Self-Care Strategies for Educators
By Robin Sizemore, #SELinAction Series
This chat is part of the SEL in Action community chat series led by Innovation in SEL grantees from across the country. These casual conversations are designed to provide a safe space for educators to discuss topics that matter most to them, find inspiration, talk honestly about challenges, and co-create solutions. A recording of the chat can be found below.
On Thursday, January 24, 2019, several women from the SEL in Action community came together to exchange strategies for self-care. Host Robin Sizemore, a reading teacher at Morton Elementary in Hammond, Indiana, began the conversation by asking what it was that brought everyone to this topic.
For Robin, it was the recognition that, when all of the focus and care is on the kids, teacher fatigue and stress typically goes un-addressed. The students in her Title I school are challenged by many issues stemming from poverty, homelessness, foster care and the like, and she shared honestly that “dealing with all of that as a teacher when you also have your own life can be very overwhelming.” Others talked about their need to connect with like-minded educators and their desire for ideas to support their colleagues’ emotional health while also finding the time to take care of themselves.
What is self-care, and why now?
Everyone seems to be talking about self-care, but why now and is the core goal getting lost in all the “buzz”? Self-care is “learned, purposeful, and continuous care.” Self-care should be intentional, as well as ongoing and preventative. At a Kripalu retreat, Robin learned that “you don’t work your day around work, rather you work your day around what makes you happy and you fit work into that.” Connecting this idea to the realities of the education profession, she said, “As educators, we’ve always needed it. We always work too long. We don’t know when to stop. We are people that care for others that are outside of our family. It becomes something that never ends.”
Self-care can sometimes come with feelings of guilt. Mary Rykiel distinctly remembers her grandmother and mother always putting their families first and feeling guilty for doing anything for themselves. It’s a new time, however, and “we really have to look inside of ourselves,” she said. Jackie La Fave pointed out that self-care ideas may be on the rise as a result of women obtaining more power in work and society generally. Jackie, a school psychologist, suggested that women are more in tune with their emotions and health. Perhaps we’re seeing an uptick in self-care efforts as organizations, especially schools, become increasingly led by women.
Beyond the educator community, there’s certainly a broader recognition for self-care. The weight of big societal challenges and divisions can be felt everywhere. Linda Noble, a social studies teacher at Brooklyn College Academy and adjust professor in Brooklyn, New York, summed up how this context impacts so many of us: “There is a disease and disconnect. There are those of us who are most vulnerable and sensitive to saying something is wrong. Something doesn’t feel right. I don’t feel fine. I don’t feel connected. I care.”
Simple, daily strategies that don’t cost a thing
The group shared a number of simple ways they integrate self-care into their days and weeks. Here are a few you might want to try:
- Make time to read or write. Robin shared that writing has always been a passion of hers, and so recently she has made a commitment to write for 10 minutes every day. Similarly reading is a passion for Melissa Gentile, a high school educator in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Even if just for 5 minutes before bed, take a few minutes to unwind and disconnect.
- Be social with coworkers. At Melissa’s school, it has become a tradition to go out for happy hour or coffee every other Friday after work. “It’s great to socialize with people who understand your work life.”
- Start a gratitude journal. Every morning, Jackie writes three things in her gratitude journal. They can be small things, like gratitude for her animals or for having a job that works with her lifestyle. At the end of the day, she opens the journal again and writes down three amazing things that happened during the day. “Even if I had a bad day, it helps to reflect on the positives.”
- Find mindfulness moments. Several women spoke about using the shower as a regular time to make an intention for the day or reset for the next. Another spoke about finding at least one moment in the day to feel joy and appreciation.
- Use rose water. Rose water can help to awaken the senses. Robin sprays a little in each eye as she gets up. Simple!
- Get outside and walk the dog. Don’t have a dog? Take a walk on your own or with a friend or family member.
- Make a routine of sharing gratitudes with friends and family. When everyone is running around from work, school, and evening activities, make it a priority to share dinner each night. Linda, her husband, and teenage son recently recommitted to family dinner every evening, during which time they share three things for which they’re grateful.
A few bigger strategies for self-care and human connection
In addition to these small, daily strategies, the group shared a few bigger efforts they’ve undertaken in their schools and classrooms.
At Morton Elementary where Robin, Mary, and Jackie all work, the staff is actively addressing compassion fatigue among teachers. With support from an Innovation in SEL grant, two psychologists come in twice a month to train teachers on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a tool to help their students, as well as themselves. Additionally, each teacher gets one hour of motivational coaching each month on a subject of their choice. Early feedback suggests that the educators are finding some relief in these structured opportunities to talk confidentially about their struggles and receive support.
Lastly, Linda shared an activity that has helped to create a sense of belonging and connection in her classroom, and certainly could be a positive experience for adults as well. Designed by School Reform Initiative, the Paseo or Circles of Identify activity enables individuals to talk with others about aspects of their personal identity. Through such conversations, students—and educators—form connections that can serve to fill their buckets with much needed feelings of acceptance and shared community.
For additional exploration of this topic, check out these excellent resources shared by the chat host and participants:
- Browse these self-care stories on The Mighty and these 15 easy ways to be happy from HuffPost.
- Read this short summary of gratitude practices and the supporting research, titled In Praise of Gratitude and published by Harvard Mental Health Letter.
- Try any one of these activities with your students and colleagues:
- Try the Paseo or Circles of Identity activity to foster greater understanding and belonging.
- Engage students in this recommended Facing History and Ourselves lesson, The Little Things Are Big, to examine the relationship between identity, the “single stories” we often attributed to others, labels, and false assumptions.
- Help students think about and acknowledge people in their school communities who support them by trying the Gratitude Experiment.
- Learn more about Ayurveda, one of the oldest approaches to self-healing that supports many of the strategies Robin shared during the chat.
Watch the Conversation in its Entirety
The chat begins around 1:40 with introductions. To enable closed captions, please select the “CC” icon at the bottom of the video player.
About Our Chat Host
Sevenzo would like to thank Robin Sizemore for hosting this community chat. Robin is a reading teacher, nonprofit founder, and graphic novel lover. She lives in Indiana with her husband, two children, and two dogs. You can find her work published on The Mighty, TMB, and Sweatpants and Coffee to name a few.