This is part of a 4 part series from writer and Boston-based licensed clinician, Casey Pettit, and Director of School Success for Project Wayfinder, Adrian Michael, about how educators can take care of their and their students’ social and emotional needs in the midst of school closures.
Without much warning or preparation, educators across the country adapted to an entirely new way of teaching. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during moments of great change. In this moment, we know that educators feel particularly stressed as they are asked to manage the anxiety associated with threats to our health, well being, and livelihoods, while also ushering students through their adolescence. On top of all of that, many educators are also taking care of young children and families at home.
Given all that’s going on, it is important to prioritize self-care. It’s important that we take note of our physical, emotional, and mental needs and actively work to meet these needs the best we can. This helps to prevent us from burning-out, keeps us emotionally healthy, and helps us remain engaged in our lives in the ways that bring us joy. For educators, especially, it is more important to prioritize self-care now. This is a time that so much is changing so rapidly that we likely need some support identifying our needs and devising new ways of meeting them. We want to offer a few ideas to add to your toolkit as you continue into these uncertain times.
Your worth is not measured by your productivity. Be gentle with yourself and know you are enough. You may be working harder and longer hours. The drive to make sure everything goes right might make it seem like you’re never doing satisfactory work. No matter your situation, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. You’re making an impact. You’re showing up. You are enough and are doing enough. Be gentle with yourself.
Interrupt anxiety with a gratitude practice. Whether you do this once or twice a day, write down three things for which you are grateful. Although this is a difficult time for everyone, a gratitude practice reminds you of the little things that inspire you to be an educator. Gratitude can take you out of a space of negativity and quickly bring you to moments of clarity that remind you of your deeper motivations. When we aren’t intentional about our gratitude practice, the small things feel so much bigger, we have bigger emotional reactions, and we can be fast-tracked toward burn-out, especially when we are inundated with grading, classroom management, and life all at the same time.
Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. Reflect on and share how you feel. There’s no guidebook on how to navigate a pandemic successfully, and so it is normal to experience a range of emotions. When negative emotions arise, try to respond, rather than react. Take time to collect your thoughts and don’t let feelings build up and go unaddressed, especially if you need to have a difficult conversation with a student, a colleague, or a loved one. Write down what you want to say. Address what happened, what you observed, how you feel, and what you might need moving forward. Addressing conflict honestly can make us more authentic educators and allow us to be more present with our students and colleagues.
It’s okay to embrace and experience positive emotions. It can also be hard to know what to do with positive emotions, especially when we know that others—especially our students and their families—may be struggling. Remember that the wholeness of our experiences is appropriate. It can help to share our positive emotions while acknowledging that not everyone is able to access these same feelings. And remember—sharing your joy can be infectious for others! You can find ways to invite your students to share their positive emotions too. For example, try, “What is one thing about distance learning that has surprisingly brought you joy?”
Unclench your jaw. Drop your shoulders. Close your screens and find ways to connect with yourself. Many of us are spending the majority of our time checking on and caring for other people—our students, our children, or families, our colleagues, etc. It’s hard to keep up on an empty tank. Find ways to stay connected to yourself. Designate deliberate screen breaks in your routine to get out of your head and into your body. Be intentional about moving your body—go for a walk, a run, stretch—and remember that your body is your vessel and requires similar intention that our minds and emotions do. Give yourself permission to prioritize alone time used for silence or solo-activities that feed you. These practices will enable you to feed and support others more fully.
Schedule times to do things that bring you joy. On days of back-to-back meetings and non-stop interactions with colleagues and students, be sure to pencil in blocks of time that bring you joy. Go outside. Take a walk. Listen to music. Go for a drive. Read a book. Do nothing. Play with your kids. Cook a meal that inspires and nourishes you. Step away from the hustle—even if for a moment—and come back feeling a bit more refreshed.
Maintain/manage expectations about what’s “normal.” Allow progress and productivity to look different this season. Redefine what success means to you as an educator, so you aren’t spending hours on lesson prep for a full class and are let down when only a handful of students attend. Be realistic with your expectations for yourself and for your students. If you’re struggling, remember that your students are probably struggling, too. Use this shared experience as an opportunity to connect with each other in a real way. Communicate with your class, co-create expectations, and adjust along the way.
Set and hold clear boundaries to be more present. Strike a balance between leading in your classroom and navigating life outside the classroom, in your household, and in other life situations. Set boundaries for when you’re available, and make it clear what the best way for students to connect with you if they need you. Communicate what’s non-negotiable. For instance, it’s fine to tell your students that you do not check emails on weekends or share that you need to sign off from screen time after a certain hour. Create a ritual of putting yourself to bed at a decent time so you can recharge. Give yourself permission to set boundaries and not feel guilty for standing by them.
Crowdsource and share self-care with students. Not every academic lesson has to be centered on content. Don’t be afraid to have fun, play games, nix your plan if the mood isn’t right, or give yourself permission to run an audible if you need a break. Remember, you’re human. Your students can feel if you are in it, and can recognize if you aren’t. You should look forward to any time you have the opportunity to be with students and don’t put pressure to make every interaction an academic one.
Know that you’re not alone. Educators all around the world stand with you. You’re the ones who have rolled up your sleeves to provide both academic and social emotional education for your students overnight. You are also the ones who have worked day in and day out to make sure students have what they need (phones, internet, computers, food security, shelter) to adapt to these changes. Be sure to join resource groups on social platforms or online listservs to gain and share ideas on how to conduct virtual lessons better or post funny moments to give your fellow educators a good belly laugh. Know that asking for help is a key strength of a teacher. Engage that tool; keep checking in with others.
Most importantly, you know yourself better than anyone else. Continue to find ways to check-in with yourself, identify your needs, and give yourself permission to meet them. Your work is important, and you are a better educator when you prioritize yourself. Know that your work is not more important than your health and well-being.
Are you an educator thriving during remote learning? Do you have ideas about how to best support your students during this time? Send an email to [email protected]
Check out the Rethink Together Forum to connect with high school students, educators, and families about what’s possible. Here are some of the hot topics people are talking about on the forum: