Self-Care for Educators
Teaching is an intensive job physically, emotionally, and mentally. Educators must learn how to incorporate self-care into already busy schedules, and schools need to support and promote self-care amongst staff. The UCL Institute of Education reported in a working paper that one in every 20 teachers in England struggles with mental health in a way that has lasted, or is likely to last, more than a year. While awareness of mental health within education increases, the strategies to help manage it have yet to progress much further than 20 years ago.
A survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers in 2015 revealed that 73% of 30,000+ educators often found their work stressful. A follow-up survey conducted two years later showed that mental health issues among teachers increased from 34% to 58%. Adverse health effects are not limited to high stress, depression, or anxiety; they also include insomnia, secondary traumatic stress, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One way teachers can respond to the mental health challenges they face is through self-care.
According to the UK Department of Health Steering Group (2005), “Self-care is a part of daily living. It is the care taken by individuals towards their own health and wellbeing, and includes the care extended to their children, family, friends, and others in neighbourhoods and local communities.“ Self-care is not selfish. In fact, it is the opposite of that. When a person is mentally refreshed, they can give more of themselves to others. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Strategies to Promote Self-Care for Educators
Self-care looks different for each person and has specific characteristics when applied in the context of the teaching profession. One of the best ways teachers can incorporate self-care is by setting small manageable daily goals. The following suggestions may promote personal wellbeing through small actions that increase mindfulness and tend to personal needs.
Suggestions for Self-Care
Start fresh: Remember, each day is a new day
Follow the breath: Take 5-10 and sit in silence to meditate and practice breathing exercises during a planning period
Eat well: Bring healthy snacks and lunches to school
Plant something: Bring a plant into the classroom, give it a name, and nurture it.
Trim your list: Prioritize your checklist of responsibilities, and determine what to let slide and what to accomplish now
In this fast-paced and ever-changing world, school administration often expects teachers to balance a seemingly unmanageable workload while always performing at their best in front of students. In order to empower teachers to serve students at the highest level possible, school leaders must prioritize self-care and wellness amongst staff. The school community should embrace and support self-care among staff, as highlighted in Lever, Mathis, and Mayworm’s research on teacher and school staff wellness (2017). By having a positive and supportive environment, teachers can develop a positive, healthy relationship with students and colleagues.
Suggestions for Administrators
Promote work/life balance: Avoid emails outside regular working hours
Support mental health: Provide teachers with resources to help support their mental and emotional wellbeing
Redesign the break room: Make the staff lounge welcoming, engaging, and relaxing for educators
Celebrate teachers: Help teachers feel valued and celebrated as members of the school community
Finally, professional learning communities (PLCs) serve many purposes within the learning environment: PLCs improve educators’ skills and knowledge through collaboration while helping educators achieve goals for their own professional development. With regard to self-care, PLCs help to ground teachers by providing them with a support system within the school and building stronger professional relationships. Creating meaningful PLCs as a part of a larger self-care strategy has a direct effect on teachers’ wellness. When teachers feel valued and appreciated as a part of a professional community, they benefit from increased mental wellbeing and a sense of belonging which, in turn, reduces the likelihood that they leave the classroom for another profession. If for no other reason than to increase teacher retention, schools must prioritize self-care.
Kristina Brimer, M.Ed