Across the country, school districts are adding social emotional learning (SEL) to their curriculum. SEL has broadened the focus of education by providing a framework for molding young individuals who are as compassionate and well-adjusted as they are intelligent.
But what about teachers and their social emotional learning? Lifelong learning is one aspect of being a successful educator, whether you’re digging deeper into your subject matter, studying and practicing new instructional techniques, or exploring your personal interests. For teachers, learning is the name of the game, and that should include social emotional learning.
One of the goals of SEL is to teach students the importance of self-care. During one of our summer STEMposiums (titled “Taking Care of the Social and Emotional Needs of Students and Teachers”), participating teachers shared self-care tips for nurturing seven different aspects of our health: physical, intellectual, environmental, vocational, social, emotional, and spiritual. Below is a sample of their answers. While some teachers shared conventional wisdom, a few of their answers may surprise and inspire you.
- Sleep: It goes without saying, but sleep is vital for maintaining your health, and most of us love catching as many Zs as possible. But it can be hard to put aside that stack of ungraded papers, close your computer, and tell your family that, unless there’s an emergency, you’re hitting the hay. Establish an evening routine and commit to it.
- Put your bare feet on the ground: Feel the turf beneath your toes and awaken that primitive, barefooted person slumbering inside you. Sometimes you just gotta forget the norms of civilization and traipse about sans shoes to forget your work problems.
- Read before bed: Unwind and feed your mind with a good book or magazine. Remember, the blue light emitted by laptops inhibits your brain from releasing sleepy-time hormones like melatonin. Stick with print for your bedtime reading (Kindle is also a solid option since it lacks blue light).
- Engage in engaging conversation: Whip out your Parisian beret and head to your local coffee shop to ponder the human situation with a friend. Or don’t. Discussing fantasy football or the latest Netflix hit can be just as engaging.
- Go for aromatherapy and calming music: Light your favorite incense or Yankee candle and let Mr. Mozart minister to your soul.
- Surround yourself with positive energy: Make that “good vibes only” t-shirt a reality by seeking out upbeat people.
- Have grace with yourself on the job: Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t dwell on them. Take a deep breath and move forward.
- Set boundaries in the workplace: This one is admittedly tricky. A teacher’s job is an important and demanding one. You can always justify doing more work by telling yourself that your students will benefit from it. They might, but you need to help yourself first before helping others, which means setting boundaries and guarding them.
- Hang out with non-teachers: You love your colleagues, and they love you. But it can be hard to cut the professional chit-chat at the teacher happy hour. Do yourself a favor and make friends from another guild.
- Limit work talk outside of school: After you give your roommate or family members the sparknotes version of your workday, change the subject. You can also try incorporating this rule: When you get home, change your clothes and leave your work problems in the laundry hamper.
- Practice gratitude: Every day, write down five things that you are grateful for and review your lists often.
- Find good listeners who will let you vent, but will also provide solutions: You know the issues, but you need ways to fix them. Befriend the Yoda of your teacher tribe and absorb their wisdom.
- Pray or meditate daily: Set aside time in the morning for prayer and meditation to align yourself spiritually for the day.
- Enjoy the silence: Carve out a few minutes (or several if you can) to do nothing. Just sit in a quiet room, clear your mind, and let the peace wash over you.
Teaching is a job, a means to pay the bills, but for many of us, it is also a passion—a calling. Sometimes, that passion and the demands of teaching get the better of us. We sacrifice our well-being for our students and loved ones without realizing it, leaving nothing for ourselves. It is no wonder that teacher burnout is the norm and attrition in education so high. The time for prioritizing our health is now—for ourselves, our students, our loved ones, and this noble profession.