Author: Cecilia Chung, Middle School Social Studies Educator
Stop scrolling for a second and look around you. What are you doing right now? Where are you? What are you thinking about? How are you feeling? For me, on a given weekday, I am often at school… with my laptop in my face, a pile of papers on my desk, and my phone in my hand, stressed and overwhelmed.
The world of education, whether you are a classroom teacher, a coach, a counselor, or an administrative leader, can be demanding, overwhelming, and stressful. You often feel like you are juggling so many things that you don’t know where to start. You want to do your best and you know you are working hard… but you feel tired. You feel like you are losing the spark, the joy that originally came with the job.
It’s not just you. There are many of us who are working hard and running fast… but running out of steam. We want to be here for the long haul but are finding the wear and tear of daily demands frustrating and challenging. To begin to cultivate a sustainable career in education, it is not enough to just “survive the week.” How can we not “just survive,” but thrive… and find joy in life and the work that we do?
1. Take a pause.
Physically find a spot to just stop what you are doing. We are rushing, all of the time. We rush our words, our bodies, our minds - we rarely take pause to think and sit in the thought - we rarely stop to actually feel the feelings. This may be why the second a colleague asks you, “Are you okay?” you start bawling. Pausing needs to be integrated into our day. It also needs to be modeled for our students - we need to allow students and ourselves time to process what they are learning, and feel what they are feeling, not avoid or suppress it. For some educators, this pause might be during the first 15 minutes before school starts; for others, it’s an intentional step out of the room during a breaktime or even built into the class day as a “mindful moment” after recess and done with the class.
2. Write it down.
Process your thoughts. This does not always mean jotting it down with pen and paper. For some, it might look like typing it out or drawing pictures; for others it could be a quick voice recording on the phone. Whatever the method, allow your brain to process the day and the many thoughts swimming around. It might start simply with sitting down and listing out all of your thoughts. This processing can sometimes feel better with others around you doing the same thing: if you are looking for a local writing community of educators, Hawaii Educators Write Sessions are the last Wednesday of every month (more details at https://bit.ly/hawaiiwrite).
3. Set boundaries.
Understand your current capacity for work and service. Education sometimes feels like a place where you have to give 110% and that’s still not enough. In the work we do, there is a sense of moral obligation to do “whatever it takes.” Your health and self is a priority. An amazing teacher and friend once said, not being everywhere and doing everything is very important in a sustainable work life. This is something I am learning everyday and something I still struggle with. Set boundaries on time or type of activity. For example, set an alarm at 3:30pm to leave work to go home and spend time with your family. It helps to have a partner or team of colleagues and friends at work to share the same boundary goal and hold each other accountable. Communicate your boundaries to others so that they can help you. One activity we do as a school team at the beginning of the year is to voice our boundaries and expectations so that our team knows how to support one another and understand each other better.
4. Set routines.
Is there something you do for yourself everyday or every week? Something you look forward to? Just like how we help students to develop good habits and routines, we should not forget us, the adults! When life is crazy, and we know it can be, it feels like you are floating amongst the chaos. What is the one routine that grounds you? One thing I have committed to, is to go on a short hike every Sunday morning. This routine is like a promise I am making to myself, that I will take care of my body and health and make that a priority. Last week Sunday was my 27th hike and I am looking forward to future ones. Another routine, which can be more challenging as it is in the work week, is to walk outside every Wednesday. Sometimes the best way to start walking is to walk with a group who will hold you accountable! At our school, we invited any of our faculty and staff to walk to the nearest park - whoever is available comes out on Wednesday to walk and talk and clear our minds. It helps to ground us in the week.
5. Find your people.
In your current setting, who are your marigolds (check out Find Your Marigold, by Jennifer Gonzales)? Who are the people in your life you can count on and when you are with them, you just feel… like anything is possible? These magical friends may be at your workplace or they may be a network across schools. I’ve found that the #808educate family in Hawaiʻi is a welcoming place of educators who can be the shoulders you need to lean on or the boost you need to try something new. Finding your people might also look like reconnecting with those you haven’t spoken to in a while. Text a teacher friend right now and check up on them. Maybe they need a pick-me-up and maybe the conversation that happens today can help you both in the long run.
These are just a few but the message is this: take care of yourself. We’re out here, HSTE family, caring for your health and well-being so please reach out and find community with us. Share out any other self-care strategies you do or encourage others to do. Tweet us at @hsteorg or directly message us on Instagram at @hsteorg - we would love to share out your ideas.