Educating our youth is a calling, one that draws some of the most hard-working and dedicated people around. We enter this field with our eyes wide open that the pay is low and the work hours are long. Most of us also understand that educating our students will take all the love, attention, and energy we can spare. Education is a calling because, despite all these things, we do it anyway.
While educators are incredibly giving towards their students, we don’t treat ourselves with the same level of care.
Overwork is a badge of honour that many of us wear proudly. We tend to equate the number of hours we put in as a measure of our (and our peer’s) dedication to our students.
The thing is, this kind of logic just doesn’t make sense. In a job where the physical, mental, and emotional demands are so high, how can we possibly continue to give our all every day if we have not spent time taking care of ourselves? If we imagine our reserves of energy like a bucket, we cannot continue to give from that bucket without refilling it. Many of us, however, empty our buckets and continue pushing forward without taking the time to rest and rejuvenate. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that we are prone to burnout and often leave the profession just a few years after entering it.
It’s time that educators start filling their buckets by embracing self-care and self-compassion.
Self-care means caring for oneself. Examples of self-care include getting enough rest, exercise, and healthy foods. Self-compassion means treating oneself with patience, kindness, and understanding. When we practice self-compassion, we use our mistakes as opportunities to soften and be vulnerable. Instead of beating ourselves up, we show ourselves heaps of love.
Dr. Kristin Neff is a self-compassion researcher, author, and professor. According to Neff, developing our self-compassion is important because it is linked to reductions in anxiety, depression, stress, over-thinking, perfectionism, shame, and negative body image (Neff, 2013). Additionally, research conducted by Juliana Breines and Serena Chen (2012) has shown that when we show ourselves compassion after a setback, we are more likely to take action towards improving in the future. In short, self-compassion helps us to feel better, rebound from our challenges, and fuels us to keep going down the path of self-improvement.
So how can you start showing yourself care and compassion right now?
- Pay attention to your inner voice. Notice your self-talk and ask: Would I say this to my best friend? If the answer is no (and it probably is) then start giving yourself a bit more love and curb the negative self-talk. It’s not helping!
- Make a list of ten things that bring you joy. Examples include exercise, reading a book, or watching a favourite TV show. Try to fit at least one of these activities into your life consistently.
- Prioritise how you spend your time. Make a list of all of the things you are doing each week. Break them into Must-Do and May-Do categories. See if you can replace some of those May-Do’s with things from your joy list.
- Take a break. Educators are notorious for working all-the-time. The problem is, the work never ends unless you choose to step away. If you are not refreshed, you are not working at your best anyway, so start reclaiming some of those nights and weekends.
- Start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness means being present in the moment, and meditation is a great mindfulness tool. Just meditating 10 minutes a day will make a significant difference in how you feel. Don’t have 10 minutes in a row? That’s okay, break it into two 5-minute blocks, do some conscious breathing on your walk to and from your car, breathe slowly and deeply at red lights. Notice how good it feels to take even one conscious breath.
In the end, learning to take better care of ourselves will enable us to continue to do what we love—educating kids! If we don’t, then we will continue to burn ourselves out, and the churn of teacher and leader turnover will maintain the revolving door of people in and out of our students’ lives. Our kids suffer when they experience persistent changes in teachers and teacher quality. Schools cannot maintain strong academic programs if the leadership changes year after year. If we really want to stay in our calling and educate our youth, we must learn to take care of ourselves first. Our students will thank us for it.
- Breines, J. & Chen, S. (2012). “Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38(9) 1133–1143.
- Neff, K. (2013). “Resilience and self-compassion” [lecture]. Empathy and Compassion in Society. Retrieved June 25, 2018, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyjLKgfV7Sk.