Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk in Tralee is a hive of activity. It is 7.45am on Thursday morning and the car park is already filling up: students toting gear bags bound into the gym for basketball practice and John O’Roarke prepares for another busy day as principal of a school with almost 1300 pupils.
Meanwhile, fifteen lycra-clad teachers lie prostate on the floor of Mounthawk’s newly renovated dance studio. No, they have not passed out from overwork. In fact, just the opposite. These teachers, both male and female, have signed up for their first staff yoga class. 2018 is the year of wellbeing at Mercy Mounthawk.
Organised by English teacher, Andrea Thornton, yoga classes run from 8am until 8.45am on Thursday mornings before work. “Teaching is extremely rewarding but it is also exhausting,” Andrea admitted. “It is very important that we support each other as a community and look after our physical and mental wellbeing.”
So far, staff yoga classes with local practitioner Maeve Ferris, have been a great success. Teachers have acknowledged feeling healthier, happier and more productive after practicing Vinyasa, a powerful, energetic form of yoga where students fluidly move from one pose to the next while connecting their breathing to their movements.
But what is wellbeing and why is it important? In its simplest form, wellbeing is your ability to feel good and function effectively. It gives you the resources to navigate the highs and lows we all experience in our work and in our lives, whilst enabling you to intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically ‘flourish’. As a result, studies are finding people who have higher levels of wellbeing reap all sorts of benefits. They are more resilient and have more energy, they are healthier and happier, and they are more productive; vital requirements when you are a teacher.
In a school like Mounthawk, with high academic expectations and many teacher-led extra-curricular activities, staff are at risk of burnout if they do not balance work, rest and play.
Coming together as a community to practice yoga has given this staff an outlet for the daily stresses and frustrations of teaching. It also equips them with strategies to stay calm during chaotic moments and helps them understand and reflect on both their mindset and that of their students.
It is now 8.45am. Stretched and relaxed, fifteen teachers roll up their mats and walk the 100m to the main school building. Students stream through the entrance and the serenity of the yoga studio is replaced by a hubbub of hordes of reunited friends happily chatting in the corridors. Bells ring. Lockers bang. Doors close. Another busy day has begun in Mounthawk.
Before she dips her toes into the tsunami of activity that awaits her, teacher Andrea Thornton pauses for a moment and takes a drink from a green smoothie made from fresh kale grown in the school garden. “Transition Year students harvested the crop yesterday and left three containers of fresh fruit and vegetables in the staffroom,” she says. “I have also made fresh apple crumble for tomorrow’s Hospice Coffee Morning using apples which students have grown in the school.” Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.
Healthy food. Mindful exercise. Supportive environment. Strong community. Wellbeing.
Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk’s ‘Year of Wellbeing’ is off to a wonderful beginning.