Author Archives: wolfordw

Support Sings with a Strengths-Based & Invitational Focus

by Woodrós Wolford

Music pumped, lights shone, people danced… And I compared the facilitation styles of the lead singers of Dropkick Murphys and Pennywise from the balcony.

At a concert in Portland, Ore. last weekend, I found myself thinking about how nervous systems are impacted by invitational facilitation practices in a Moda Center crowd much like they are in a one-on-one interaction. The lead singer of Dropkick Murphys was exceptionally skilled at inviting the audience to participate and bringing out positive energy. He remained warm and good-humored even when discouraging–or breaking up!–fights.

Watching him, I thought, “Wow, what great classroom management! …I mean, concert management. But wow, so firm and kind and fun, all at once, avoiding power struggles and matching his words with his pitch and stance! And look how clearly and simply he articulated his inclusivity – unlike the really vague statements the Pennywise leader proclaimed grandly a few songs ago. Lots to learn here!”

Two years ago, I believe that I would still have noticed the contrast between the approaches of the two band leaders. (Pennywise’s leader ordered and then nagged the audience to participate rather than offering the encouragement and reinforcement like the lead singer of Dropkick Murphys. The first approach left my friend glaring with her arms crossed, defiant to being told to participate; the second allowed her to choose whether she opted in or not without feeling that resistance and annoyance.)  After all, I was a middle school teacher for years and a facilitator for over a decade! Now, however, I look at the difference between the two with a lens grounded in nervous system awareness and focused on invitational and strengths-based engagement.

Academic Coaching, SE, and Me

My understanding of invitational and strengths-based facilitation and awareness of nervous systems have been deepened through my experience as the Academic Coaching Coordinator for the Academic Success Center and also through the intensive Somatic Experiencing training sessions I’ve done over the past year. With that training, I have the dual goal of becoming a somatic experiencing practitioner (after two more years!) and utilizing the nervous-system-grounded lessons I learn there to support the efficacy of Academic Coaching and peer education at OSU more broadly. I’m excited (and nervous) to start sharing some of what I’m learning with you in this “opening act” you’re kindly reading now.

As I understand it, Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a healing modality based on activating the body’s and nervous system’s innate healing capacity. This is done by working with someone in an invitational and tailored way, while also providing tools, menus, and an overall structure. Academic Coaching is appointment-based, invitational, holistic, and person-centered, and these are traits that are shared with SE. Both are also one-on-one sessions (typically, although lessons & skills can be applied to groups!) In my role as coordinator, attending the SE training has allowed me to see why some elements of our long-lived, well-tested peer coaching model are so effective, and we’ve been able to prioritize those strengths to make a great program even better. We believe it’s especially important, post-COVID closures, to increase how welcoming, nervous-system-friendly, and inclusive Academic Coaching is…and I thought that some of my “lessons learned” might help highlight the strengths of others’ models of student support, too!

The thesis here is that we need access to our full brains in order to access our prior knowledge, think creatively, problem solve, etc. When a stress response is active, we have less access to those “higher brain” functions – and that can be because we’re having an off day, because we’re out of practice after being isolated in the pandemic, because of stereotype threat, because of overstimulation, because it’s an unfamiliar space… A plethora of reasons! Asking for help and doing new things is hard and takes a lot of capacity!

Moves We Can Make

So, what are some of the moves we can make?

We can practice curiosity about and make space for the other person’s knowledge to unfurl, using an invitational and strengths-based approach and creating spaces supportive of nervous systems.

To do that, I had to unlearn the way my brain responded to help-seeking. Even though I sought to approach teaching in a student-centered, strengths-based, and accommodating way, I didn’t live up to my goals and values. My mind immediately started looking for solutions to a question and, when I asked questions to help the person find a solution, I automatically generated questions that guided that person towards specific information or solutions. I knew that wasn’t great for critical thinking, but there wasn’t capacity to work on changing it.

