Being a Teacher is Hard!
15 Positive Practices to Help You Find Balance
It is difficult and important work, teaching children. The demands are high, time and resources are stretched thin, the nature of the work is often isolated from other adults, and far too often negativity is knocking at the door. Bad press, unpassed levies, ugly social media posts, angry parents, worn-out colleagues, and then there are the children themselves. As each year passes there seem to be more students with challenging behaviors, overwhelming needs, and the complicated histories of trauma and lack of support at home. To say that keeping a healthy life balance is difficult would be an understatement, so let’s talk about how we can recommit to self-care practices and leverage some of the growing positive psychology research to help us stay on a good path.
1. Eat lunch. No, really, do it. And while you are at it try to be healthy about it. Plan ahead so you can have something nutritious and good for you. Staff rooms are notorious repositories for sugary indulgences and leftover sweets folks don’t want at their house anymore.
2. Exercise. Walk, run, hike, join a Zumba class, or sign up for tap dance lessons. Seriously, I did this with our Dean of Students and it was so fun! Find a physical activity that works for you. Try to build in some movement into your work day as well. Even a quick walk and fresh air at lunch can do wonders for your energy levels.
3. Guard your sleep. Turn off screens early. Do not think about work before bedtime. Go to bed at a consistent time and make sure you get enough sleep.
4. Spend time outside. Research is discovering the importance of being immersed in nature. Take time to step outside on the playground and breathe in the gentle breeze, feel the warmth of the sunshine on your face, or smell the clean scent of rain (I live near Seattle). On your time off, make it a priority to spend time outside, often.
5. Care for your emotions. Teachers have feelings too! That’s okay! Validate how you are feeling and then be deliberate in taking care of yourself. Find a friend to talk to without violating confidentiality and then move forward without dwelling on the difficult feelings we are exposed to in our work with children exposed to trauma.
6. Grow boundaries. Leave it at the office. Don’t think about work at home. For me, when I think about issues at home they take up residence. I’d rather work late and then walk away. Say no to involvements that do not bring you joy or add to your work in meaningful ways.
7. Make time for mindfulness. Build in quiet breaks during the day. Slow down and be present in the moment, even for a few three minutes. In the busyness of the school day, we need to take care of ourselves. Breathe, relax, and slow your own mind down.
8. Revamp your self-talk. Are you worrying about the students? Hope for good things for our little ones in distress and then leave them at work. Remind yourself, “I didn’t cause it. I will unlikely see the full impact of my good work, but I have chosen to make myself available to help.” Are you overwhelmed? Rehearse, “One step at a time. I’ve got this!”
9. Nurture positive thoughts and foster gratitude. What is something you are looking forward to? What is one good thing that happened in the day? Focus on that! Create a gratitude journal: What are you grateful for? In your personal life? What joy or meaningful interaction did you help create? What evidences of success can you write about, even a tiny break-through?
10. Phone a friend. Invest in your social support networks and build relationships in and outside of work. Sometimes, we just need a friend.
11. Be encouraged by being an encourager. Send an affirming email to someone at work. Write a thank you note. Avoid negative talk. Do not get sucked in but be an agent of change by saying something kind or even acknowledging your self-care by saying you are trying to be positive.
12. Exercise your creativity. Add value by exercising a personal strength. Do you have a hobby or something you like to do? Photography? Crafting? Exercising creativity at work and outside of work can help you renew.
13. Develop a growth mindset. Learn, stretch, and grow. You will make mistakes and that is okay, remember, that is what helps us learn. Continue to grow your teaching practice. Add, delete, edit. Keep developing your craft and seeking new and better resources and ways to do this good work.
14. Power down. Manage your availability and information access to improve your happiness and effectiveness. Schedule time to return calls and answer emails but try to avoid cramming them in at lunch. Constant connectivity to our email, phones, and social media can mean we literally don’t get a break. That’s not good for anybody!
15. Set goals. Identify small manageable goals and build from there. When you cannot do it all, my philosophy is, “Do the worst first.” Whatever task causes the most stress or has the biggest impact for the least effort, start there.
Thank you for investing in the lives of children. Adding healthy self-care practices into your daily routines will boost your ability to keep up the good work and establish a healthy balance.
Rebecca Bowen, M.Ed. is a full-time school counselor in Washington state and the author of My Incredible Talking Body: Learning to Be Calm, a picture book that teaches emotional regulation and provides parents and educators with strategies to support the children in their lives.
Research and Inspiration
Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books.
Bernstein, E. E., & McNally, R. J. (2017). Acute aerobic exercise helps overcome emotion regulation deficits. Cognition and Emotion, 31(4), 834-843.
Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York: Three Rivers Press.