You want to create a safe and supportive environment for your students. You want to provide social and emotional learning (SEL) and teach emotional intelligence, resilience, well-being, and self-care so that all your students can thrive in this moment and in their future. Great!
But remember, you are the pilot of your classroom, and you need to first put on your own protective mask before putting one on anyone else. In other words, start by taking care of your own body, mind, and spirit, and make sure that you have everything you need in order to flourish and be an amazing teacher for others. If you don’t start by taking care of yourself, at some point, and possibly without even realizing it, you won’t have the energy you need to support your students or family in the way that you think they deserve.
You are not a selfish person for engaging in self-care; in fact, the opposite is true. As a teacher, you work in a service-providing profession and teach SEL to your students, but you may still find it hard to take the lessons that you are teaching and apply them to yourself. Now is the time for you to take the advice that you have been giving and intentionally engage in some much-needed self-care. As you read and reflect on the self-care tips contained in the 12 Rs below, try using this self-care worksheet to help you design some intentional goals. Remember to design self-care goals with your specific situation and needs in mind. This plan is for you because when you are happy, you will be a happy teacher, and all students deserve a happy, patient, kind, and empathetic teacher!
12 Rs to Support and Guide You on Your Self-Care Journey
Remember why you became a teacher in the first place! What inspired you to join the profession? Why do you continue to teach? It’s been pointed out that many teachers are in a pool of education and swimming for their lives right now. In fact, some of the waves in the pool are so big that they can’t even see where to reach out to or how to get help. However, we all need to remember that we love to swim, and we need to remember why we jumped into the pool in the first place. Consider these strategies for remembering your why:
- Find a note card, sticky note, or piece of paper and write your why on it. Put the note on your monitor or in a frame on your desk. Look at it every day to remind and rejuvenate yourself.
- In your email, in the cloud, and/or on your computer, create a folder that is titled “This Is Why.” Every time you get an email, receive a message, or have students share something that reminds you of your why, put it in one of those folders. On days when you need to be reminded of your why, look at that folder and remember.
We know that reflection is essential to the learning process. Learning how to best take care of ourselves is a process that also benefits from careful reflection. As teachers, our professional and personal lives can easily intertwine, especially during remote learning and while working from home, so this reflection should encompass both aspects of our life. If we are healthy personally, we will be more healthy professionally, and vice versa.
The Rose/Thorn/Bud is one strategy that you can use to guide your reflection.
- Rose: For the rose, pinpoint what is working well for you both professionally and personally, so you can be intentional about continuing those practices. What gives you joy and/or recharges you physically, mentally, and spiritually?
- Thorn: For the thorn, identify the challenges and what support is available to help you overcome them. Make a conscious effort to let go of those things outside of your control and focus your efforts on what you can control. You can use the Spheres of Control framework to categorize these challenges as ones you can control, ones you can influence, and ones outside your control.
- Bud: For the bud, explore ideas that you wish to learn more about to help you in this self-care journey.
Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort.
— Deborah Day
Based on your reflection, how will you redesign your professional and personal life to achieve your desired outcomes?
Professionally, consider how you can use the pandemic’s disruption to education to reimagine rather than recreate past practices in teaching and learning.
- How can we use this as an opportunity to redesign learning so that it empowers and inspires students to not only engage but to take ownership in their learning?How can we foster their growth mindset, embrace their cultural differences, and empower them as digital collaborators and creators, while also addressing academic gaps
- How can you redesign the learning so that more of the work is shifted from you to your students.
The one doing all the work is doing all the learning.
— Dr. Harry Wong
- Not all feedback needs to come from you. You can automate it with software, leverage the power of peer feedback, and focus your teacher feedback on targeted skills. For more ideas, see Catlin Tucker’s blog post, Stop Taking Grading Home.
- Not all lessons need to come from you either. Consider how students can design their own learning that integrates many standards within one learning experience. Rather than teach knowledge or skills in isolation, explore ways that students can integrate them into project- or inquiry-based learning. For more ideas, see another blog post from Catlin Tucker, Station Rotation Model: Student Designed and Led Stations.
Personally, consider how you can redesign your mindset, space, and schedule to support your self-care.
- Mindset: You may find that you need to adjust your mindset to support prioritizing your self-care ahead of other demands that you face.
What you think is how you feel. Our interpretations can cause, exacerbate, or intensify emotional distress, or they can boost our optimism, help us connect with others, and enable us to care for ourselves and to engage in the many habits that boost resilience. It’s your interpretation that produces an emotion; improve your interpretations and you may feel better.
