Self-care and School: How Educators Can Thrive and Function Well During Tumultuous Times

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This morning, I woke up before my alarm and headed into the next room. I try to use the first 10-20 minutes of the morning as my quiet time while my kids are both usually still sleeping and my husband is still at the gym. This morning was a little different, as I have been taking a small social media hiatus. As I knelt down near the bed to begin praying, emotions began to overwhelm me. Folks who really know me know I’m not a very outwardly emotional kinda gal, but I started to cry. The emotional, mental, social, and physical toll of the past several months had overwhelmed me, and any feelings of joy, optimism, and being blessed were overshadowed for that moment.

The outpouring of emotion that morning was cleansing for my soul. Instead of trying to snap out of it or dismiss it, I mindfully decided to remain in this very powerful moment for a little while because emotional and spiritual cleansing are important parts of self-care. After this powerful but humbling experience, I continued my morning routine and actually had a productive and joyful day.

As educators, our profession can often be a roller coaster of emotions, pressures, and stress. Inside the classroom, most teachers are expected to maintain order and deliver content and standards in a time-efficient and differentiated manner. And we need to care for the young people in front of us too. No matter how amazing, talented and determined an educator you are, you are ultimately still human. The process of juggling multiple hats in the workplace will take a toll physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. As a veteran educator, I’ve realized the necessity of rest and self-care for myself and all educators who continue to passionately do the work in our schools.  

Self-care will look different for everyone, but it should become a priority in order to ensure your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are ways I believe we educators can take better care of ourselves.

Find a hobby/leisure activity: Find an activity that you can engage in that brings you joy, challenges you, and provides some peace. For me, it is lifting weights, which not only helps me mentally but also helps my physical health. Find something you can devote downtime to, whether it is reading, cooking, listening to music, playing video games, exercising, shopping, or regular pampering. This time can boost your energy levels and recenter and destress your mind, which are important to being your best self.

Pray/meditate/quiet time: Prayer and quiet time have both been essential for me as an educator and as a human during the current sociopolitical climate in the U.S. Even if it is two minutes, find at least one time during your day to quietly just breathe, clear your head, heal and reflect.

Unplug regularly: Although social media has been a blessing as far as connecting with other brilliant educators and people around the world, it can also be a curse and sometimes needs to be shut down. Commit to regularly shutting down social media for a few days or weeks, and instead use that time to plug in and pour more into your family or nearby friends, a new project, or one of your hobbies.

Say no: We educators tend to overcommit ourselves and have too many plates on the table at one time. First, figure out why you are agreeing to do something. If there is not a reasonable rationale for committing to something or it does not align with your purpose or goals, emphatically say no.

Mutual care: I think mutual care is essential for educators, especially for those in the pursuit of equity and justice in schools. Mutual care, coined by the brilliant Chicago educator Xian Barrett, is the ability to care for others with similar experiences while caring for self. Mutual care differs from squad care because those engaged in mutual care are performing self-care as well as being selfless in their uplifting, appreciation, and support of those immersed in the same or similar struggles. Mutual care requires care of your own mind and spirit first so that you can show care for others through love, empowerment, and encouragement. As an educator, hopefully you and your circle of colleagues will begin to engage each other in mutual care, which benefits everyone involved.

Channel your focus: As educators, we want to do a little of everything and juggle a lot of things at one time. Although multi-tasking is an important part of being an effective educator, so is staying in your lane. Instead of continuing to refine and develop areas of strength—culturally responsive teaching, innovative learning practices, etc.—many educators are attracted to constantly trying new things. But in the process of growing and learning the new thing, we can lose focus on our strengths and skills. This is not to devalue learning and growing as an educator, but trying to be and intensely pursuing something you aren’t is not beneficial mentally or emotionally. Remember the value of staying in your lane, striving to be the best in your lane, and the peace that focus can provide.

Engage in discussions mindfully: Even before the political climate became so tumultuous in the U.S., many adults lost sight of the art of conversation and productive discourse. As a Black woman, while engaging in conversations both professionally and personally, my style of asking questions, raising concerns, and probing about the motivation for certain decisions is often seen as me being an agitator. Instead of earnestly listening to my feedback and concerns, people around me have often disrespectfully dismissed, ignored, or silenced me. Discourse with people who don’t have a desire to understand you will steal some of your peace. Don’t get into discussions with people who you know are not willing to humbly listen or learn. Instead, focus your energy and time on those who are.

I hope these suggestions give you some ideas on how you can take better care of yourself. Self-care is not linear or a list to check off but a thoughtful and fundamental process we must utilize. No matter the busyness of life, remember self-care is essential for everyone, and educators need to make it a priority. Self-care is an active decision to find peace and center your mind, body, and spirit. When you do those things, not only will you thrive, but also you will be able to successfully pour into others.

 

Shana White is a veteran educator of twelve years serving in both public and private schools during her career. Shana believes in purposeful disruption of the status quo, is passionate about safe and inclusive schools for all students, and works as an advocate for marginalized groups in education. She currently works as a lower school Physical Education teacher in metro Atlanta.

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