Working in schools is emotionally challenging, and teaching is emotionally consuming. Stress and burnout lead many effective educators to quit. There are two truths about this state of affairs.
The first is that systemic changes need to be made in order to relieve the amount of stress that educators are under. The conditions under which many teachers and administrators work are simply inhumane. (I'm not going to detail or describe these here, but they do need to be named, and conditions need to change.)
What I want to discuss now is the second truth about this state of affairs, which is that we -- the teachers, administrators, and educators who are stressed and burning out -- can do something about this stress. While we advocate for systemic changes to improve the conditions in which we work, we can also take specific steps, every day, to cultivate our emotional resilience.
We can learn how to not only manage the stress, but also boost our reserves of emotional energy so that we can enjoy teaching and leading in schools. We can also channel this energy back into the fight for improved working conditions.
So here are a few suggestions for ways to boost your vital reserves of emotional strength. I'm not going to share here the "why this works," but these are all research-based. Just try these suggestions and you'll see that they help.
1. Build Community
Feeling connected to your colleagues, your students, their families, and the community in which you work is an essential element in building emotional resilience. We need each other. The beginning of the school year is the most logical time to build community. Here are some ways to do this:
- Have lunch with a colleague that you don't know well. Say, "I'd like to get to know you better." Ask him/her to share a story about why he/she got into teaching, what keeps him/her in it, what he/she loves about teaching. And share your stories.
- Organize an informal event for families (even if you teach secondary and have many families), such as a potluck, weekend barbeque, or tea party -- an opportunity to gather and get to know each other as people (as opposed to a Back-to-School Night, which can feel more formal).
- Over a period of a month, spend five minutes with each student individually getting to know them as people (even if you teach secondary and have 130 kids).
- Community is built through conversation, through sharing stories and listening. Find ways to come together, listen, and bring your similarities to the surface.
2. Know Yourself
As you engage in learning about others in your community, explore who you are as an educator and human being. Here are some ways to do this:
- Identify your purpose and mission as an educator. Why do you do what you do? Write it out and share it with others.
- Explore who you are as an emotional being. Learn about emotional intelligence in general and your own in particular. Here are two resources I recommend: anything written by Daniel Goleman and resources from the Positive Psychology Center.
- Understand your personality and the ways in which it affects how you live and work in the world.
With self-knowledge comes ability to make choices and decisions that will help build resilience.
3. Create a Plan for Self-Care
I know you've heard it before: Sleep, exercise, and eat well! If you've struggled to prioritize sleep, exercise, and nutritious food in the past, I encourage you to take an inquiry stance. See what happens if you prioritize these essential actions for a couple of weeks.
Start with one goal at a time. Get eight hours of sleep every night this week or eat a healthy lunch each day -- and pay close attention to how your emotions shift.
You've heard this before, too, but let me remind you of some simple things that you can do:
- Stock up on nuts and dried fruit, and stash them in your desk, car, and bag.
- Shop and cook for the week on Sunday. Make something that you can take for several days for lunch. Protein-dense and low-carb foods are key for sustaining afternoon energy.
- Take a 15-minute walk every day. Walking is enough. Fifteen minutes will make a big difference.
- And sleep -- please sleep. I'm obsessed with sleep as a foundation for wellbeing, happiness, resilience, and school transformation. I think we might be better able to change the world if we all slept for eight or nine hours a night.
Next post, I'll offer more specific suggestions for ways to cultivate your emotional resilience this year. In the meantime, you can start right now. Go take a walk, and if you walk with a colleague, you'll be doing two things at the same time to boost your resilience.