— Elena Aguilar
- Space: How can you redesign your home office space so that you can “leave” at the end of the day? For example, using the kitchen table as your office desk can make it hard to mentally and physically leave work. Perhaps you can redesign a guest room, basement space, or even walk-in closet as your classroom. Most videoconferencing programs like Meet, Teams, and Zoom allow you to change your background image, so the students won’t be aware of the space you pick.
- Schedule: How can you design a daily and weekly schedule that supports your personal self-care needs? You can use recurring event features in Outlook or Google Calendar to schedule appointments for your daily workout and/or morning meditation. You can also create daily and weekly checklists using programs like Google Keep or My To-do List. If you see it on the calendar or checklist, you are more likely to commit to those self-care tasks.
As teachers, we know the importance of relationships in order for our students to thrive. We ourselves also need the support of relationships to thrive, especially now as we work to positively and effectively meet the new challenges in remote and distance learning.
Invest in your professional relationships:
- Reach Out: Reach out to colleagues and support each other in this journey. None of us are experts on all things. Contribute your strengths while also accepting and leveraging the strengths of others.
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
— Helen Keller
- Expand Your Network: Expand your professional network by following other educators on Twitter and joining educational groups on Facebook. We can learn with and from each other via social networking.
- Find Your Marigold: In many ways, we are all new teachers again as we learn how to teach in hybrid- and/or remote-learning environments. It is important that we find our marigolds and spend time with those positive colleagues who lift our spirits, calm our anxieties, and inspire us as teachers.
Invest in your personal relationships:
- With Others: Spend time with the family and friends who fuel your energy and limit time with those who drain your mental and emotional resources. Leverage technology to partner with your colleagues, family, and friends in committing to self-care practices. For example, schedule a weekly Zoom call with a colleague to share the successes of the week and brainstorm ideas to meet a challenge, schedule online game nights with friends to laugh together, and exchange daily texts with a sibling to encourage and hold each other accountable to self-care goals like walking each day.
- With Yourself: Don’t forget to foster the relationship with yourself. Be aware of your self-talk and the kindness and grace you show yourself. Be your own marigold. Reach out for expert help for counseling and support, as needed.
The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.
— Steve Maraboli
Make time to rest your body and your mind.
- Try to sleep eight uninterrupted hours every night.
- If you have a hard time falling asleep, try listening to an audiobook, nature sounds, or sleep meditation.
- If light bothers you, try using a sleep mask or getting blackout curtains.
- Rest your mind as well as your body.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including yourself.
— Anne Lamott
- Lift some of the cognitive load off your shoulders and rest your mind.
- Try different breathing techniques or meditation to help clear your mind.
- Try some of the breathing exercises in this article from Resilient Educator: Re-Center and Re-Focus: Simple Breathing Exercises for Teachers and Students.
No matter the time of year, it is likely that you have been experiencing a lot of stress, and you are likely low on energy. You need to find ways to recover from everything you may be experiencing.
- Rest (as noted above).
- Eat healthy.
- Get outside.
- Walk or run.
- Ride a bike.
- Blow bubbles.
- Go fishing.
- Sit under a tree.
- Play a game of tag.
- Get outside.
- Go outside (see list above).
- Host a virtual dance party.
- Participate in structured fitness classes, like yoga, dance, spinning, etc.
- Try a YouTube or Netflix workout video.
- Try some of the newer virtual-reality sports that are available or get out your old Xbox One Kinect or Nintendo Wii and play games that get you moving.
- Try aromatherapy.
- If scents do not bother you, you might try using a diffuser with essential oils.
Recharging is not being selfish. It is essential to recharge if we want to be our best selves for our students. We are no good to our students if we come to school with dead batteries!
- Read for pleasure.
- Find a comfortable spot indoors or outside and read by yourself.
- Engage in a socially distanced outdoor book club (bring your own lawn chair).
- Join or start a virtual book club.
- Listen to an audiobook.
- Listen to a podcast.
- Listen to the AVID Open Access podcast, Tech Talk for Teachers.
- Listen to a podcast about something you love or are interested in that is not related to the teaching profession.
- Have a movie night.
- Host an outdoor socially distanced movie night.
- Host a movie-viewing party with Teleparty.
- Learn something new.
- Have coffee/tea breaks with friends and family.
- Meet up and have a socially distanced coffee/tea break.
- Set up a virtual coffee/tea break.
- Create something.
- Build something out of Legos.
- Paint something. You can paint by numbers or focus on diamond painting.
- Craft. You can create and start decorating your back-to-school masks.
- Take pictures.
- Finish a puzzle.
- Try a new recipe.
- Have a game night.
- Play games with the people you live with.
