest is so perfect for Beginning Where You Are, especially at the beginning of the school year. Danielle empowers teachers to reduce stress and burnout and increase health and well-being so that they can be their best both inside and outside of the classroom. She’s the founder of Teaching Well which strives to bring self care routine building, mindfulness instruction and teacher wellness coaching to teachers through online programs and in person.


Amber: Danielle, Thank you so much for joining us today on the Burned-In Teacher Podcast. I’m so honored to have you here. 


Danielle: Thanks so much for having me. 

Amber: So, tell us a little bit about your journey and how you got from teacher to what you do now. 


Danielle: Alright So, I am still on the classroom but I definitely have had a teacher journey throughout the years. Uhmm I started in 2002 as a high school English teacher and I went through basically the typical 5 year everything’s coming in on me. A typical thing that teachers deal with that we talked about all the time. That you talked about all the time. Uhm what I found through a lot of reflection is that, it wasn’t I don’t know what started first if it was personal life stuff happening that with then interfere with my teaching or if it was teaching stuff that within compound my personal life stuff but for whatever reason, I was sitting literally in the principal’s office in 2006, I was not necessarily in trouble but I was getting talked to, my principal’s talking to me and he’s really concerned about just what was going on, like he knew something was wrong. And this is right before we went on summer vacation and you know it’s 2006 and I honestly didn’t know if I didn’t do something during that summer. If I was gonna actually be able to last the next year. So, I did a lot of deep diving and that’s what I think I try to use each of my summers for now so it’s interesting I know you are doing a summer of self-care, uhm features with your podcast and I really tried to empower teachers to really look at do deep diving into themselves to summer in the summertime and I think that’s why because that was such a profound thing that happened for me. So, during that time in 2006 during the summer you know I went through I started going to see a therapist and I found something called mindfulness for my own personal practice. And I also started to do things with my morning routine. So, these things didn't just happen overnight but slowly those are kind of the things that helped me go from sitting in the principal’s office 2006 end of the school year to really starting to kinda dig myself out of the overwhelmed and stress I was feeling both with my personal life and professional life. And I liked to just paused there and say that my story is really a cautionary tale because I definitely had to dig burnouts in my life. So that was the first one and I thought, Oh I got through that 5 year hone, like I’m good, like this is great. And what happens I think to a lot of people and what definitely happens to me is I started to feel better. So, because you start to feel better you start to forget to do some of the things that make you feel better. And uh, I also started to become a better teacher which had other people asking me to take on responsibilities and add things to my plate and to be perfectly honest I was, it was an ego boost you know it was really like you know. Here I was in 2006 like not knowing if I could be a teacher and now people are like, Here, why don’t you do this? Let’s have Danielle do this, Or join this committee, do this thing, and it felt good. So I did. I did all those things and that cause clearly a second round of burnout which were for completely different reasons that never really occurred to me that it could happen again. And specially it’s such, it were such a great things those  involved in and you know, it was things that I love to do. So my ego really uh, had me take on things and not know how to say no so I think that’s one thing that my journey has taught me is how to and I would probably have to say this a lot is how to refrain to no. So instead of saying no I thought I was saying no to all these things but really say no can allow me to say yes to other things like a more balance life.


Amber: Absolutely! 

Danielle: Yeah so…


Amber: It touched so many important things already. You know! The importance of knowing that there is  not one type of burnout and that it doesn’t just happen one-time and that depending on where you are in your journey it can happen for different reasons and Oh my goodness! So many. So help me to remember or understand in 2006, How many years have you been teaching? 


Danielle: I had only been teaching 4 years, so it was right at that part where like they tell you, like this is where you make or break your career or a lot of times and so many teachers walk away and I really didn’t want to uh but again, like that such an early part I don’t know, I’m you know a lot older than I was then and that  such a difficult time in your life in general so having a stressful job plus all the personal things that are happening you know,I didn’t really nobody even told me that all those things together could really cause me to leave my job. And I didn’t have that awareness, I didn’t have that self-awareness, I didn’t have that life experience so as I’ve grown I thought that I would grow and not have another burnout but you know we’re still always growing.


Amber:  Oh, absolutely! Absolutely! So tell us a little bit about you, you’re still in the classroom but you also serve teachers. So tell us a little bit about that transition you know that side hustle you know of serving teachers along side being a teacher. And I am really curious about that because ultimately I felt like I had to make a choice for my own well-being and I’m very curious of how you balance all of that.


Danielle: Well let me just start by saying, I don't want to be on your show again a few years saying I’ve had a third burnout. So..


Amber: You’re right! (laughs) Right!


