How often do you think about self-care? At the beginning of the year? During grading periods when you’re stressed out and wondering why you’re teaching? When you’ve had a fabulous weekend/day/month off and you think about how awesome it feels? When you’ve had enough and decide to take a ‘mental health sick day’?s
That’s what I thought. I’m like that, too. But I’m still learning…
Jennifer Gonzalez shares her thoughts on teacher self-care in a great article that you can read here – what I love about this is that she illuminates the idea that teachers think being BUSY is NORMAL. She quotes Angela Watson, saying, “Busy is normal, but normal is not the same thing as healthy, and we can accomplish a lot of things without feeling busy when we build in that time for self-care.”
Is that you?
The Association of American Educators even posted an article recently about teacher self-care, stating that “While none of this (striving) is bad in and of itself, it creates a situation where educators feel as if they must always do more and try harder, making it easy to lose themselves in the mission. This striving leads to an unsustainable pace, and it’s easy for educators to become burned out. This is why one of the most important things an educator can do is take care of themselves. Self-care is not a “nice to have” goal for when you have time to pursue it. For a classroom teacher, it is the foundation that allows a teacher to give their students the focus and energy they deserve.”
An Edutopia article suggested seven ways for educators to take care of themselves. You can read it here – but if you don’t have time, a short summary of the strategies includes: a few items folks keep in their desks for that little pick-me-up during a busy day and some ideas for energizing or unwinding after a tough day. They’re really good suggestions.
But how do we actually put self-care into practice?
I know I preach it to my students – telling them to work hard but take time to relax as well.
I’m not sure how many of them actually believe in the power of self-care YET – it might not hit them until they’re in college and stress manifests itself into physical ailments.
That’s what happened to me – and then again when I was a young mother trying to balance teaching and parenting and marriage…
Now, after raising two children to adulthood, and teaching middle school for 27 years, I’m still intentionally practicing self-care on a regular basis. I’ve found it needs to become a habit, and like anything else, to do it right requires perseverance and commitment.
I choose to look at self-care as not something I add to my busy day, but something I add to my productive day. I know when I spend 30 minutes in the morning with rituals that fill me up, my day is more productive. I’m happier, calmer, more focused – which directly translates not only to more engagement with my students, but also being less resentful of all the stress I feel as an educator striving to make a difference with children.
What are some self-care rituals you find simple to put into practice?
For me, it starts with writing morning gratitudes. I spend about ten minutes every morning listing gratitudes in a spiral bound notebook. Some days the gratitudes are easier to draw up than others. Sometimes they are really base level things I’m grateful for. But the more I do it, the deeper I seem to be able to go. At the end of the list, I add a focus for the day – a few things I’d like to see happen. The list includes abstract goals like being with people I love, focusing on joy, loving my family, and more concrete ideas like getting my desk in order, making a delicious dinner or updating a to-do list. Self-care involves paying attention to what is important in your life, and if writing it down in small bits helps, why not?
How can we share the idea of self-care with our school family?
Every time I mentor a new teacher I talk about boundaries. It’s a hard conversation because I want to balance the concept that teaching most likely will require more work than a new teacher can imagine – but also that drawing boundaries between work and home is crucial for sustaining the expectations of teaching. When my kids were little I decided that I would not work during the time I could be with them – and it wasn’t easy, but I mostly stuck to that boundary. I graded papers after they were asleep or while they were at karate lessons. I learned to plan ahead – to this day, I still stay late every Friday night to make sure I’ve prepped everything for the upcoming week. That leaves my weekends much more open to activities that are non-school related, and I can rest knowing that Monday morning I will be ready for whatever craziness the week is sure to bring – both at home and at school.
I’ve learned to work smarter, not harder. I think carefully about what types of assignments I give, how I will assess, and when I will be able to offer feedback. I don’t grade every single assignment, and I spend much more time PLANNING than ASSESSING. Sound crazy? Not really – to plan out a year ahead of time doesn’t mean I have the day to day or week to week activities scheduled, but it does mean I’ve put a lot of thought into WHAT and HOW I’m teaching.
One of the biggest self-care techniques I’ve used is the idea of how I package and differentiate content. I teach four preps and run three programs at my middle school, and just when I thought I would lose my sanity with all the details, I discovered hyperdocs. You can read my post about hyperdocs here.
Hyperdocs have been a huge self-care strategy for me, and recently my friend and hyperdoc guru-gal Kelly Hilton created a hyperdoc on Educator Self-Care, which I just knew I had to share. Kelly graciously allowed me to share the link with you – it’s a perfect activity to do on your own, with a few other amazing educators friends, or even at a staff meeting. This self-care hyperdoc helps teachers understand the why and how about teacher self-care, including exploring some great self-care articles, explaining self-care (have you heard of compassion fatigue?), creating a self-care plan, sharing #onesmallthing you WILL do this year, and reflecting on the process.
Sounds wonderful, right?
You can make a copy of Kelly’s self-care for educators hyperdoc here. You could even adapt it to use with your students!
Please, take care of yourself this year. We need strong, focused teachers ready to engage with our students and make change happen in our world. It all starts with you – and your self-care.
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