Early January is a time for renorming, turning last fall’s skills into actionable habits and building a classroom community that kids will remember for years to come.
The question is: How do we keep our vitality through the winter and spring of 2018, and why is this critical from an equity lens?
In public schools across the country, powerful and emotionally-balanced teachers create systems and relationships that are stable, nurturing, and effective. Classrooms led by teachers who prioritize their well-being and sustainability are more likely to learn content, build relationships based on trust, and learn how to manage their own trauma in and outside the classroom. Our embodiment, based in loving-compassion, is the key ingredient in supporting students from a trauma-informed lens.
In this blog, we will offer you reasons and research to prove your well-being matters, both to you and to your students. We will also give practical tools to maintain your well-being and achieve your goals as you navigate the spring testing rush!
A Bit of My Story
As an educator for six years in middle schools throughout Oakland, I know the joy of being a public school teacher. The constant barrage of hugs that come every day, watching students learn how to tell a joke, seeing them grow over the year as learners and thinkers. There is nothing that fills that space of joy as completely as the classroom.
However, I left. During my early years as a teacher, I set a pace for myself that I could not keep up with. I forgot, over time, that my health and wellness mattered. I spent hours, day in and out, doing what was “best” for kids and slowly it began to erode my personal balance.
After my third year, I was 30 pounds heavier, exhausted, and—most importantly—feeling like leaving teaching was a necessity, irrelevant of the impact it would make on my students and school.
My story is not unique. In Oakland where I taught, 70% of all teachers leave the classroom within 5 years (2012 study) and nationally it is not much better (45%). Teachers juggle the roles of educator, therapist, and social worker, often taking home the trauma that our students experience. Each year, we are asked to do more, with or without funding. The urgency is REAL.
Reasons for Self-Care
There are so many reasons to keep “upping the pace.” But here are core reasons why a focus on self-care (and slowing down) makes a difference:
- Continuity of care in our schools is critical and that only can happen if educator self-care is prioritized from day one. In many communities, especially in underserved urban areas, school sites are one of the most stable fixtures in students’ lives. Most pre-teens and teenagers actively develop emotionally by attaching to adults outside their nuclear families. In addition, students affected by autism, homelessness, childhood trauma, and the foster care system need stability in their teachers at an even higher level. When you prioritize your own self-care, and sustain your work for long periods of time, students in these subgroups reap the benefit of your consistent, engaged presence.
- Self-Care for teachers is not about us—it is about being the most effective caregivers and educators we can possibly be. It is about building resilience to stay on the front line, check out biases and make a difference, especially in our underserved communities. Here is a powerful example of why self-care and personal resilience directly affect the learning and equity of our students of color specifically:
Jackson-Thomas teachers experienced heavy workloads with increasingly high-demands in the classroom, making them more vulnerable to the influence of their implicit associations between minority youth and lower academic expectations. To illustrate, Mr. J., an English teacher, explicitly expressed the idea that all of his students could succeed; however, he unconsciously held lower expectations for his students of color. Operating outside of his conscious awareness, this implicit bias affected his behavior when he neglected to give Janae, one of his African-American students, corrective feedback when making mistakes on her writing samples. Though Janae received a grade like the rest of her classmates, her misspellings and punctuation errors were never circled on her paper, a common practice that Mr. J. would use for other students. This teaching difference made the more challenging writing prompts given later in the semester more difficult for Janae than for her White counterparts, and did not allow her to reach her full potential in writing.
When we are overworked, and unconsciously carrying our own emotional and physical burdens, we are more likely to engage in implicit bias, preventing our students of color from receiving the benefit of our expertise and care. Our self-care is critical to equity in the classroom.
Equity for all students means long-term change. Long-term change means teachers need to feel their ability to stay in the classroom is sustainable year after year.
Ways to Make Self-Care Part of Your Routine
We know that our self-care and sustainability as educators is critical to student achievement, equity and personal well-being.
So, how do we make that a part of our daily work?
Here are four easy ways to begin taking care of yourself so you can better serve your students and community:
The bottom line is that we need effective, compassionate, and resilient teachers (like you!) in our schools.
These are the practices that allowed me to feel good my last four years of teaching, and they worked. And that’s why when I left the classroom, I continued my quest for practices that allow teachers to find and stay in their “sweet spot”—that happy, sustainable place where teachers feel well and are able to be brilliant both at home and in the classroom.
Through leading workshops for over 500 educators on the importance of self-care and resilience and conducting dozens of interviews – I built The Teaching Well. Our goal is to provide school teams and educators with the tools and knowledge necessary to stay healthy and resilient, giving the best to kids in the classroom.
In the comments below, share a way that you prioritize your well-being through the school year and your teaching career. Together, we will create a sustainable profession that helps our next generation thrive.
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