Danielle:You are making very well in points. And I would tell you how and this is actually uhm is so I’ll go back to the second burnout what ended up happening, so the second burnout ended up 2014 we’ll skip ahead in 2014 and I did not want to go back to school.


Amber: Uh huh..


Danielle: And I didn’t realized that I could let go some of those responsibilities and maybe my life would free up like my ego didn’t want that to happen but I didn’t know what to do because I really didn’t want to go back. So I actually was able to find  a happy medium. I have a friend who have gone on a sabbatical and my school district would allow that to happen so I actually took sabbatical from 2015 spring semester and then spring of 2016 and during that time I was able to take a course in mindfulness. I’ve  really deepen may mindfulness practice and I actually found through that sabbatical how to apply mindfulness to the classroom. Through all the trainings that I was getting while I was on sabbatical. So I found some space from being on the classroom really dug deep with the learning and found that and then I applied those things when I went back to the classroom and found Oh my gosh my world is just a completely different place now that I found these techniques that not only happen to my personal life but also I can apply to my classroom. So, through that experience I started teaching well which I still do with this point. Uhm, I’ve have not had to make that choice as of yet because the last year I have been on maternity leave with my son. 


Amber: Oh! Well congratulations!


Danielle: Thank you! Working from home while my husband is also working from home so I’ve been able to really  dug deep into working with teachers since I haven’t been in a classroom for last year. So that means, I’ll go back to the classroom in August. 


Amber: Uh huh..


Danielle: And I am not really in, so I’ll be completely vulnerable right now in telling you that.” I don’t know how I’m gonna juggle this.” And I’m going to, what I’m planning  on doing is really applying that things that I have been giving to other teachers to my classroom. And really see if they worked.


Amber: Oh yeah! Oh that’s going to be fantastic to be able to share your own experiences with your own teachings in your own classroom. And bring those back those are going to be really really valuable lessons. And you heard you gonna learn a lot, and with taking risk since starting  something new there is always a learning curve. That I’m really excited for you! You gonna have to report back to us and let us know how it’s going. 


Danielle: That’s kinda how I feel, I’m taking the business and teaching well into kind of  unchartered territories but it’s really, it’s real life stuff you know like these are all things that so many teachers are doing that I feel like its good. It’ll be a good thing. 


Amber: Yeah, it’s gonna be an amazing thing.


Amber: That’s a great transition into talking about  the business that you started called “Teaching Well” So you and I found each other on social media and uhm you and I connected back and forth now for several months. I thought this would be a perfect time for you to come on to the show and teach people a little bit about your about what you do for teachers and teach us a little bit about what we can do at the beginning of the school year to help us to  have a better year maybe than what we did last year. Or the years previous.


Danielle:Sure.So, I always like to give action steps when I work with teachers because we’re always in a day with theory and things like that.So  I like to give


Amber: To reach, Yes.


DanielleL Small actionable steps.So what I found is that a very simple things  that you can do in your classroom if you want to bring more mindfulness in these mindfulness practices that I definitely recommend teachers learning more about is simply taking three breaths.Like it can be that simple. So what I often times do is I look at the teachers schedule and we try to figure out when can I actually take three breaths? I know it sounds silly but when you are deliberate about those pauses, Those pauses come more naturally when you need them the most. When you are getting ready to react to a student’s behavior automatically. If you can plug into those three breaths you’ll start to respond more mindfully. So just looking at, Okay where am I scheduled?  Can I just pause? Maybe it’s the beginning of the day, maybe it's before my lunch break, maybe it’s during a transition period with my kids when they’re walking to their special class, wherever your schedule looks like,build in those three breaths and then again it's just a mindfulness practice where we have those things built-in and then in the classroom they come more naturally. 


Amber: So forgive me if I’m asking you to get a little bit more vulnerable or if this is awkward. But could you model what that sounds like. I know that people listening can’t see you but it might, I don’t know if they can hear you or not let’s try this and if we can't hear you or I don’t even  know if you can hear this breaths but if you can’t I will cut this part out but if not, it might be very really helpful to hear what those deep breaths sounds like. 

Danielle: I’ll do my best!


Amber: Okay.


Danielle: (Deep Breathing…..)


Amber: And is there something that you’re thinking about or there is some mantra that you’re saying to yourself while you’re doing those breaths? What do you suggest teachers do during that time?


Danielle: I just basically want to focus on the breathing and where I feel it the most so I might just  even think in as inhaling and out as an exhaling and just make myself focus on breathing. I also will really plug in to the place where I feel the breath the most just where I called the anchor so the anchor might be the tip of your nose, it might be your chest, it might be your stomach, it might be the back of your throat so wherever you feel that breath the most you can really hone in on that heart and that will keep you present to that breath.


