I have been fortunate to have worked with so many dedicated and passionate educators in my career. I have been inspired and awed by the day-to-day commitment it takes to do this job and show up for students in ways that reach far beyond classroom learning, curriculum standards, and grading. As we all know, the demands on educators, administrators, and staff have greatly intensified in the past few years. From pandemic crisis response, adapting to hybrid and virtual learning, and the implementation and execution of health and safety protocols, it’s not hard to see why we need to assess our self-care and nurture our individual well-being. This emergency level of education compounded by our hyper-connected culture has left school personnel more depleted than ever.
When our daily rounds get complicated and there is a constant overwhelming feeling, checking in with the simplest and most grounding tools in our toolkit becomes a critical component to our professional sustainability. One of my favorite reflective questions to offer educators is, “What might I need right now?” This prompt embodies the ideal check-in whether it’s through journaling, list-making, or a conversation with another person. In my workshops, spending time unpacking this question has led to a collection of best practices for this moment.
- The Pause Button: When the central nervous system is over-activated or we find ourselves in chronic stress, we must build the muscle of mindfulness. Remembering that we all have the ability to use our pause button and check-in with ourselves. This could be a body scan of tension and intentional release, a few cycles of breathing fully through inhales and exhales, walking away from our screens, creating space between reaction and response. The more we practice using the pause button, the more consistently we can rely on it in times of stress and as prevention.
- Personal iRules: Digital boundaries or a working set of iRules are an excellent strategy for educator sustainability. Writing down what feels important to you is a key step to identifying your needs. Perhaps you want to wait until a certain time of day to respond to parent communication or maybe you want to set up a portion of your weekend that is disconnected from work to recharge. The process of creating a value-based boundary program builds in self-care and compassion. Just because we can communicate anytime, anywhere, does not mean that we should.
- Tech Curfew: Putting a high value on rest, recovery, and sleep is one of the greatest gifts educators can give themselves. Having a beginning and end of each day is vital to our ability to feel refreshed, focused, and fully present. If there is one change or shift you’d like to make for your well-being, you’ll find that consistent, uninterrupted sleep has the highest return on your personal investment.
- Check-In With Intention: When we are feeling chronic stress and overworked, ranting, venting and unloading can be quick and easy habits to temporarily feel better. But they don’t last and can often be even more exhausting and draining. Instead, try finding a professional or personal partner to have a trusted and intentional check-in with each day. Create a frame for the conversation with topical prompts, time limits, and turn-taking. If you can’t find a partner that matches your needs, journaling is another great way to meet the need for processing.
- Space: Being an educator can be demanding. It can feel like that role fills every minute of your day, your heart, and your mind. Taking space away from the job and identity can be healing. Building in time for meaningful relationships, activities, and conversations, unrelated to teaching is a great way to come back to work feeling filled up and refreshed.
All educators deserve to set boundaries, have opportunities to process, have time and space away from their vocation, and feel supported and seen. Some school communities are challenged in this level of support right now. Finding ways to adopt some of these methods for ourselves serves our field and our students, while also protecting us from burnout and emotional exhaustion.