Close your eyes and take a deep breath in. Exhale slowly and repeat.
Dedicating time to improve your personal well-being or mental health requires intentional acts. Meditation, exercise, eating healthy and going outside are all acts which aid self-care.
Traditionally, self-care was thought to be something practiced at home or on the weekends. That is changing at Fresno State.
The Kremen School of Education and Human Development has formed a Staff Development Committee aimed at fostering camaraderie, team building, providing professional development and making work-life balance a priority for the school’s staff members.
It all started in 2014 when the school went on a retreat to the E.D.G.E. Challenge Ropes Course on campus. This activity allowed Kremen School staff to engage in teamwork, leadership, self-esteem, creativity and personal awareness experiences.
Every year since, staff members have found ways to connect with one another and build relationships outside of academic support.
“Getting a chance to visit with staff that we may not see on a daily basis or may not cross paths with consistently is a great way to stay connected and know one another,” said Jessica McVay, academic advisor. “I want to know everyone and let them get a chance to know me so that they feel comfortable asking me for help or maybe one day I can turn to them for help. Having structured activities is such a great way to bond and get a break from the office. It’s a great treat for everyone.”
The Staff Development Committee organizes monthly activities throughout the academic year. Activities have included potlucks, holiday gift exchanges, walks to Gibson Farm Market for ice cream, visits to the campus’ Downing Planetarium, yoga and meditation, and many others.
With the onset of COVID-19, the committee had to get creative. Monthly virtual events were something new for each committee member. They had to find a way to engage staff and maintain a sense of connectedness.
The pandemic put added stressors on everyone and the committee found unique ways to focus on the self-care and mental health of their peers.
Staff mentioned that one of their favorite activities over the 2020-21 academic year was the art therapy activity. The American Art Therapy Association characterizes art therapy as an approach to mental health that utilizes the process of creating art to improve mental, physical and emotional wellness. Staff were provided with paint by sticker books and together were able to create art virtually.
Throughout the pandemic, staff also stayed connected by sharing their favorite apps, attending a presentation on Effective Communication in the Workplace, and they watched a documentary about the impact social media can have and discussed how this is important when communicating with students.
Dr. Jenelle Pitt Parker, the Kremen School’s new associate dean, was excited to learn about the committee’s work.
“In engaging in all of the work that we do on campus, at home, in our communities, it is so vital that self-care is intentional,” said Pitt Parker. “I think about the ways that I fall short in this category and then I am reminded..better yet supported by colleagues who are also engaged in the work. Having folks in your corner that will support you in intentionally caring for yourself is one of the best ways to partner in the work environment, stay productive, and remain engaged in the work for the long haul.”
Fresno State’s strategic plan prioritizes the investment in a dynamic environment to attract, develop, and retain talented and diverse faculty and staff.
“I think of the ways in which self-care and well being is such a strong part of that call in my opinion,” said Pitt Parker. “I know for me, I am at my very best when I have attended to my self-care and well being. I have recognized myself to be more abundant, creative, and innovative which I can then apply to tasks at hand and terrain we’re seeking to navigate in higher education.”
For the 2021-22 academic year, a new group of staff join the committee and are excited to be able to plan in-person gatherings again. Focusing on self-care and strengthening comradery among staff members is a continued priority at the Kremen School.