Amber: That is fantastic and I actually could hear you.  So I’m gonna leave that in there. 

Danielle: Wonderful!


Amber: Wonderful, that’s a great first step! So what else do you have for us? 


Danielle: Another thing that you could do in the midst of your class so I especially do this at the beginning of my classes is something called centering. So, all you can do is when you’re in front of the classroom, you just plug-in to your feet. So what do your feet feel like so that you are really in  your classroom instead of stressing about what you didn’t get done earlier in your day, that the copy machine broke, that your email is not working, that you have to make a parent phone call later, all of those things if you really just ground down into your feet. What do your feet feel like in the floor? You don’t have to do anything except just check in with that. And then you know, do what fun around the room just really center your feet to the ground and just feel what that feels right.


Amber: Wow! That seems like something so simple. And that you would really have to like, how do you remind yourself to do this? I love all the things that you said that we’re thinking about because only a teacher could understand all of those things. But this is like in the midst of it all. This is an,you know the center of the storm here. So tell us a little bit about you know, What are some ways we can remember to try to do that? Is it a sticky note? Like we need more sticky notes.Uhm.. How do you remember to do this? 


Danielle: I  do recommend sticky notes! That is a big recommendation. In my world, uhm you could absolutely put something like a smiley face or something like in the front of the room to remind you. I don't find any sort of reminder like that is absolutely a fair game. Sometimes I will ask  teachers maybe would it be helpful to put something in the back of the room that you could actually see that’s like a sign for you so that when you look up it’s like “get centered”. But you don’t need to write “get centered” coz kids might feel like what does that mean? So maybe it’s a smiley face again or maybe something at the clock because you’re looking at the clock. For when the school day or the new class comes in. It also could be something that you do right before you go into the classroom if you greet your kids outside the door, you just take a moment center, take that one breath and then walk into your classroom ready to start so you do have that moment to pause. 


Amber: Like entering a stage. Alright, showtime. Get yourself geared up for. I loved that! That’ s fantastic! I love the idea too of having a sign or symbol somewhere in the classroom too that reminds you and also what I remember doing in my classroom is I  did definitely did not decorate my classroom because I really wanted to be a student centered but I did have little things in the classroom that I thought this is mine. This is for me, because this is also my space and I need to have a little pieces of it that I love and it brings me joy. So I can imagine how having that  little symbol that it just means something to you and that’s yours and like your little secret with yourself.


Danielle: Absolutely.


Amber: So I know you have one more thing to share with us that you’d like teachers to take action on specially beginning this year getting into this practices. So what’s the last step?


Danielle: So oftentimes teachers are doing this mindfulness practices, they’re learning to breathe, they’re learning the center and they say well, shouldn’t and that’s the key, “Shouldn’t I be teaching these to kids?” And first of all, I want to say you never have to teach these to kids if you don’t want to.” because your presence alone will be different in the classroom without ever teaching students any of these techniques. So, what I’d like to offer if you’re saying “No, but I need something.” If you need something, uhm what I love to do is something called a silent 60. So all it is is 60 seconds at the beginning of your class where you just let the students put their heads down if they want,close their eyes, they just don't need to distract other kids. But it’s use as a transition between their hassle and bussle  and your classroom and it builds that bridge of okay all that stuff was stuff outside my room let’s get focused on what’s happening here now and I will tell you that in my experience I’ve been doing this for years.The kids, they look forward to it. And they ask for more. And at first they think Oh we’re getting something over on her. She’s giving us this minute. And what ends up happening is that they , they don't realize that they’re in a better space. I’m in a better space. The work gets done and then the better. Everything just becomes a little bit more at ease. So, silent 60. 


Amber: I loved that. That’s so easy to remember all three of these tips are super simple but I could see the potential on how these can make a big impact and even in my position with working with teachers in the classrooms and uhm meeting PD and things like that I can see  

Whatever else that can help me with my anxiety as well. So thank you for that. This is a nice little reminder to be mindful no matter what profession you’re in but especially in the chaos of the day.  As a teacher there was one year i had 30 1st graders uhm, I could’ve use these practices that was a very challenging year for me. And I was also doing burned-in teacher on the side and I could’ve definitely use those practices. Those are fantastic. so, Danielle I can imagine how teachers once they realized how much this mindfulness practices will help them to be more centered in their classroom, be more focus and more calm. That they might want more from you. So, can you offer us a little bit of insight into how else you can help teachers and even after listening to this episode where they can find you and what resources you offer?


