As teachers, we are always on the go, our minds never stop and we tend to think more about others than ourselves. But if we really care about our students then we must take time for ourselves. That's why self care for teachers is so important. If we can't give the best of ourselves to our students, how can we expect to get the best back from them? So take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What can I do for me?" I know, it feels strange to ask, but it's the first step in finding the right balance between life and work. If you feel like your life is work, then you really need what I've got to share. You can thank me later. 😉
Before sharing my sure-fire strategies to improved self-care that I've discovered over the years, we need to clear something up. It's guilt. You may feel a lot of it as you start to take better care of yourself and think about all the other things you "should" be doing. It's that pressing feeling that creeps into your mind telling you, "There's no time for this... This can surely wait until tomorrow..." Be prepared because it will hit you hard. The waves of responsibility, stress and to-dos piled on your plate that need to be done will try to knock you off course. So keep your eyes on the prize and remember that if you aren’t healthy and happy first, then you can’t take good care of anyone else. Take care of yourself for them... Therein lies the balance.
If balance feels impossible and guilt is ruling your life, then I recommend you check out Let Go of Guilt by Valorie Burton. She not only shares insights, but also techniques on how to push through and free yourself from guilt.
Also, there is no shame in getting professional help when problems are bigger than you. We all need the help of others in one way or another. No one person can do it all, and no one expects you to do it all either (besides yourself 😉 )... Once you truly believe that and learn to unitedly lean on others, the weight of guilt often evaporates off your shoulders.
Contrary to popular belief, TV time and comfort foods are NOT self care. The definition of self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health. And we should definitely add the words “every day” to that definition. When you do a handful of simple things every day to take care of yourself, it pays big rewards in the long run.
We've touched on this, but it's worth repeating: Teacher self care is very important to stop yourself from teacher burnout. As teachers, you and I have a hard time putting ourselves first. Without teacher self care, our "Miss Nelson" will go missing and slowly but surely we will become the "Miss Swamp" that students despise.
Plus, when you are taking care of yourself, you are modeling a balanced home and work life for your students. Share with them what you do to take care of yourself. Teach them that it is okay to do what you want to do sometimes. Show them how it will make them feel better and help them be happier.
Beyond the tips you find here, I highly recommend this book: 'The Teacher's Guide to Self-Care' by Sarah Forst. It's an easy, engaging read and life-long reference for creating an actionable self-care plan that every teacher should own.
These are my top self care tips for helping you get started to be the best teacher you can be.
In general, self-care is a struggle for me. It has taken a lot of years for me to realize how important it is in my life. And I know that if I struggle, there are probably others out there who are struggling too. I hope these tips help you as much as they've helped me.
Note: Since COVID 19 hit, I have been more cognizant on taking time for myself. You probably feel the stress of teaching in these uncertain times and we have no idea how or where we will be teaching from here on out. That's why self-care is more important than ever.
You Need SEVEN to Nine Hours of sleep. I know this can be hard but find what you need to do to calm your mind and go to sleep. Try to keep the same bedtime. For me, this has taken some time because my mind likes to wander at night. You and I need a good night’s sleep to be the happy teacher we need to be. I have found that essential oils help me fall asleep at night. I diffuse them and I take them in capsules. My favorite is doTERRA Serenity. DoTERRA offers many essential oils for relaxation and optimal health. There are many different blends you can diffuse and they smell wonderfully. I'm love sharing about the power of essential oils, so be sure to contact me if you're interested in learning more and trying it out.
Exercise at least 3 times a week. Do it either in the morning before school (fat chance, I know) or first-thing when you get home from teaching. When you do get home, do NOT sit down. Work out first and “Release those Endorphins!” Depending on your current fitness level I have different recommendations. If you've got the couch potato-fast food body then start with a brisk walks, then slowly but surely you can work your way up to more intense workouts. I find that youtube HIIT workouts are the best for me. For 15-20 minutes I burn the calories that I would if I worked out for an hour. You can switch it up a little with High Intensity or Low Intensity Workouts, like yoga.
Free your mind after work! You and I are people who care for many children in a day. It's hard to shut our brain down and let the rest go until tomorrow, but it's so important. What do you need to do to free your mind after work? I love to listen to the radio and belt out my favorite songs, or I can totally put on a podcast and listen to someone wise teach me something new. Podcasts are great to get your mind off of school and onto something else. Plus you can sing, dance, or listen while you prepare your room for the next day - it's one of the few multitasking activities that actually works! Check out these GREAT podcast episodes for self care.
Find time for yourself. This is a struggle, for me especially. As teachers we like to put everyone else first. It feels weird to think about yourself, but it is a must. EVERY DAY you should find time to relax and have your "my time." I have found that my "my time" is before everyone else gets up in the morning. I love it because it is quiet. I get my coffee and sit on my deck and relax and think about life (or not). Once the cold hits, I curl up with a fuzzy blanket in my living room.
Be sure to plan your self-care time first. It only takes a minute or two to put your "my time" on the calendar. Prioritize it over all other activities. I like to think about it in terms of creating a financial savings. If you try saving your money at the end of the month there usually isn't much left, but if you save a set amount at the beginning of the month "pay yourself first" you'll be amazed at how all the other financial needs get taken care of and after a while that nest egg will be sizable. It's important for your health and well-being to take care of yourself FIRST before all others. Plan your self-care time first and then work everything else around it.
