Teaching is hard work. It is mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically demanding. It is also dynamic, engaging, at times even exhilarating, but always meaningful and tremendously important. In a typical year, you could describe most teachers as unsung heroes - paying for materials out of pockets, grading papers, or prepping materials late into the night, always straining to maintain that elusive balance between work and home. But this year... well, this year is not like other years. This year took the scale we use to balance work and home and sold it to the pawnshop for parts.
Like the instruction on an airplane to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others in an emergency, it has always been critical that educators take care of themselves first in order to serve their students. Research shows that when teachers experience stress and burnout, it negatively impacts the quality of their teaching. Stress has a contagion effect in classrooms; teachers reporting high levels of burnout are more likely to have students in their classrooms showing an elevated physiological stress response. In other words, when teachers are stressed out, so are students.
This is why several SEL programs have focused on supporting the social-emotional competencies of educators so they can recognize when they are becoming overwhelmed and implement healthy practices to maintain their own emotional well-being. For example, the Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) program teaches educators mindfulness practices as a way to build self-awareness and compassion and reduce stress and anxiety. Schools can also develop their own practices and systems for supporting the social-emotional well-being of their staff, such as daily wellness check-ins, mindfulness practices, and other opportunities to connect and share their struggles and successes.
This year’s challenges have been unprecedented. But if anyone can rise to a challenge, it’s educators. So, I asked the 17,000+ teachers, coaches, and administrators who support students through Branching Minds, “What are you doing to take care of you? What advice would you share with other educators to help support their own social-emotional well being, so they can best support students’ social-emotional well being?” Within minutes my inbox was filled with amazing advice!
Many of the suggestions focused on reminders to breathe, meditate, walk, run, swim, bike, do yoga, stretch, sleep, practice mindfulness, work with clay, engage in hobbies, read, eat well, and stay hydrated. I found it helpful to read the full list of recommendations (see the bottom of the page), but I wanted to spotlight some of the responses and the advice they carry, in the hopes that they resonate with you and inspires you to find a new way to take care of you:
Self-care advice, from educators for educators. You can download the full list in PDF format here.
I also received a bounty of messages from teachers saying that they were struggling, hadn’t found a way to take care of themselves, were feeling exhausted, but buoyed by the good work they were doing. I know it’s easy to discount ourselves when the work feels so important, and it’s easy to discount advice when it doesn’t match our own lives exactly (I don’t have a pool, I don’t live in a place that feels safe to run on my own, I don’t like the feel of clay, etc..). My hope for this week is that you each try and find a way that works for you to take care of you--because we have zero chance of achieving the meaningful and tremendously important work we all do, if we are all burnt out.
We care about our Branching Minds team and our school and district partners as much as we care about the students we serve. To get more tips, advice, and resources to help you overcome the challenges from this pandemic era, sign up for our weekly digest.
Full List of Advice from Educators for Educators:
I am taking care of me by setting time frames for work to begin and end, setting times for bedtime, and actively stepping away from home/parenting/social activities for designated ME time. It's hard, but we will get through this!
Live by faith and not by fear
Reminding myself it doesn't all have to get done this second or today. Things and processes can take a long time. Don't rush. Don't get rushed by others.
We are lucky. We are a Middle School and we have Advisory. We put SEL lessons together that teachers conduct during Advisory.
This year I will focus on building better relationships with my students, and social awareness. With everything that is going on in the world right now, you really have to beware of and understanding of someone's background and/or cultures.
Daily meditation and mindfulness. Be in the moment and get our thoughts out of the way. I call these "listening moments" in my classes and the students usually do pretty well with them.
My Advice- Take Care of YOU and be thoughtful of the things you do that concern others- such as wear a mask-don't be selfish, wash your hands- don't spread germs...its more than you in your world. It is hard to mentally digest-all back and forth- to know our lives are at risk and are we willing to risk it all. It's too much- so think to always pray about every move you make and breathe. ASK THE QUESTIONS YOU NEED!
“I have been trying to walk in the morning by myself for a mile. In the evening, I try to take 10-15 minutes to walk as a family. I feel like it calms me before the day in the mornings and relaxes me from the stress of the day in the evening as well as having family time. I also think the fact that you ASK others how they are doing just creates an atmosphere of CARE from someone else and removes the notion of always having to care for others.”
