Teacher, you’re in the business of taking care of little people. You’re diligent to meet their needs and make sure they are in the best mindset possible to do their work of learning. Now, let me ask you, when was the last time you checked in on yourself? If self-care seems about like an oasis across miles of shimmering desert sand, this is for you! (If you’d like to listen to this podcast interview, Episode 17 is HERE.)
Why Teachers Need Self-Care
A regular school year (if there is such a thing!) keeps us busy enough, but this year just took that to a whole other level I didn’t know existed. Between trying to build relationships with our students, deliver content, and help them grow into bigger people, you may think there’s no time for you. Let me assure you, self-care is NOT selfish!
I struggle with this. I feel like if I take time for myself, I’m putting more important things out of the way and being selfish in that. As my good friend Barbara Gruener says, “We’re in a service industry, and we can’t serve if there’s no reserve to give.” We have to give ourselves opportunities to replenish and restore.
Primary teachers, especially, really need to focus on self-care. We hit the ground running every day and have to transition every 4-5 minutes all day long. Barbara says that primary teachers are “holding the hearts of our littlest superheroes” and they are modeling and bringing joy and play. Teachers need to model joy, and we can’t do it if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. We can’t pour from an empty cup.
Would we want our students to constantly put themselves last? Of course not. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even talk to friends the way we talk to ourselves. Barbara also says, “When we get depleted, we get more resentful, we get more irritable, and we get less patient.” That’s not who we want to be in front of our students modeling a climate of caring.
Sometimes giving the best to our students means giving the best to ourselves.
What is self-care?
Self-care is the practice of taking care of yourself and includes self-compassion and self-kindness. It’s so important to take care of your mental health. It’s not selfish at all.
I love the way Barbara puts it: “It doesn’t mean, ‘Me first.’ It simply means, ‘Me too.'”
Self-care is most effective when it’s done proactively. We often think we’re stressed out and need a bubble bath, but putting in place things that feed your soul before you get that way is more effective to prevent getting to that point.
Self-care is individualized. It may be bubble baths, but it may also be laughing. Neurologically, laughter is good for us, and it helps us be resilient. Looking for your purpose and passion can be self-care. A girl’s night, a phone call, or a card can feed your soul. Now, I consider coloring with my daughters self-care. It’s calming for me, and it feeds my energy and creativity.
Where do I start with self-care?
So, why should we be intentional about self-care? This is important, and we don’t want to leave it to chance. If we do it by design, we’re much more likely to turn it into a habit.
One way to do this is habit stacking, so you add it to a habit you already have. You might say, I’m going to wake up and then set an intention to do five minutes of stretching, praying, or whatever your self-care is. Then you’ve started the day off right with a self-care practice. You can spread them throughout the day or at night. Doing it with another habit makes it more intentional, and you’ll be much more likely to do it.
Barbara created a resource of ideas for self-care including things you may already be doing or can easily incorporate into your day. One is to thank yourself. Every day, you are doing things to support people. Often, nobody thanks us for what we do. You can even write a note to yourself, seal it, and save it for a day when you need it. Barbara points out that, neurologically, gratitude and anxiety cannot exist at the same time.
Teachers are notorious for having negative thoughts. We feel like we aren’t adequate for our kids. We get imposter syndrome and tell ourselves we don’t belong.
Would you say that to a friend?
To get started with positive self-talk, assess what you’re saying to yourself. Notice when you have a negative thought. Things you’d never say to anyone. Barbara recommends we need seven positive thoughts for every negative thought. When you get an idea of how many times you talked negatively to yourself, just to get to zero, multiply that by seven. That’s how many affirmations you would need.
I never realized how negative I am with myself. I started taking Barbara’s advice and asking myself if I would say that to a friend. Many times, I wouldn’t!
Now that we know how negative we are, we need to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. Your voice is the loudest voice you hear. Your thoughts become your beliefs.
Spin that Negativity
You can turn negative thoughts around and make them affirmations. This may be something like, “I am lovable.” “I am capable.” “I am a trustworthy friend.” “I choose joy today.”
Joy is a choice. We get to choose every day what we are telling ourselves and the people we want to become. This lets the people who count on us have our best version showing up every day.
We need to be the positive light in the lives of children, so we need to feed our positivity. The resource we talked about includes affirmation cards that Barbara has used. We can use them to help bring ourselves back to a positive mindset, but even better, we can use them to stay positive. By keeping the affirmation cards handy, you’ll always have encouragement ready when you need it.
These affirmations can become mantras. I use them every day in my classroom. For more on this, and to get the downloadable resource list of suggestions, head over to the SEL post. I use one each week, and teaching them helps it resonate in my mind too.
When “No” Isn’t a Bad Word
I am so passionate about teaching. Sometimes I feel burned out with it and wonder how much longer I can keep going. Other times I feel completely full of energy for it. We need to find the balance.
Learn to say no. We need to set boundaries. We have only so much to give, and self-care helps us set our limits so we don’t go overboard with our passion. Saying no can leave you open to more yes. Barbara says, “A healthier me becomes a healthier we.”
Take Care of Yourself!
Teacher friend, I hope you give yourself permission to be kind to yourself. It’s not selfish, and it doesn’t mean long hours and lavish plans. It can be simple, it can be routine, and it can change your life. If you bring your best self to the world, then the world benefits. What could be selfish about that?
Don’t forget to grab your free self-care resource!
If you want more of Barbara’s insight, you can visit her blog HERE. Remember how I said passion can be self-care? Let’s share our energy and experiences over on the Primary Teacher Friends Facebook group HERE.
Until next time, keep making a difference, teacher friend!