Danielle: Sure, I’d loved to. One thing that I put together was something called a back to school bundle. So, I consider these 3 pillars to a successful school year. So the first pillar is self-care. The second is stress reduction and the third is time management. So what you can find are these 3 pillars I have resources. Free resources for each pillar. And I have that at teachingwell.life/bitpod so burned-in teacher pod. So you can check that out there and I’d love for you to start off your school year with you know just trying to think about those 3 pillars.

So I think that’s a good way to start the school year off from the right foot.


Amber: Incredible! I cannot wait. I may sign up for it myself. You will have picked my curiosity.


Danielle: Awesome! 


Amber: Danielle before we sign off today, is there anything else that you would like to share with the teachers as they go into their new school year or they possibly have even started year already. Uhm and tell us again where we can find you. 


Danielle: One thing that I would love to give teachers as they move in to their next school year is the ability to say “No” and refrain that “No”. And say “Yes” to all of the things that make them the wonderful teacher that they are. That’s really what I want to leave teachers with is the ability to say “Yes” to themselves, yes to a full life. Because that’s gonna make them an incredibly valuable teacher and an invaluable person in our society. So, we need to take care of ourselves, and that’s the real wonderful empowerment peace of this whole thing is that we are the solution to that stress. We are the solution. So we don’t need to wait for anybody else to do anything else because when we change, things change and that can make all the difference. 


Amber: Such a powerful way to end our interview and it’s so true. And I’ve said this so many times before. No one’s coming to save you, you have to make the decision. You have to do the research. You have to take the action steps just wishing for things to be different is not going to change anything. So if you change nothing, nothing changes. So Danielle, thank you so much for those lessons. Those tips are invaluable as teachers begin the school year and really anytime you listen to this, these are things that you don't have to print things out, laminate them you know. You can just bring these things into your daily practices. So thank you so much for that! But before we sign off, We’ve gotta go into the burned-in teacher lightning round because our conversation are so serious we need to have a little bit of fun and get to know you a little bit better. So I have a couple of this or that questions I’m gonna ask you and then you just tell me which one comes to your brain first as your favorite or what you choose.


Danielle:  Okay perfect! 


Amber: Alright! International vacation or a new TV? 

Danielle: Oh,international vacation.


Amber: Me too. Well yeah definitely international vacation. I was thinking any vacation over a new TV.  


Danielle: Yeah me too. Absolutely!


Amber: perfect teeth or perfect hair? 

Dannielle: Hair. 

Amber: yeah, I think yeah I’m, you can go deep within that. And then you have to think about, do we really need perfect either of those two things? 

Danielle: I know, that’s how I should be answering this. Darn it! Oh my gosh, no way! That’s so not a _______________

Amber: I should stop giving my two cents maybe. Arctic or the desert?

Danielle: desert.

Amber: Forest or beach? 


Amber: Awesome! Oh Danielle, thank you thank you so much for your expertise and your experience and for what you have learned about mindfulness and bringing it on into podcast. I really appreciate it and I would put links to her bundle that she created for all of you listeners and I can’t wait to see we could do to it. 


Danielle: Thank you so much! 


Amber: So,what do you say? Have you ready to take better care in control of your mind?


Since having that conversation with Danielle, I’ve been bringing this practice with my daily life. Even today i found myself centering in my feet as I started to get overwhelmed by several things that were just nailing around my brain. So here are the main takeaways that Danielle and I want to leave you with. Number 1. We are the solution to our stress and this could be both empowering and a littler scary but I believe mostly empowering. The second thing  is, mindfulness practices can be extremely effective and impactful to the entire atmosphere of the classroom without teaching students any of these practices directly. And the third thing is that there are simple ways to bring mindfulness into your classroom.The first strategy that she shared with us was taking 3 deep breaths and this can be done anywhere at any time. The second thing was entering in your feet. When you’re starting to feel that overwhelmed creepin really think about how your feet feel on the floor.And the third thing was actually something you can do with your class which is the silent 60. Notto be used as a punishment  when students are being to loud but to have a part of your day where you just get quiet for 60 seconds and just focus on your breath, close your eyes,allow yourself to just get into the calm space right. So like Danielle said in the interview she actually put together a freebie for us. If you go to teachingwell.life/bitpod you’re going to get a back to school bundle that she’s put together for us whichI think so awesome! And it focuses on the 3 pillars of self-care, stress reduction and time management. So I want you,I dare you to go over there and get that free download from Danielle. She also has a challenge coming up so if you actually join her Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/weareteachingwell you can learn more about that challenge. Alright,that’s it for this week’s episode. And I want to leave you with one more small tidbit of support.


When Overwhelmed Olivia says to you, “There’s so much to do, I don’t know where to start!” You call on the Agent of Change Step By Step Sabrina and you answer, “I will focus on what will have the biggest impact on my vision.” Burn-on everybody!



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