Self-Care for Teachers: Why and How to Make It a Priority

The final bus leaves the school. There is a collective sigh as another week finishes.

As you look at your colleagues, you see many shoulders hunched over, exhaustion written across their faces. You realize that if you had a mirror, you would probably look the same. 

It’s no surprise that you see this in your school. In the 2019 Educator Confidence Report published by HMH and YouGov, three-quarters of teachers—along with 88 percent of administrators—agreed that stress from their educational environments made it more difficult to be their best in the classroom.

The Importance of Teacher Well-Being 

Self-care for teachers matters because unhealthy educators can’t help students. It’s time we are open and honest with one another about our own overall health and well-being. When we can have these conversations with one another, we can better support our own physical, emotional, and mental health. 

Before we talk about ways in which we can support our own health, let’s first be sure to work from the same information.

  1. There is a health continuum in which we examine our own current well-being. We all can self-identify on this continuum from "needed expert help" to "feeling strong and successful on our own."
  2. Our own well-being journey is about our own well-being. It’s about being better today than we were yesterday. Our own well-being isn’t a competition with anyone else.
  3. Social-emotional learning (for students and adults) isn’t just another "thing" on the plate. It’s not even the plate. SEL is about the person holding the plate . . . in other words, us!

5 Steps for Teacher Wellness

Here are five ways to impact and improve your overall educator wellness.

  1. Exercise regularly to clear your mind. I follow many fitness experts on social media in the off chance I’ll suddenly become fit by reading them. It hasn’t worked yet. However, many of them share that we need to walk 30 minutes each day. It’s very simple, right? I remember hitting my 10,000 steps throughout the day as a teacher and as a principal. However, making time to walk intentionally or do some other form of exercise has both physical and mental benefits as you can reflect on the day or listen to music and relax your mind while trotting along at a brisk pace.
  2. Reflect each Friday afternoon. We’ve spent 40+ hours in our classrooms already and—let’s be honest—the last thing we want to do on Friday is engage in meetings, phone calls, and emails. Use this time to reflect on the week you just finished and set goals for next week. What went well with your instruction, and how were the interactions among students and staff this week? Check out Way #15 in the book The Instructional Change Agent for specific details about how to use this time effectively.
  3. Drink water. As teachers we talk. A lot. Couple the talking with the moving, and we can become dehydrated very quickly. A quick remedy is to keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times. About 60% of our body is made up of water, with 73% of our brain and heart composed of water. In fact, fitness experts suggest drinking half your body weight in ounces. As you increase your water intake, take note of how different you feel. You can even suggest having a water station added to your teachers’ lounge as a way to increase everyone’s water intake. Oh, and be sure to encourage your students to drink water, too!
  4. Acknowledge others’ accomplishments. As educators, we often see great things happen every day and think about them as they happen. Yet, time slips away, and we don’t always communicate them to the folks who need to hear the praise. So, when we find and recognize good things that happen, we feel better about life. Consider recognizing the good things that happen by sending a note or email or by telling the person face to face about what you noticed, whether it’s a colleague, a student (or their parent), or somebody else. You will feel better.
  5. Try meditating or practice mindfulness. My daughter came home from preschool last year with knowledge of how to meditate. If you haven’t seen a four-year-old sitting with legs crossed and elbows on her knees, it’s quite a treat. When I asked why she was doing it, she told me she was calming herself. Wow. I think Carter is on to something. As educators, we make thousands of decisions every week. We need to make sure we are giving ourselves some brain space to reflect and think about our own personal and professional goals. We can do this in the quietness of life when we create it. When is the last time you sat in silence for five minutes simply calming yourself? Give meditation or other mindfulness activities a try.

Start by picking one of these ways to enhance your overall teacher wellness. Once you have identified which way you want to try, make it a routine. Try do the task for at least 21 days. What do you notice? Remember, your goal is to be a better person today than yesterday. When you are well, you can be the educator with shoulders up and face smiling—and being the change so many of our students need.

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You can book a keynote with ICLE Director of Professional Learning Adam Drummond to bring his expertise about leading change to your school or district.

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