Stay Curious & Make Space

However, for coaching and somatic experiencing, changing these habits was central. The other person has a huge dataset of their own lived experiences that I could never hope to understand fully, so the goal is to be truly curious and create space for the other person to notice and work with the data they already have: data from their own nervous system, lived experiences, meaning-making, and more.

Interrupt Automatic Responses

To make room for the others’ thinking and stay curious, we work to check our automatic assumptions and responses in our coaching model, replacing thosewith non-judgment, questions to understand and to prompt thinking, and affirmations and validations of what the student is sharing. While I worked (a lot!) on my implicit biases as a teacher, a large group setting is a difficult one for slowing down, asking questions, reflecting back what you’re hearing, and pointing out the fabulousness of the person’s learning journey. (While the Dropkick Murphys band leader did ask questions of the audience, they had to be close-ended, shorter response questions, not the open-ended ones to stimulate deepen thinking – similarly, he could praise the audience and I could praise middle school students, but not with the specificity possible in a one-on-one conversation organized to explore the other person’s knowledge and strengths.)

Center Their Strengths & Self-Knowledge

Matching the conversation to the rhythm of the person who is seeking to improve or finetune their time management or goal setting and centering that person’s self-knowledge and strengths (even when they might be reluctant initially to recognize those) is helpful for nervous system regulation and deep thinking. (Neither of which is the goal of a concert!) All too commonly, we don’t feel like we have time to connect like this or we get caught in the patterns and “autocomplete” functions of our own minds, so, typically, the coaching model requires building new skills or even – as in my case – unlearning habits for supporting others we already use. Because Academic Coaching is a 45 minute conversation in a quiet place, it’s easier to intentionally rewrite those habits there than in, say, a boisterous middle school classroom or a Moda Center concert.

Consider Options & Vibe in the Space

In Academic Coaching (and in the Academic Success Center’s drop-in space), we seek to be responsive and holistic, as well, offering Zoom as well as in-person appointments, a quieter space for the conversations, fidget toys, plants (biophilic design for the win!), and now have added gentler and more flexible lighting, tea, snacks, and art. We’ve also work on menus of grounding tools for ourselves and to share with those we work with (we’re even making a worksheet!) Academic support is by necessity more cerebral than SE practices intended to restore nervous system capacity, but we’re working to enhance our holistic approach and build out our skills.

The approaches described above all align with the way SE works, which is also based heavily on the person’s strengths and self-knowledge while also (like Academic Coaching) providing tools, practices, and pathways to shift patterns that aren’t working for the person. In SE, too, we are aware of how the physical space’s arrangement can impact someone’s experience and seek to provide options to meet folks’ sensory and psychological safety needs as they engage in growing their tools and capacity.

Offer Invitations & Choices

In both practices, we are invitational, providing genuine choices to the fabulous fellow humans we’re working with and offering example language and options when that’s helpful. In both practices, we believe that this person who we get to hold space for is Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole. (As the International Coaching Federation says, read more here if you’d like!) Both in Academic Coaching and in somatic modalities, the goal is to help someone help themselves. Both are about helping people connect to their own strengths and wisdom, and to build on that.

Conclusion

The lead singer of Dropkick Murphys brings a level of energy and passion to his concert facilitation that I hope to emulate in my work as an Academic Coach and in my practice of somatic healing modalities. I have found these disciplines to be transformational for myself personally and for folks I have gotten to work with, much like the energy in the Moda Center was transformed when Dropkick Murphys took the stage. If you’re interested in connecting about any of this, I’d be thrilled to hear from you on Teams (email is also fine!) or in the physical or Zoom realms if we cross paths! Of course, if you’re intrigued, you can also tune in for the next “act” in this Somatic Experiencing, Academic Coaching, and Peer Education exploration!

Postcards from Student Leaders Reflecting on the Inaugural Peer Education Conference

by Woodrós Wolford

On November 4th, a team of peer educators hosted OSU’s inaugural Peer Education Conference “For Peer Educators, By Peer Educators” in Austin Hall, courtesy of the College of Business. There were 60-70 students in attendance from more than 26 different peer educator roles across campus: many attendees met peer educator colleagues for the first time through the conference! A Welcome and Panel Session started the schedule for the day, followed by two rounds of workshops with lunch in between, and we closed our day with activities and assessment at 2 pm.

