How Taking Care of Yourself Supports Advocacy
This blog comes from Colleen Schmit at Taylor and Francis.
It may not seem like the two should go together but self-care and being an advocate for education go hand-in-hand. Self-care includes prioritizing your health, happiness, and well-being. Self-care is liking yourself enough to place yourself on your to-do list. The old saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” applies when we think about taking care of children. If you aren’t taking care of yourself (mentally, emotionally, and physically) you are not going to be a strong voice for children. Working in the field of education includes advocacy. You must be an advocate for children, for other teachers, and for yourself. Without self-care, this becomes an even bigger task than it already is.
One of my favorite things to discuss with educators is self-care (or our lack thereof). I can articulately and passionately talk this talk. As of late, guess what I am not good at…walking the self-care walk. Summer is here. My kids are at home. Life has become both slower and busier all at once. I have let myself become overcommitted, stressed, and last (once again) on my to-do list. UGH! I am writing this blog right now on day 3 of dealing with strep throat. I had let myself get so run down that it eventually led to me getting sick. If anything, writing this blog is a great reminder for not only YOU reader but for ME as well. Below are the warning signs of when self-care is lacking and the steps take to get back on track with taking care of yourself.
Recognizing When You Have a Lack of Self-care
Somehow, we have decided as a society that the more you work the better you are. Arriving at school early and staying late must equate to you being an excellent, dedicated teacher. A former principal would often remind us as a staff that there is a difference between working hard and working smart. Of course, there will be days when a few extra hours at school are beneficial and essential. Just make sure you’re being smart about it. Are you burning the candle at both ends? Look below to see.
- You work extreme hours while at school. You are the first to arrive and the last to leave.
- You bring hours of work home each night.
- You put the needs of everyone else before your own (e.g. students, spouse, offspring, coworkers, parents).
- You are tired, moody, and often angry. You may snap at the ones you love the most.
- You always say, “Yes” even when you do not want to.
- You have stopped taking care of your health and eat food that is bad for you. This includes medicating your stress with alcohol, fast food, or treats.
- You get less than seven hours of sleep each night.
- You do not exercise or barely at all.
- You do not make yearly appointments to see your doctor or dentist.
- You have no time for hobbies or extracurricular activities.
- You rarely do anything that you love to do.
Strategies to Implement Self-care
Without a doubt, some of the symptoms from the above list will happen throughout your school year and throughout your life. Being a teacher does not mean you are not human. What you want to do is self-check your self-care. How often are you bringing work home each night? Do you often feel angry at school and/or at home? Are you a doormat for others? Do you always say yes? These are self-sabotaging behaviors. Self-care is the opposite of self-sabotage. There are many strategies to bring self-care back into your life. Below are a few ideas to get you started.
- Do something little for yourself each day. It does not need to be anything that costs any money (e.g. go for a walk, call your sister, meditate, spend time with your pet, take a bath).
- Check in with your feelings. First accept that you feel angry, sad, or upset. Those feelings are okay to feel! Next, allow the feelings to go when they are ready to leave you. If you are holding onto anger, sadness, or regret each day that is when they become problematic and when you may need to seek additional resources to help with those feelings (e.g. therapy or your doctor).
- Ask for help when you need it. You do not have to be Wonder Woman or Super Man. It is okay to admit you are struggling and need a little help. That does not make you less of a teacher or parent.
- Connect with your friends or tribe at work. Laughing and having fun with people you love really is good medicine.
- Drink water. Seriously. Quit the Diet Coke.
- Go to bed earlier. Sleep is self-care.
- Exercise daily. This doesn’t mean you have to be a CrossFit hero, but you should move your body and take care of yourself somehow each day. Teacher, go for a walk!
- Say NO without giving an explanation or an apology. You don’t need to be rude about it but saying no to things that deplete you is a form of self-care.
- Consistency is key! That is where I went wrong and let self-care slide. The good thing is once you recognize this you can give yourself a little grace and reclaim yourself as a priority. Even doing one small form of self-care daily can make a big difference in how you feel.
Teachers live a life of service and advocacy. You are serving the needs of students, families, and your school family. Teachers serve our community and our future. It is our responsibility to be a voice, this includes a voice for children, other teachers, and ourselves! A career or vocation in service is a gift. Focusing on self-care does not mean you have lost sight of your purpose as an educator. It simply means you are recharging your own battery so that you have the energy to be a more powerful light in our world. Taking care of everyone else’s needs before your own is like pouring gasoline on an already growing flame. When working in a high-stress job such as teaching, guilt about taking care of YOU should not be something that you add to your already full plate. Self-care is not selfish. You absolutely cannot serve effectively as a teacher or as an advocate if you are not prioritizing taking care of yourself along with meeting the needs of your students and family.
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