My brother actually introduced me to a great youtube video that really helps you to get all of your emotional anxiety out. Let’s face it, you and I live with so much on our plates that we build the anxiety up until we are going to burst. This must be cleared out regularly and meditation is an excellent way to do it.
Get lost in in a book. Learning and self-help books don't count. Find a fictional book to dive into often in a place where you can let your mind go. I don’t know about you, but I find myself thinking way too much if I read a book at my desk. So I like to read romance books in bed, where my mind can slowly drift off and fall asleep. During the lockdown I have read many books, but my favorites are always romance books when it comes to relaxing my mind.
If you're looking for a good one, I recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The unusual format brings an intimacy to the characters that you don't find in other books and can bring a lot of comfort when facing hardships in life.
Music is great for any mood you may be in. If you need a pick me up to get some energy, dance away. If you need to sleep or relax, Piano Guys are a must-have playlist. I also put Piano Guys on when we are doing quiet work in the classroom and the kids love it!
Leave School at School. Structure your planning time and use it wisely. Each week I have a designated day that I use either one or two of my entire planning time(s) to get next week’s copies and planning done. The copies go in the bin for next week and I am done. I hardly ever had to stay after school once I figured this out. Leave your thinking at school when you walk out the door.
List “what needs to be done” vs. “what you want to be done.” – I am sure you are used to lists, but make a list of what absolutely HAS to be done. The rest can wait. Don’t burn yourself out trying to do it all. Your list (what I lovingly refer to as "the pile") will still be there tomorrow. Patience is not easy for teachers but there will always be more to do. Prioritize and let the rest go. It really CAN wait.
The Best Self Journal does a great job of helping you plan out your days and marry that with your bigger goals. Besides helping me effectively plan my time and organize my day, it's daily motivational quotes are often perfect to share with the class. But if lugging a journal along doesn't fit your style, then I've found that having tear-off daily planning sheets like these from Bliss Collections are often more effective than scribbling to-dos in my notebook.
Find what makes you happy and lean into those things, because a happy teacher equals happy students. This will help you start each day on a fresh and happy note.. If you don’t, it is hard to expect your students to. When you are happy, they are happy. They can feel your energy. You are better able to be the best teacher you can be. Finding what it takes for you to be happy is a process - hopefully some of the things on this list. You'll discover more as you try new things. I always say, “Tomorrow is a new day.” It’s true. Put what happened today away, and move forward. Learn from it and let it go. It’s feels good to start fresh.
It’s Okay to say "NO." That way you can say "Yes!" to yourself. Resist the feeling of going to the rescue for others. It is okay to say "no" and not feel bad about it. You and I like to please others. It is easy to get caught up in helping everyone else, but that comes at an expense to you and your body. Say no more often - it’s okay. If practicing saying "No." in the mirror or pausing and taking a deep breath before automatically making a decision doesn't help, then check out Beau Young's book to learn everything you need to know about excelling at saying "No" graciously but firmly. This will help not overtax yourself and free yourself to make the most of your "my time."
Go outside. There are so many things you can do outside just to relax. My favorite is to take a walk with my dog or sit on the porch and listen to nature. Sometimes I take off my shoes, soak up the sun and bury my toes in the grass. It's a great time to reset a little with some peace and quiet to ponder life.
Tips and tricks work great for some, but for others you'll need more to help you. Teaching is a very demanding and stressful job. All day long your brain is working a million miles a minute taking care of all of the tiny humans.
If you work in special education, I feel you would have a lot more on your plate than gen ed as I have a SPED son in an EI classroom. He can easily suck all of my energy away, even on a good day.
With inclusion classrooms, you and I find ourselves working with a student or students who have different challenges that need to be met. During these times, it may be hard to put ourselves first because there is always more that can be done.
If you or I cannot find a way to treat ourselves with self care, then it is time to find a coach or therapist. Sometimes it takes a different person to listen and be there for us, to give us ideas and knowledge on how to put ourselves first. I have found that going to a therapist is rather enjoyable (I actually love it), no matter if it is for me or for my family.
Distance learning has been one heck of a roller coaster. To go from a full fledged classroom to online only has been a unique experience to say the least.
I don’t know about your school, but my school decided to offer online AND paper packets. Luckily, there was nine of us to split the work up. Each team took a subject and planned in increments of two weeks for a total of six weeks. We were also mandated to do individual check-in/teach each week.
I found myself wanting to cry trying to track down parents and students. The best way for me to check in was a scheduled zoom call weekly. I assigned each student a time and a day. I made sure to put in time for my “teacher self-care” in between meetings with students. This helped me stay moving and kept my mind fresh for my students.
During my “self-care” time I would do a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout since I love to dance. I found that “The Studio” has some quick 15 minutes workouts where you can burn some massive calories during that time.
As you know there are a wealth of workouts on Youtube. You can switch your workouts up depending on your mood. Sometimes I will choose a Yoga routine to stretch out my body because of sitting for a long time.
One of my besties from college introduced me to “Buti Yoga.” For Buti Yoga, I like Bizzi Gold on the Home Fitness Centre Channel on Youtube.
Teacher self care is very important to do every day. You and I have to take time for ourselves to be the best teacher, wife, mom, coach we can be. We need to model how to take care of ourselves to show our students and family how to balance life. When we are happy, the people we care about are happy when they are around us. It's a win-win!