What follows are “postcard” length self-reflections from some of the approximately 30 student leaders, most undergraduates, who helped to plan and put on the event. These are the second in a series that began in the last issue of The Success Kitchen. Some postcard writers facilitated workshops, such as the specially-featured Program Specialists from CEL (Community Engagement and Leadership), who facilitated story circles as a tool for active listening with peers (supported by Delfine DeFrank.) Some were on the core Peer Educator Conference Leadership team. All helped make the conference possible (and awesome!) through their planning, leadership, and participation in the peer ed community on November 4th. Their reflections are presented alphabetically by first name.

Addie

Hi Addie,

At the Peer Ed Conference we reflected on the importance of active listening and representation in education. I think these are both really important subjects for all students but especially those of us who do peer education on campus. My main takeaway from the event was really just the importance of compassion and respect in relational leadership.

XOXO,
Addie

Addie Schneider | Spring 2026, Bachelors in Electrical & Computer Engineering
Co-Facilitator at Peer Ed Conference
Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Program Specialist

Ella

Dear Ella, 

Wow! Remember the Peer Educator Conference? That was so cool and awesome. I am so proud of you for trying something new and walking into the fog so to speak alongside so many inspiring leaders like Wren, Woodrós, and Olivia. Yes, it was a little bit hectic and at times you felt very scattered, but it was the very first time you or anyone on your team had done something like that. You connected with others over personal experiences, you felt confident in yourself and your teaching skills, and proud of your teammates because you couldn’t have done it without their encouragement and support. Keep giving back to your community, keep learning, and keep walking into the unknown.

Love, 
Ella

Ella Johansen | Spring 2025, Bachelors in English & in Education
Peer Educator Conference Leader and Discussion Leader 
Beaver Connect Mentor (EOP), Resident Assistant (UHDS), and Waste Watchers Sustainability Club Officer

Faisal

I really appreciated attending the peer education and learning how I can do better in my role as a program specialist at CEL. I specifically enjoyed attending Naya Jakile’s [Andi Kinaya Putri Kesuma’s] workshop on how to support international students on our campus. There were many things I was unaware of in the obstacles that international students face on our campus, such as finding job placements, navigating life in another country, dealing with restrictions that other students on our campus face, and many more. It encouraged me to think about how I can better support international students in our role, and how dialogical programming can also provide a platform for international students to share their experiences to the larger community.  

-Faisal

Faisal Osman | Spring 2024, Bachelors in Public Policy
Co-Facilitator at Peer Ed Conference
Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Program Specialist, President of OSU NAACP Chapter

Ismael

Dear Ismael, 

It has been a couple of weeks since you went to the Peer Ed Conference. It was an incredible experience celebrating the power of education and collaboration with peers has left me inspired and energized. The diverse sessions shared different topics and different things on how to be a better person/leader. As I reflect on the Peer Ed Conference, I carry forward the importance of inclusivity, innovation, active listening, and more. By taking advantage of this opportunity, I learned new skills that I will be using in the future. I will also remember to keep attending these events not only for the experience and learning opportunity but for the food they provide!

-Ismael

Ismael Rodriguez Cardoso | Summer 2026, Bachelors in Business Administration
Co-Facilitator at Peer Ed Conference
Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Program Specialist, College of Business Mentor, Fundraising Chair for Association of Latin American Students (ALAS)

Jocelyn

Dear Jocelynn,

Remember the Peer Ed conference? If you don’t, let me tell you about what I’ve learned. Starting off with the dialogue our office facilitated on active listening, it was a great opportunity to reflect on active listening not only as a peer educator but in my own personal life. Recognizing the impact of intentional active listening on my personal relationships and how it has strengthened connections allows me to see how active listening as a peer educator is important to build trust and connection with those I work with and those I do work for. In the second workshop, I learned about representation in education. I learned how big of a difference it makes for students to be able to see themselves mirrored in their learning experiences, to be able to see themselves in positions of higher learning and that they belong there.

