Educators, by nature, are givers. The majority of the time, givers will give themselves to others before thinking of themselves. This is a very admirable trait. People become an educator because they strive to make a difference in the world and that passion is what leads them. But, you cannot pour from an empty cup and self-care is so important to avoid burnout! Self-care is vital to creating a work and life balance that will lead to healthy relationships with students, coworkers, family, and most importantly - oneself.
As a former teacher, I had to work very hard to create a work/life balance, but I found that the following tips were therapeutic to me as a self-care routine:
Use Exercise As An Outlet
Exercise is known to reduce anxiety and to improve concentration. It is tough to do this alone, so having support in fitness is critical to success. During the school year, organize a Wellness Wednesday group where you take a walk with fellow educators or facilitate a fitness challenge within the school. However, if you choose to have a fitness challenge within the school, try and keep the focus on movement instead of weight loss.
If there is a way to incorporate physical activity into your classroom or school space, it would be great if the students could participate too! Group stretching between lessons, taking the long way around the school to walk to get to the cafeteria, jogging in place for a few minutes before that math lesson, are all great examples.
Outside of school, finding an exercise that you connect with is significant. Some people like yoga. Others like biking or walking/running. I personally love HIIT workouts. Try different workouts... a lot of places are free to try and will give GREAT discounts to teachers, especially over the summer months.
Bring Mindfulness Into the School
Stacy Torino compiled a list called 30 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness and Self-Care into Your Classroom. One of my favorites from the list is “Mindfulness Minutes”. Take a few minutes for students to reflect on their mental space before each class starts. Guess who else gets to take a minute to reflect - YOU. Then take the time to share how they are feeling with a friend, or they can privately write it down. This gives everyone the space for a little reflection and mental preparation for the class ahead.
I worked with preschool-aged children, and my favorite thing to do was write down the cute things they said and did. I would also reflect on my lesson plans and what worked and what didn't. Along with this, I liked to take a few minutes to identify three to five personal goals for my classroom and for my own life at the beginning of the week. Some of these would be to take a few more deep breaths in a stressful situation, walk after work before I got in the car to go home, and meal prep my fruits or veggies for the week. Writing them down helped me hold myself accountable.
Find a Mentor Or Go-To Person In The School
One of the schools I worked for did this for us. They partnered us with a more seasoned teacher, and that provided us with a resource to go to for questions about lesson plans, the school culture if we needed support in a particular situation, or just a friendly face to sit with at staff meetings. If your school does not automatically assign a mentor, it's essential to find those fellow educators to make a connection with. If you don't have time to chat at school, maybe find a way to connect with fellow teachers online. There are several ways to connect with each other online, on a facebook group, or through a blog post. If you can't find one that sparks your attention, start your own blog or online group! This would be a great way to share ideas and ask for support. Support is essential and therapeutic for self-care.
Set Boundaries. It’s Okay To Say “NO”!
Teachers may be givers by nature, but this does not mean they should have to give their entire selves all of the time. It’s okay to say, “NO”. Both inside and outside of school. It’s better to decline at the beginning than to commit to something, burn out when you’re feeling over-committed, and then not be able to fulfill the commitment. It is not selfish to know your limits and to set boundaries. Saying, “I am unable to commit to that at this time” is not letting someone down. Letting someone down is committing and then canceling at the last minute. Know yourself, listen to your body, and be honest with the time you have to give.
Remembering you cannot pour from an empty cup, giving YOURSELF time to rest and recover is essential!