This blog post was written by guest contributor Courtney Jones of ClearTheList Foundation, Inc.
With high burnout rates, budget cuts, salary freezes, and increasing demands put on teachers, “self-care” is vital to the success, survival, and happiness of educators. Self-care looks different for everyone. As a teacher myself, I focus on connecting with myself, my family, and nature. I set boundaries for work and home, set goals, reflect daily, and make sure that I am getting enough sleep. I have three tips that can be adjusted to fit the way that you recharge and refocus.
Tip 1: Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is one of the most vital aspects of my work–life balance. I set schedules daily, weekly, and monthly. This allows me to prioritize my time and make sense of what I need to accomplish. The ultimate goal is to work effectively in the allotted time frames that I give myself, and then shut off my computer and phone (and brain) to be present for my family. I oftentimes will read a book to transition my thinking from “work mode” to “relax mode.” This helps me to continue thinking productively but switch the topic of concentration.
One of the easiest ways to set boundaries, especially in this coronavirus pandemic, is to create a schedule and routine that you adhere to. Create work hours and home hours. Outline your days, weeks, and months as best as you can by describing the long-term and short-term goals you have. This will help your days start efficiently and allow you to have more productive teaching and thinking.
Tip 2: Practice Metacognition
Understanding the way that we think, feel, and process information is beneficial for self-care. The more constructive and productive our thinking is, the easier it is to reflect on our thoughts and behaviors, and ultimately self-correct, improve, and/or eliminate certain traits that we see.
For example, let’s say that in the classroom today, a 9-year-old girl was asking a ton of questions regarding the lesson, but the time constraints of the bell schedule didn’t allow you to fully engage. The student becomes frustrated and you lose your patience (wait, that never happens to us, right?). That night while lying in bed, you reflect upon the encounter, paying close attention to how you felt in the moment, identifying certain stimuli that triggered a response from you, and brainstorming ways to apologize, be present at the moment, and prevent a similar situation from happening again.
Ultimately, being aware of your thoughts and behaviors, reflecting upon them, and then making conscious decisions based on the reflection allows us as educators to be more productive, more sincere, more authentic, and more relatable in our teaching.
Tip 3: Sleep
One of the most underrated, least focused on, yet critical areas of our lives is sleep. In his research, Matthew Walker explains that “the overtired brain and body make us vulnerable to cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, obesity, stroke, chronic pain, diabetes, and heart attacks, among other medical conditions.”
As teachers, we are always trying to squeeze in the most amount of work possible, trying to maintain productivity and effectiveness, and our sleep is often sacrificed as a result. Our workloads include everything from data entry, grading, lecturing, facilitating learning, lesson planning, parent communication, relationship building, legal paperwork, and requirements, etc. Too often, our planning periods are eliminated or filled with meetings, and we are stuck with making difficult decisions. Does the work stay on our desk for the next day? Or do we bring it home with the intent of catching up? We are sacrificing our sleep when we refuse to set boundaries, reflect, and make time to recover while sleeping.
Develop Your Own Self-Care Routine
These three tips are specific to my life, but they can be applied to any self-care management tools that you use to succeed every single day. No matter if you are a kindergarten teacher or a college professor, the need to set boundaries, reflect and think about your own thinking, and make sure that you get enough sleep is vital to your stamina as an educator, your well-being, and ultimately your happiness and ability to successfully impact students.