-Jocelynn

Jocelynn Saelee | Spring 2024, Bachelors in BioHealth Sciences (Pre-Pharmacy)
Co-Facilitator at Peer Ed Conference
Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Program Specialist

Julia

Dear Julia,

Hey girl! Greetings from the Peer Ed Conference! What an inspiring journey it has been. The active listening workshop was a game-changer, offering valuable insights into effective communication and connecting with others while fostering empathy and understanding. There’s nothing quite like celebrating the power of attentiveness and thoughtful, intentional responses! The workshop about the value of representation within the educational setting opened my eyes to its profound significance. It’s not just about being heard but truly understood, appreciating the diverse perspectives that make our community vibrant. It is so moving to imagine children being inspired to achieve greatness when they see people who look like them in positions of power or influence. The shared stories and experiences were a celebration of unity in diversity. I’ve learned that our voices matter, and so does every unique narrative. This conference has fueled my commitment to fostering inclusive spaces. I feel grateful for these lessons and the chance to connect with passionate peers. Until next time, PEC!

Warm regards,
Julia

Julia Gilsoul | Spring 2024, Bachelors in Environmental Science
Co-Facilitator at Peer Ed Conference
Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Program Specialist

Kayla

Hello me!

Look at where we are now! We freaking MC at a major event, which is crazy but AMAZING! Who would’ve thought that you would be a part of a team to create this event, it was amazing and smooth, you did it – pat yourself on the back. I must say my favorite part is being able to see all different peer educators teaching and learning from each other. That will always have a safe spot in my heart, let’s continue this journey of growing and learning from everyone else so that we can be prepared for the real world!

Sincerely,
Kayla (Your proud self)

Kayla Washington | Spring 2025, Bachelors in Business Administration Systems
Peer Educator Conference Leader and Emcee
Academic Success Center (ASC) Strategist

Seneca

Hi, me!

I learned that peer educators are disconnected on campus, however we do tend to clump depending on what programs we have in collaboration with each other. Not to mention who are friends and/or roommates between the student services. It’s not a bad thing, and the conference was extremely helpful to formally meet others in peer education. Much like the SEE luncheon during training right before Fall term is intended to meet other students who work under SEE, the Peer Ed Conference was a lovely way to connect.

Another aspect of the conference in the effort to understand what other orgs & offices do is that we may use the same words and have different intentions. To work better in collaborative situations, being on the same page of language, effort, and organization is a key point in executing successful projects and/or events.

-Seneca

Seneca Moback | Winter 2024, Bachelors in Public Health
Co-Facilitator at Peer Ed Conference
Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Program Specialist

Tiffany

🎀✨heeeeeey slay star🎀✨💅💅💅

My takeaways from the Peer Ed Conference were the impact we were able to make on the students who came. The presentations themselves portrayed passion and dedication about the topics, and it was definitely a learning opportunity for me since I have never done something like this before. The PECL team were super accommodating towards my needs and were very warm and positive during the day-of. One difficulty I encountered was the time aspect of presentations, and it was particularly challenging to implement a community dialogue format within a limited amount of time. However, I learned that there can always be different dialogical strategies that can be implemented that might best suit the timeframe given.

-Tiffany

Tiffany Li | Spring 2025, Bachelors in BioHealth Sciences (Pre-Optometry)
Lead Workshop Co-Facilitator at Peer Ed Conference
Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Program Specialist

William

Dear William of the Past,

These past few months I got the benefit of attending and helping to run the peer education conference at Oregon State University. There I was able to attend two separate workshops, one regarding AI usage in school and the other regarding how to support transfer students. Within the AI workshop I learned a lot about its positive usages for schoolwork and how it can help students skip over some busy work without fully doing a job for them. Alongside this I learned about supporting transfer students, which was very helpful in understanding the special challenges associated with being a transfer student. Overall, the peer education conference was very helpful and informative, and I am more than happy that I got to go.

