As the school year gets underway it would be fair to say that many educators are coming back to school with mixed emotions. Of course, there is excitement for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of students, while there is also dread for the onslaught of work and the unreasonable expectations that never seem to end. Whether you’re a teacher or administrator, the weight of the academic year impacts us along with our students and our families. When too much becomes too much, the result is burnout. Multiple media accounts have shared stories of teachers who announced they were leaving the profession they love for a myriad of reasons. Educator concerns are real and the unique emotional toll on each individual should be respected.
Over the last few years, school systems have prioritized the importance of students’ social-emotional health. Initiatives such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) framework prioritize student social-emotional learning (SEL) with the whole child to leverage improved academic success. According to the CASEL website, “an education that promotes SEL has a positive impact on a wide range of outcomes, including academic performance, healthy relationships, mental wellness, and more.” What about the social-emotional health of adults who work in today’s schools?
A recent shift finds many school districts putting an emphasis on staff health and well-being. This is certainly a step in the right direction, as teacher attrition rates have caused a hiring crisis for school districts nationwide. Some states have even relaxed teacher certification requirements in their systems to combat the shortages. While this fairly new concept of staff well-being is emerging from the top down, there are things we can do for ourselves.
When the needs of educators are met, we can better serve the students in their care. Many of us are so consumed with our everyday responsibilities that we seldom slow down to harness our inner ability to master our own wellness. We have to take time to assess how we are mentally, physically, and spiritually. In her piece on work-life balance, Cynthia McQueen expertly states, people need to “check in before they check out.” In other words, we have to be more self-aware. I am a great believer that our best help comes from within. As we embark on a fresh academic year with so much burgeoning potential, consider the following suggestions for nurturing your own wellness.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Let’s be clear, we all have expectations that are part of our work assignments. However, the problem is repeatedly relaxing our boundaries to include just one more thing, which over time can create stress, resentment, and possibly burnout. A way to alleviate this is by establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries from the onset so you won’t compromise yourself or overestimate what you can do. Learn the power and freedom of saying no. The ability to say no will free you from extending your boundaries and help you stay balanced.
Setting boundaries is something that no one can do for you. In the work environment it simply means what you will and will not hold yourself responsible for. In his article, How to Set Healthy Boundaries, Joaquín Selva says that “setting boundaries is an important part of establishing one’s identity and is a crucial aspect of mental health and wellbeing.” Too often in schools we overwork ourselves, trying to adhere to unrealistic expectations and maintain favor with others. Let’s normalize saying “No. I’m sorry I am unable to do that.”
Make taking care of yourself a critical component in maintaining a proper work-life balance. This looks like prioritizing your interests, not feeling guilty about taking time for yourself and your family, and realizing that you should not let your professional life consume your private life. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Also, the practices you put in place as you start your year will lay the foundation for how you will proceed through the year… in other words, how you start is how you finish!
In her article, Elizabeth Scott defined self-care as "a multidimensional, multifaceted process of purposeful engagement in strategies that promote healthy functioning and enhance well-being," adding that “ the term describes a conscious act a person takes in order to promote their own physical, mental, and emotional health.” Self-care is unique and personal to each of us. We must take the time to acknowledge and practice those things that make our hearts happy. It’s more than self-care, I call it self-love!
UPDATED FOR 2023: A reader, Neil Foto from Architectural Digest Review, suggested the following addition:
According to a recent survey, around 33% of people report feeling extreme stress. Taking the time to de-stress your home is a wonderful form of self-care. A peaceful home not only aids in sleep, reduces stress, and enhances overall well-being, but also boosts productivity and can help us find relief from the demands of daily life.
Our team believes that homeowners deserve to feel a sense of calm and serenity in their homes amidst their busy, hectic lives. That’s why we published a piece that includes ways to de-stress your home without sacrificing your style or routine.
How to De-Stress Your Home (2023 Guide):
August is a great time to de-stress the home, in anticipation of a new school year. This is a great investment in your future well-being! Thanks, Neil!
Know Your Worth
Too frequently we quantify our worth with our ability to complete everything that needs to be done. Newsflash: there will always be another thing to accomplish! Just as soon as you’ve finished one list the next one is right on its trail. Instead, gauge your value on the quality of your work and the impact you have on those you serve. I’d much rather exist as a value-added educator who produces quality outcomes than a mediocre employee whose priority is to see how many tasks they can complete.
Your worth is internal. It is not tied to how many possessions you have, what title you hold, or what you’ve accomplished. You are more than what you do! Similarly, your worth does not decrease because of a shortcoming or personal failure. Knowing who you are innately means that you will be less likely to compromise your values when you feel pressured. What Does it Mean to Know Your Worth unpacks the why and the how of knowing your worth as the authors address the importance of understanding your singular value and not allowing others to define who you are.
Celebrate Small Victories
Learn to be your own cheerleader! While external accolades are appreciated, don’t rely on them to affirm who you are as an educator or a person. Take the time to pause, acknowledge, and celebrate small accomplishments. In the grand scheme of things, we can lose sight of the high points of a typical work day. Maybe you saw the academic growth in a student, or you totally crushed a professional development session with the staff, or you met a need for someone that made a difference for them.
Jenny Marchal expands on how to celebrate small wins and how this practice aids in achieving your goals. The ability to own small wins helps affirm who we are and the potential we have to do bigger and better things. By celebrating these minor victories we continuously remind ourselves who we are and the impact we have on others. For anyone working in a service industry like education, it is the many small wins that sustain us.
Find Your Tribe
Socialization is good for the soul. However, be mindful of the people you allow to occupy your space. According to a blog post titled The Importance of Finding your Tribe, “Maslow identified ‘the need to belong’ as one of the five basic human needs…. It is natural to want to be part of a group and to feel loved and accepted by others.” Your tribe is that group of people who support, encourage, and help you to grow. Having these social connections, a group of people who are there for us, can lead to improved well-being and happiness.
Our tribes are powerful because they remind us that we’re not alone – we have a support system and people who are genuinely rooting for us. It should also be noted that people in our tribe who support our growth are best positioned to celebrate us, stand with us in the difficult moments, and remind us who we are if and when we need to be reminded along the way.
As you begin this new year, remember that being intentional about your well-being is completely in your control. Make it a routine to prioritize how you are feeling. Use self-reflection to gauge your personal temperature. Be mindful of the importance of a healthy work-life balance and continuously monitor this alignment for any needed adjustments. When we take charge of our own well-being, we act as our personal advocates to navigate and ensure our wellness and resilience. In this way, we can bring the best versions of ourselves as we work with students, staff, and families.
If you’d like to partner with someone to keep you on track and provide space for you to realize your goals this year, Edjacent offers a diverse group of trained coaches who are ready to support you. Look for more information on our website or reach out to Meghan Raftery who will expertly match you up with one of our coaches for your first session.