- Have a virtual game night.
To make room for self-care, we need to focus and reduce. While technology allows us to be 24/7 teachers, it is not healthy to always be working. It is essential that we set boundaries and protect our personal time and practice healthy work–life balance.
- Say No: One strategy for reducing is to learn how to say “no” to those things that don’t align to your “why.” Have pocket phrases ready to use, such as “Sorry, I am unable to _____ because I have plans with my family,” and “Sorry, I appreciate your asking me to join this project, but my schedule is full.” The more often that you decline, the easier it gets, and you will find that you need to do so less frequently as people stop asking. You will also create a positive ripple by being a role model for others who will respect your commitment to boundaries and prioritize their own self-care.
- Prioritize: Another strategy is to trim the to-do lists. Setting goals and prioritizing tasks is a strategy that we teach our students for effectively managing their time. We can use this same strategy personally and professionally. Each day and/or week, identify 10 things to be done. Then, prioritize the list by listing them in ranking order. When done, circle the top 3, and focus your efforts on those three. Less truly is more—more realistic and healthy.
Setting realistic goals is another strategy that we teach our students that we can apply to self-care. We can use a similar format as the SMART goals to set ourselves up for success in our self-care goals.
- Pick one to three self-care goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.
- Break these larger goals into mini-goals and celebrate your successes along the way.
- Reflect on your progress daily and/or weekly by keeping a journal or log documenting your journey.
- Share your goal with a friend, family member, or colleague who can encourage you and help keep you accountable. A commitment that is shared is one that is more likely to be achieved.
You can use the “R” You Ready for Self-Care? Making a Plan worksheet to guide you in this journey.
Self-care should not be a one-time event, such as a weekend getaway. To be effective, self-care needs to become part of our daily routine. In fact, it should become so ingrained in your routine that you do it without a lot of thought but feel very uncomfortable if you miss it (like buckling seat belts or flossing teeth).
We teach our students how to establish study routines so that they become part of their daily habit. We must do the same for our self-care routines. To become a routine, it takes both intention and time. Studies have shown that it takes approximately 2 months for a “new behavior to become automatic.” Here are some tips for establishing a routine so that self-care becomes part of your daily habit:
- Start small with one or two self-care goals. Once those become routine, add another self-care goal.
- Create and follow a regular schedule each day to ensure that you have time for your self-care.
- Follow a set time that you start and end work.
- Use out-of-office replies every evening and weekend to let others know not to expect a response until the next work day.
- Set clear boundaries between your work and personal life. It’s okay to have some soft boundaries to respond to urgent needs, but also set hard boundaries and disconnect completely from work.
- Create a separate calendar for your self-care routines and turn on that calendar’s notifications on your phone to remind you.
- Add your self-care routines to your daily and weekly schedule by creating recurring events on your digital calendar. For example, add your morning yoga or Saturday morning coffee with friends to your digital calendar.
- Follow a set time that you start and end work.
- Create a daily self-care checklist and cross items off as you do them. Eventually, you will no longer need the checklist.
- Connect your new routine to an existing routine to help remind you. For instance, as you enjoy your first cup of coffee in the morning, plan to also write in your gratitude journal.
- Have a plan for challenges that will come up. For example, on parent–teacher conference nights where you will miss your evening walk, plan a longer hike for that weekend.
- Add accountability to your routines. Ideally, find a partner who can join you in this journey. You can also journal or document your progress to help keep you on track.
- Regularly review your progress and identify adjustments that can be made that will result in greater success.
- Give yourself the kind of grace you would give others for any missteps. New habits are not easily formed; acknowledge the miss but don’t let it derail you. Talk to yourself as you would your child or a good friend.
Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.
— Christopher Germer
- Reward yourself along the journey.
Don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done.
As mentioned earlier, self-care is not an event; it is an ongoing and lifelong journey. Take time to pause, reflect, and celebrate success along the way. Treat yourself for reaching both the big and small milestones; this will help you maintain focus and recover from any lapses you will likely experience. Recognize and honor your journey toward making self-care a healthy life habit.
The greatest reward will be a happier and healthier you!
Use the 11 other Rs to rejuvenate yourself with new energy, enthusiasm, and a shiny zeal, so you can give new physical and emotional energy to your students, co-workers, family, and anyone else whom you may interact with.
- Having more energy allows you to be more efficient and, therefore, more effective.
- Reduce stress, avoid burnout, and have a fulfilling and happy life.
- Take time to put yourself first.
Related AVID Open Access Resources
- Recover, Recharge, and Regroup for Fall
- Practice Self-Care: Tips for Teachers and Students (Podcast, Episode 15)