Sincerely,
A slightly more futuristic William

William Lusby | Spring 2025, Natural Resources Major
Provider of Panel & Other Support (day of and in the weeks ahead) for Peer Ed Conference
Academic Success Center (ASC) Strategist

Wren

Dearest Wren,

Hi hi! Can you believe it’s been two months since the first EVER Peer-Ed Conference??? Kind of wild, right? Looking back, there are a lot of things that I—that you—cherish from this experience and a lot that I would want us to do differently, too!

For starters, communicate more with each other from the get-go!! We’re doing this as a team, so we need to work as a team, and it’s so much harder to reach out when you don’t know who you’re working with. Establish a place to communicate from the beginning and stick to it! Next, marketing! So much effort and love went into this conference; don’t forget to share it with others. (It’s for peer educators across campus, after all!) Lastly, trust in the team and that everything will be okay. Hijinks ensue (they always will), but everyone and everything will end up fine, I promise. You’ve got this!!

Always yours,
Wren

Wren P. Nguyễn | Spring 2025, Bachelors in Psychology
Peer Educator Conference Leader and Logistics Lead
Academic Coach (ASC) and MESS Lab Assistant

Letter to Myself – Takeaways from a Student-Led Conference

by Woodrós Wolford

Note from the writer: After our inaugural peer education conference, I thought I’d write myself a letter with some of my core takeaways and share that letter with you! If you’re interested in speaking more about this experience – whether for something you’re planning or to collaborate on our next peer ed conference – feel free to reach out to me on Teams, by email, or by stopping by Waldo 125 or 140!

Dear Woodrós,

            Hi, it’s me. Woodrós. You know, you. Can you remember what October and November were like? No? Well, I do, so let me help you out! Here’s what I want you to remember as you work on the second peer education conference, supporting a new group of student-leaders and alongside Caitlin McVay (Beaver Connect, EOP). First of all, remember that the teams who help lead and plan the conference are the teams that will attend the conference. Plan accordingly as we expand on this first year’s reach! 

            Once those student leaders are identified, do please work with them over Zoom over the summer again (although, if you can also pull off an in-person meet up first, do it!). The collective of student leadership needs to shape the vision, goals, and vibes of the conference. In those meetings, you get to help them collaborate with one another, have a good time while getting things done, and bring their critical thinking so that the answers to the important questions are as nuanced and wise as possible.

            Also over the summer, please move on to the steps you didn’t start until September or so last year, because that wasn’t enough time, you know what works now, and you can be a better project manager now that you’re not also co-authoring a first draft. Specifically, don’t bother with sending multiple surveys collecting folks’ theoretical capacity to work on PECL. It doesn’t matter what the capacity is if they don’t know what to do! Instead, present the roles and teams to the group in a meeting, and connect with folks 1-on-1 if they’re comfortable with that to put the structure together. Those who will be point people for specific teams or for the larger student leadership group need to be able to work with you 1-on-1, so you need to build trust and relationship with one another. Those on teams and taking on specific projects might interface primarily with one of their peers, with Caitlin, or possibly with you if that is their preference.

            We had the energy to do things last year before fall term started; we just didn’t have enough clarity on what we could do ahead. Now, much more can happen during the summer while students aren’t also balancing fall term priorities.

            Now, we know that life is going to happen. Things get messy. I want to remind you that part of what worked was our grace and kindness with each other; our support for self-care and creation of a community of care. It’s important to develop a sense of mutual support and shared        responsibility, with space for that “predictably unpredictable messiness” of being a human. So, make space for the team to establish goals and values and trust around this, and show up in line with these goals. After all, this recognition of humanity was a recurring theme throughout the student-driven development of this conference concept, remember? In the topics suggested and prioritized, in planning a de-stress space and for other human complexities when considering the space and lunch logistics, having peer leaders checking in with other peer leaders’ well being, and in one of the feedback themes. There is magic in peers getting to do something for peers, and seeing one another professionally that way. You get to help establish the way of working that supports that student-centered shine.

