As teachers, we have so much on our plates. Between lesson planning, duties, serving on committees, meetings, teaching, phone calls to families… our day-to-day schedule at school is jam-packed. Perhaps you are like me and have a tough time turning your teacher brain off once you are “off duty.” Teachers often hear the term “self-care” and think of a spa day and meditative music. We shake our heads and think, “I don’t have time to go to the bathroom, let alone go get a massage.”
But that’s not really what self-care is.
According to the World Health Organization, “Self-care is a broad concept which also encompasses hygiene (general and personal); nutrition (type and quality of food eaten); lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.); environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.); socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.); and self-medication.”
Self-care does not come in a one-size-fits-all package. It can look very different for everyone. When researching what the definition of self-care is, my eyes were opened to how I think of self-care, and how I see myself and my teacher friends grappling with the implementation of self-care on a daily basis. Everything – the meals we eat, the hobbies we love, the habits we build – they are all encompassed by the idea of self-care.
Self-care is a choice. I can demonstrate “self-care” for myself by making choices in all of these areas that move me toward greater health and well-being. This involves a daily choice – daily choosing to pursue self-care in a myriad of ways. Some days it may feel like this choice is made for us and there is simply no time (or so it feels) for self-care. The days get away from us and our time feels consumed by school responsibilities. But we all still have some agency, and we can choose ourselves.
Self-care application is personal. Think about what gives you joy. Think about what creates a sense of calm. Think about what provides you with validation. Making note of these is an act of self-care planning. You are prioritizing your needs, your health. In fact, keeping a list of self-care ideas handy can help you find a variety of ways to refresh your mind, no matter what your schedule looks like on a given day.
Your application of self-care will look different than mine. Perhaps, it’s singing your favorite songs on your drive to or from work. Maybe it’s an evening stroll after dinner. Or maybe, it’s curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee. Your needs may even change from day to day. My afternoon cup of coffee with the special creamer while I grade papers is my personalized self-care this week. Next week, I may only have time to choose 5 minutes of silent mindfulness on the way to work. Self-care may vary by person, but you have to choose it, and you may need several options to choose from.
Self-care requires planning. Teachers are excellent planners! We plan our lessons in advance and I believe our self-care is just as valuable and plan-worthy! I want to encourage us as teachers to think about self-care and make a plan for it for our daily living. Haul out your giant planners or your digital apps and carve out space for your own health. We’ve already discussed how important wellness is for teachers and students. Make self-care part of your planning as you write weekly lesson plans because it’s absolutely a critical piece of what happens with your students in the classroom.
Can’t find time after school hours? How powerful would it be for you to model self-care to your students by planning for 5 minutes of silence or even nap time? (What teenager wouldn’t love to be told to put their heads down for 5 minutes?) Share your goals for self-care and wellness with your students and ask them to check on you and hold you accountable. Perhaps you can even set goals together. You are a Boss at planning, dear teacher. Plan for you. Plan for wellness. And plan for refreshment.
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