I am making sure that I schedule my time, I eat healthily, and I am participating in regular exercise. It is important for teachers to model this for our students and be honest with them about things. If we didn't get a chance to grade something because we needed a break, we need to let them know that we need to take a break, too. Communication is key.
I am a big believer in self-care and have found that mindfulness works for me. I meditate each morning and at night using an insight timer. I also co-host mindfulness calls for my district.
The big message is to BREATHE!
I am going for walks outside on the lawn, during break times. Helps me recenter.
I try to pace myself and balance out my duties to be completed during the allotted time as I am guilty of working way past time. I am often burnt out and tired so I have tried to just pace myself and balance my day to increase productivity. I also get a good walk in after work for relaxation.
I tell my teachers to send a calendar invite to themselves that lasts for 20/30 min where they just "walk away" from their computers and get some fresh air. As they walk away, I tell them to put their hands over their head as if they were stretching (getting the brain juices back flowing) and try to hum/whistle their favorite song. You can't whistle when you're mad, lol. 😉
I do movement breaks whenever I can. I try to drink lots of water during the day. And, I try to do yoga breaks with my class. When they do a yoga break, I force myself to do it with them, rather than any of the 102 teacher things that I could be doing!
I am learning and applying breathing techniques even when I am alone. I can feel my blood pressure go down and it really helps to refocus me. The kiddos love to see us all breathing together.
I make myself get outside to somewhere I feel is beautiful and I just take a moment to walk and be present and try really hard to not think about work or kids or anything!
I take a walk after school as often as I can - at least 3 days a week. And am going to add some yoga stretches to my lunch break!
Don't let yesterday's stressors enter today, nor today's stressors enter your tomorrow, let it be like water on a duck's back, let it roll right off.
One thing I do is move every hour or so. I take at least 4 breaks throughout the day to move for 15 minutes. Here are some things I do: Water the plants in the yard, quick ride around the block on my bike, yoga stretching for 15 minutes, eat standing up, put music on and dance for 10 minutes, walk up and down the stairs 5 times, I live at the beach, so sometimes, I just go look at the waves for a few minutes.
To take care of me I am getting outside after school every day. I walk, kayak or play tennis. It is essential to get away from the computer and to be physically active. Good for the body, the brain, and the soul.
I take care of myself by drinking enough water daily, walking for exercise, and rest.
Have been having a lot of talks with colleagues recently. Most of us are struggling and knowing we are not alone is helpful. Just knowing/mindset that I really am doing my best, and my intentions are so great help. Beach walk with my best friend (my dog)!!! Ha
I NEVER neglect my workouts- weight training is the perfect decompressor- or my nutrition. Teachers are notoriously unhealthy in their nutrition habits (hello carb-a-palooza) as well as exercise. Both of these hinder energy levels and our grace & patience with our students. My fitness level helps my relationships with my students as well as mitigating the stress.
I make sure to do one thing for myself each week; it is usually a pottery class.
I take "Brain Breaks" by walking through my building and stopping into classrooms sometimes helping students, sometimes just observing. Out of school, I will watch a movie or go to a sporting event. Modeling SEL to students is tough, but I manage my emotions and try to remain on an even keel throughout the day. I check in every day at the beginning of the day and say, "Good Morning," to every class throughout my building, setting the tone for everyone to be in a good mood. I make sure I address everyone I meet in the hall with a positive greeting. If a kid is exhibiting negative behaviors I work to remain calm and try to work through the situation with the student. We all can use some R & R and weekends are a blessing! LOL
Fitness exercises and I practice meditation. But just having students practice any type of meditation or exercise, taking a few moments to check in with themselves how they feel how they’re doing, making sure they have opportunities to express themselves and to talk about their anxieties and difficulties.
Just taking it one thing at a time so that it does not become overwhelming
The one thing I do each day is sitting outside for a few minutes doing absolutely nothing!
One way I'm taking care of me is walking each night to clear my mind and refocus my perspective. Journaling my worries also helps!
Eating breakfast and lunch (even if the timing is significantly off), Taking screen breaks. Checking on others, especially when I start feeling overwhelmed. Admitting to myself and to close friends when I feel overwhelmed
I keep a running gratitude list and share it with my students daily!
I try to get outside after school and on the weekends- finding new walking and biking trails in my area has been helpful. Getting outside, exercising, and exploring: it's good for the body and the mind.