            Sure, there are lots of other systems and concrete components that you’ll keep or refine. (QR code on the nametag, for instance, or what kinds of roles our marketing team needs to start strong.) These are important! Build on the intention and the energy we built in the first one, layering in those systems to support the well-being of the student leaders and the reach of the conference.

            Oh, and don’t forget to ask the awesome pro-staff who offered help for that help, now that you know what kind of help people can provide and what you need. 🙂 You need multilayered support as much as the students do. (Notice how that’s the last thing I remembered? Please do better and prioritize this!)

            With hope for a smoother yet totally fabulous 2nd year!

Woodrós

Staff Picks – Supporting Student Employee Holistic Well-Being

by Woodrós Wolford

Student staff provide valuable services for their peers while also moving towards balance with their personal, academic, and professional goals and needs. Here, ASC & Writing Center staff share some of the moves we make as supervisors to support holistic well-being for student employees. The moves shared includes ones to smooth out processes for taking time off or intentional choices in how one personally engages with student employees.

This is by no means an exhaustive list! There are so many ways staff can, and do, support students in thinking ahead realistically to take care of their needs.

As you check out these picks, consider your own experiences. What choices do you make with folks you supervise or work with? What has worked for you as an employee?

Anna Bentley – Modeling

Modeling work-life balance (or whatever you like to call it) is the most effective move I make with student staff. Supervisors can talk all day long about self-care and work-life balance, but if they don’t model it, those words feel empty and can lead to confusion and resentment. I take time off work or work from home fairly regularly, and I tell my team of student staff why I’m out to normalize taking off. Sometimes I’m sick, sometimes my kid is sick, sometimes I’m having a bad mental health day, sometimes I take off for planned vacation, or sometimes I take some time off for no particular reason at all because it’s good to do that sometimes!

Adam Lenz – Hiring & Training

We recently added a question during our hiring process that asked students to describe a situation when their time was stretched too thin. We wanted to know how they realized they had pushed themselves too hard, what they needed to get through the experience, and what the outcomes were based on their choices. Doing so has helped us better identify how we can adapt our upcoming trainings to match what our new student employees are doing, not what we want them to be doing. In this way, we better meet them where they are and improve the onboarding process to meet their personal needs and growth points.

Chris Ervin – Automatic Approval

My strategy is pretty boring and very administrative in nature. Our time-off request system is this: If there’s a shift someone needs off within a week from the current date, they can put the shift on the trade board and another consultant can pick it up. When we have capacity, I’ll remove them from the shift even if another consultant doesn’t pick it up. However, if the time-off request is more than a week away, it’s approved automatically. I combine this process with reminders to consultants to look ahead to their needs over the course of the term and submit time-off requests as early as possible. I think this strategy encourages student staff to approach their work with professionalism (looking ahead to their time-off needs) and shows that I know they are students and humans first.

Clare Creighton – Clear & Generous Deadlines

When I am responsible for requests or asks, I try to be generous with and clear about deadlines (and sometimes the rationale behind them), and when possible, I ask about folks’ capacity and when they might be able to get something done. I also have changed my mentality around reminders and nudges. We’re busy folks – I miss things (ahem, this submission); sometimes others miss things. Rather than think “I shouldn’t have to remind someone,” I accept the busyness of our lives and occasionally help folks track and prioritize when things get complex. 

Marjorie Coffey – Tech with Intention

We use a variety of technology for scheduling and communication that writing consultants often choose to access through their phones or laptops. During training, I show consultants how to update notification settings and encourage them to plan for when and how they engage with technology. I share how I think about and decide what apps to use or not outside of work and share approaches that differ from my own. I hope this encourages consultants to make intentional decisions around technology and boundaries between work and other areas of their lives.

