This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of School & Community magazine.
After a long school day, it can be difficult to find the motivation to go to the gym. Some teachers have made things easier by bringing the gym to school and hosting fitness activities before or after school.
Cole Camp R-1 second-grade teacher Katie Jobe moonlights as a gym owner and CrossFit instructor. When her fellow teachers began asking her about CrossFit classes, she approached her administration about holding classes for teachers in the school weight room. After receiving their support, she sent out a school-wide email to see who might be interested. A small group began meeting for twice-weekly workouts, and a year and a half later the group has grown stronger in numbers as well as physically.
“Pretty much everyone who started has stayed with it,” Jobe says. “We started out kind of small and have now grown.” The group now has a dozen or more teachers regularly participating in the Monday and Wednesday CrossFit workouts
“The definition of CrossFit is functional movements executed at a high intensity, constantly varied,” Jobe says. This includes things like lifting weights, doing pull-ups and box jumps.
The class Jobe offers in the Cole Camp weight room is just like one you would take at a gym. The only differences are the participants pay just $2 instead of the $10 or more you would pay at a gym, and the teachers have to just walk down the hall instead of driving somewhere else.
“I have two little children. My daughter is here at school and my son is at daycare,” says Lindsey Tinney, a high school special education teacher at Cole Camp. “I can go and work out right after school, and then I’m done. I’m not having to rush around and find someone to watch my kids.”
Working out at school is not only convenient for teachers, but having colleagues as a workout buddy adds a level of accountability.
“If you’re not there, you’re going to hear it,” Jobe says. “I’ll come find you or see you in the hall and say, ‘Where are you going? Aren’t you coming to class today?’”
Group encouragement works even for more informal fitness groups. Lana Moore, a special services teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, walks with other teachers throughout the school day – before and after school, between classes and during planning periods.
“During lunch on the first teacher in-service day, several of us noticed that we have Fitbits and have started checking on each other’s steps and encouraging each other throughout the week,” Moore says. “Accountability is the greatest motivator for me. Knowing I will be asked how many steps I have keeps me motivated to ‘step it up.’”
Nate Smith, a social studies instructor at Lee’s Summit High School, formed his own running group with another teacher and a college friend. The three text throughout the day to check on each other’s progress and otherwise encourage each other. They try to schedule their long runs together on Sundays, and sprinkle other workouts throughout the week. The more activities they are able to schedule together, the more they are likely to complete, Smith says.
“If I’ve scheduled an event with a good friend, I don’t want to let him down,” Smith says. “It’s the same for them. So the more workouts we can plan together, the more we’ll stay in our routines. This just adds to our accountability. We also always encourage each other and celebrate each others’ successes.”
Like many people, Smith says the biggest hurdle to sticking to a workout routine is time.
“The challenge is to find the time in the day when I can be by myself and focus on my personal goals so that I can have the rest of the day to be the teacher, father, husband, friend, etc., I want to be,” Smith says. He has found that mornings are often the best time for him to work out.
“At the beginning of the day, it’s a great way to focus on what’s important and leave everything else either on the gym floor or on the road. Having that ‘me’ time, or buddy time, is so beneficial in debriefing, de-stressing, and just enjoying life,” Smith said.
Cole Camp CrossFitter Tinney believes investing the time in the after-school CrossFit class has paid off.
“I don’t know where I’d be in terms of fitness if we hadn’t started it,” Tinney says. “I eat better, my kids eat better, my husband eats better, because that’s what I make. I feel better overall, and I’m in a better mood.”
Jobe says many of the Cole Camp workout group have been inspired to add more to their workout routine.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me two days isn’t enough,” Jobe says. “They look up workouts on their own, or see what we’re doing at the gym and do them on their own.”
Moore says she feels the benefits of being more active throughout the school day.
“Students aren’t the only ones that get tired during the day. Adding walking between classes and during free time keeps us alert,” Moore says.
The benefits of a workplace workout group go beyond improving in fitness.
“Moving throughout the classroom not only adds steps, it also makes the teacher more accessible to students, and the close proximity helps keep behaviors down,” Moore says.
Jobe has seen additional benefits to a workplace workout group.
“It has established a lot of camaraderie and morale,” Jobe says. “Elementary teachers don’t get a whole lot of interaction with middle and high school teachers during the day. We’re all in there together. We’re making friendships and connections that probably wouldn’t have happened because we aren’t together in school. It’s a sense of community.”
Jobe encourages teachers who want to improve their fitness to reach out to their colleagues to find something that will work for their group.
“Not everyone likes CrossFit,” Jobe says. “Start off by finding something you love doing. Then find some kind of support group. Start asking around. You never know who might be interested.”
Moore says having cheerleaders helps keep your fitness goals on track.
“You don’t have to start a formal group to have a group of encouragers to help keep you accountable to your exercise routine. Start encouraging others, inviting them to walk the circle of hallways during free time with you,” Moore says. “Get to know your colleagues. The person down the hallway may be looking for an exercise partner and would love to be a part of your group.”
Smith reminds others that fitness doesn’t have to be complicated.
“Find someone, even if it’s just one person, and do something simple, like walk out the front door and go. You don’t need a gym membership, fancy equipment, or even expensive shoes. You just need motivation and some time, and preferably a good friend. That’s it.”