Above you, every night of your life forever and always, is the Milky Way. The Milky Way is our galaxy, and it’s one of nature’s most stunning gifts; it’s the light show of a lifetime. But unfortunately, the light pollution we see in our skies today masks the beauty of space, and the stars of the Milky Way are dimmed or perhaps not even visible to us. In fact, eighty percent of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyards or doorsteps (CNN, 2021). It’s there. But we can’t see it because of the light pollution resulting from our ever-expanding cities and towns.
Light pollution in our sky is analogous to the stress and chaos in our home and work environments. Remember that 46% of teachers report feeling stress daily. They can’t see the stars through the pollution that is stress, toxic stress, and chaos. Around the world, there are designated night sky preserves that serve as the “best” places to stargaze. These environments have been officially certified as International Dark Sky Parks. Unfortunately, we’ve built an expectation that we must go to great lengths on special days to unique places if we want to see the stars that are always above us. Likewise, we proceed each day as though self-care activities must occur on special days like summer breaks or at unique places like vacation spots and resorts. In the meantime, we slog through each day, feeling more and more stressed.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Recognizing the value of preserving one of nature’s most precious gifts, the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance proclaimed the New Mexico night sky an endangered resource in 1999. As a result, the Night Sky Protection Act was implemented state-wide in 2000 “.…to regulate outdoor night lighting fixtures to preserve and enhance the state’s dark sky while promoting safety, conserving energy, and preserving the environment for astronomy” (Unannotated New Mexico Statutes).” The ordinances in place prescribe the type of light used, where they point, and when to shield to control and reduce light pollution.
A shift in the way New Mexicans thought about light and their night sky allowed them to transform how they approached urban expansion and the light pollution problem that goes with it. The state set the expectation and institutionalized night sky preservation. And it worked. Today, New Mexico is famous for its clear night skies and space programs.
Teachers shouldn’t have to go elsewhere to recover from stress and chaos, just like we shouldn’t have to go elsewhere to see the Milky Way. It should be at our front door. We can reverse light pollution by institutionalizing night sky preservation tactics, and we can create environments that embrace wellness when we institutionalize wellness using self-care in our schools. A shift in the way leaders think about self-care is the first step toward a cultural transformation. We could implement a night sky protection act of our own to regulate our organizational environment to preserve and enhance the wellness of our precious resources (our team members and students) while promoting positive outcomes. Let us begin to recognize the value of preserving our most precious gifts – what we can offer to our families, colleagues and students, through self-care. Building self-care into your daily practices provides the opportunity to reflect on everything in our lives about what works, what doesn’t work, and how to generate positive changes. Your night skies will be clearer.