Sarah Norek – Consistent Check-Ins

I try to check in regularly with the person I supervise to see how they’re doing. Not earth shattering, I know, but I ask each time we meet how it’s going with all they’re juggling, how they’re feeling, and what they’re thinking/noticing about work (employment) and the time they have available to do everything (school, self, etc.). A lot of our work together can be done remotely too, so I offer this/remind on this as an option for any periods of high stress or to support taking time when not feeling well but also having the option to still get those hours if wanted/desired (whether remotely then or later when feeling better).

Woodrós Wolford – Overcorrect for Neutrality

Student employees often care deeply about their work and can feel guilty taking time off to care for their own needs. So, when a student employee reaches out to me in an emergent situation to say they might need to take time off tomorrow if there’s enough coverage, I am explicit in my support of them taking care of themselves. That’s the top priority. We can solve it. This helps remove guilt about taking time off. Then, that freed energy allows folks to be more proactive in planning ahead for their needs, both for the term as a whole and in finding coverage if something comes up suddenly.

Grappling with Grounding

by Woodrós Wolford

Do you remember middle school? Was it a stressful time, or a pleasant one? I’ve met folks with a whole range of answers to that question, including many of my former students! That’s because I worked for seven years as a middle school teacher, and middle school can be a difficult time for developing humans. When I ran into issues of compassion fatigue (and I ran into that wall hard in 2016!), I started a learning journey around what’s happening in the brain and body when we have a stress response. From the beginning, I was curious about managing stress responses for myself personally, to be a better teacher, and for the students I served who were navigating a sea of hormones and brain shifts.

I collected oodles of resources and strategies, but I felt like I was swimming upstream when I tried to implement them. It’s hard to remember strategies when I need them most given how stress works in the brain!

Given that puzzle, I tried a new approach last spring. Before entering a consistently challenging part of the term, I took a session with my mental health coach to brainstorm a self-care “menu” and create a visual reminder I was more likely to notice during a stressful workday. While on the phone with my coach, I grabbed markers, a half-sheet of paper, and talked through my list as I wrote and drew my self-care menu. I knew the bright colors and little drawings would catch my attention and that finishing creating the menu during the call ensured it would happen. I even taped it on the window while on that call!

This year, in my role as the Academic Coaching Coordinator, I wanted to do something similar and give space and time for myself and for the amazing student-staff on the coaching team to create our own self-care menus for work.

After we brainstormed grounding practices that already worked for each of us (and I’m sure you’d know the sorts of activities that vibe for you, if you want to make your own), we sorted them along a continuum based on three areas:

  1. Things we can’t do at work because they take too much time, effort, or specific supplies
  2. Things that we can do here, between or before meetings
  3. Things we can do during a meeting

For our workplace self-care menus, we focused on categories two and three. We took the collectively created list as a starting point (a version of which is offered below) and personalized it to make it more specific and add new ideas.

It was trickiest to come up with what we could do while in a work meeting, such as:

  • breathing
  • drinking water or tea
  • playing with a fidget
  • noticing the support of a surface the body is resting on
  • scanning for three things of the same color
  • checking in with all five senses
  • subtly smelling a grounding scent
  • leaving to use the bathroom or get something

For “before or between meetings,” we had more ideas, with varying levels of difficulty. Some of those were:

  • Journaling
  • Engaging in mindfulness…meditation…time to just exist
  • Tending to our physical environment (watering a plant, tidying)
  • Touching something that’s warm or cool, like a hot beverage or cold water
  • Going outside
  • Moving! (stretching, dancing, etc.)
  • Releasing energy with loud sounds
  • Listening to music
  • Connecting to someone comforting
  • Visiting the MindSpa
  • Lying down
  • Looking at “50 Ways to Take a Break” or another break resource from the Learning Corner

If you’re in a moment where you want to “level up” your self-care systems, I hope these ideas inspire your own list based on what you know works for you, along with some sort of visual or other reminder that fits for you.

And, if you want to chat, my door, Teams, and email inbox are always open to ideas and invitations around this topic.

Warmly, and with wishes for wellness,

Woodrós