Speak healthy affirmations, deep breathing, and think before you speak(reply). It is easy to become frustrated and it is important to remain calm, listen, and empathize.
I take at least 30 minutes each day to do something that is ONLY for me. Be it exercise, reading a good book, or drinking a glass of wine (or two :))
I am teaching virtual classes at home right now! Laugh and use humor with your students. Make mistakes trying! Oops did y’all see I made a mistake? Ask them how they feel about virtual learning. They will tell you! We laughed when I told them I had gained the quarantine 10 pounds!
Exercise, take a breath, go outside & listen to nature, go somewhere quiet & close eyes & meditate
I get out and walk every day during my lunch break.
We encourage staff members to create their own self-care/wellness plans that we support in developing. Additionally, we provide adult self-care/wellness opportunities within districts that I facilitate. By taking care of our own social and emotional needs, we naturally model and integrate healthy practices with our learners.
In my class we dance and sing. We go over the expectations and catch the students doing good, especially the ones who need that extra attention. Even though all the students are different, I try to treat them all equally. Don't be in a power struggle with the students; instead, compromise or think the child is right.
Working on my own SEL I get outdoors and hike on trails, go to water areas like lakes or streams, and try to take in the great outdoors!
I have developed the Morale and Mindfulness Committee over the past few years that has focused on staff and embedding strategies for the classroom, I have facilitated mindful movement sessions and small moments for staff (pre-COVID). You can also read about how the committee is structured in COSEM's book, Chapter 34. (I am also speaking about this next Tuesday for a free COSEM book study/Mentoring Meeting that is free to attend this month--Link here) Currently, I have recorded Mindful Moments with Mrs. Frank for learners, many staff members mention they use it for themselves as well. I also coach into classrooms to embed mindfulness and through the coaching cycle staff begin to develop their own practices and enjoy the benefit when they lead moments. Here is my mindfulness website. Since starting this school year and not being able to go to schools, I started recording mini tools based on a book that integrates mindfulness into daily life (I am not sure if you have access to it without a district email). The self-care plan is a part of our Classroom Climate and Management Plans as a resource for staff to create (and is highly encouraged). It falls under our relationships section for "relationship to self". We need to be the container for our learners and honor the space, this also provides the layer of protection from vicarious trauma and online digital fatigue.
Practice being present in the moment…
I think it’s important to make time for activities that are of interest to you. Something that you find interesting and enjoy...which allows time to relax and relieve stress.
In between teaching I go on quick walks to keep my anxiety level down. While I walk I admire the trees, birds, the blue skies and listen to music. I take nothing for granted. I also stay connected to family and friends. I would tell other educators to take it one day or one hour at a time; to do some deep breathing and just know that you are doing your very best. Concentrate on the things you can change and the difference you can make. Try to build community with students as building relationships are even more imperative during remote learning.
Drinking water. Appreciating that my family is here, and I can check on them at lunch and less time driving.
I take care of myself by exercising as much as possible...I swim laps in my pool....but the water is getting colder each day...The other suggestion is to get organized...have a plan and try and stick to it.
One way that I am taking care of my SEL needs is carving our personal time daily to do a hobby or time to just shut the Covid world off to mediate. I find a mixture of stretching , exercising, clay modelling, and reading daily helps me clear my mind as well as decrease any anxiety that may occur.
I pray a lot and take a nap every day when I go home
I have been talking a lot with my kids about how we are going to get pretty close this year, just like a family. We talk about how family takes care of each other. We also talk about loving ourselves, yet at the same time, it is OK to feel like you love something more than yourself. 5 months ago I became a first time Nana. I have treasured every single minute of falling in love again. My granddaughter and family is how I take care of myself. I have strong bonds with them and I feel very valued by them. They give me the strength I need to pass things on to my kids at school. I have been trying to think of a word I can use with my kids to combine school and family, and I think I just thought of it...SCHOOMALY! I love it!
I’m a yogi! Daily yoga and meditation are my saviors!
I recommend that we as teachers conduct a self-check on ourselves, so we can be in tune with our bodies
It's nice to talk to other adults about something this important in a voluntary and safe space.
I ensure I get up and stretch at every single break I have on Zoom. That means on my feet, moving my arms, legs, and neck, at least once an hour: more often, if possible.
Establish clear boundaries between work and home. Set times for work and times for home and try as much as possible to stick to them and not let them overlap. And then do not feel guilty about not being able to do school work during your established time for family and home! Also, set a to-do list, prioritize it, and from there create a daily schedule and check off things as you get them done. You will feel so accomplished! Lastly, take the time to take care of your health. Before the pandemic, I exercised sporadically. Now I exercise for at least 35 minutes daily first thing in the morning. I have lost inches (not that much weight though), and I feel great! Invest in yourself!!! This is how I have managed to maintain my sanity during the pandemic.
I take care of myself by thinking positive, keeping a smile on my face, and wearing a fitbit that reminds me to get active. I also listen to motivational speakers throughout the day. I know that no one is perfect and when correction is necessary; I try to correct in a positive way.
Catching a nap in the afternoon.
I garden daily, pick pawpaws and persimmons are falling each afternoon. I showed my students a pawpaw today. Something that I have never seen before.
Set up Alexa to wake me up with a joke!
I meditate for 10 minutes three times a day and I run at least 5K a day in order to prepare for an ultramarathon.
Remembering I can't do it all, and that each day I'm growing and learning. Remembering that kindness, respect and love are the most important things I can be teaching and modeling for my students right now.
I make it a mission to respect my values on a daily basis. It's not always easy to balance it all but I make it a point to schedule activities for myself after school so I don't stay at work forever and I regroup and do what feeds my soul. And for me a lot of that is exercising and being with my horse - I have a weekly plan between horseback riding, figure skating, and going to the gym to work out. These are commitments I make to myself and I have to remember that my job is that, it's a job - it's not my life. If I do this, I will be a better teacher for my students, colleagues, and a better person :)
I READ! Strange right?? A librarian who reads as (at least part of) my effort to keep my head right. I have been purchasing a lot of SEL titles to have here in our elementary libraries for students to have access to.
The way I take care of me is doing exercise: I swim almost every day after day to relax. During the weekends I like to ride my bike. I also spend time with my family, resting and reading my Bible daily.
I am signing off as soon as school is over. No taking work outside of my office if I don't have to!
As simple as it sounds...actually engaging in the reminders on my Apple watch (stand, breath, steps) helps me to clear my mind throughout the day. Also, if your schedule has some flexibility, do something you like (listen to music, my guilty pleasure is watching a partial episode of a comedy while I eat lunch). In our classrooms, we are using the free Mind Yeti resources available to provide brain breaks partnered with mask breaks. Also, don't be afraid of the playground...put some precautions in place, model these and go outside!
Workout, fill your cup, meditate
I have been trying to walk in the morning by myself for a mile. In the evening, I try to take 10-15 minutes to walk as a family. I feel like it calms me before the day in the mornings and relaxes me from the stress of the day in the evening as well as having family time. I also think the fact that you ASK others how they are doing just creates an atmosphere of CARE from someone else and removes the notion of always having to care for others.
I listen to music when I need to decompress. I am a Counselor now, but when I taught in the classroom my class and I listened to music as well.
using a weekend day to recuperate, establishing office hours for home
I use a weighted blanket on my lap (that no one can see in my zoom meetings) and include flowers behind me so that I can see them and others can see them while in my zoom meetings.
I seek counseling from a professional therapist. This has really helped me manage my feelings about life in general. Thanks for asking.
I still try to find time for my hobbies. I enjoy working out and going for runs so i try to at least run everyday if I am not able to workout.
I attempt walking in the morning for 30 minutes before going to school. I also joined a bible study group called "It's Ok Not to be Ok" by Sheila Walsh.
My suggestion to other educators would be , to break take. Don't overly stress about things you cannot control and give it to God.
I would tell them what I tell myself "eat the elephant one bite at a time"
It is necessary for educators to know themselves. When feeling overwhelmed; remember to breathe, prioritize, and address one situation at a time.
Branching Minds is a highly respected K-12 services and technology company that leverages the learning sciences and technology to help districts effectively personalize learning through enhancements to their MTSS/RTI practice. Having worked with hundreds of districts across the country, we bring deep expertise in learning sciences, data management and analysis, software design, coaching, and collaboration. Combined with our extensive toolkit of resources, PD, and technology, we provide a system-level solution. We are more than a service or a software provider, we are partners who will deliver sustainable results for educators, and a path to success for every learner.