This week on the Truth for Teachers podcast: A guide for self-care habits for teachers.
See if any of this sounds like you:
- You’re a teacher who puts everyone else’s needs before your own
- You never have enough time and energy for everything, and only what’s left over belongs to you (And I’m guessing on many days, there ISN’T time and energy left over for you)
- You know you need to prioritize self-care but just haven’t been able to create habits that you can stick with long-term
I think that a lack of time and energy is one of the biggest problems teachers are facing, and I’ve spent the last 3.5 years supporting teachers with work/life balance through the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club.
And to be really honest with you, sometimes, it makes me really fired up, because I see first hand, day in and day out, just how much teachers are having to do with so few resources and so little support. We’re always hearing about “do it for the kids, it’s all about the kids” and it feels like, well, what about taking care of teachers?
It’s not hard to make the assumption that the only way to be successful as a teacher is to put your students’ achievement before everything else in your life. If the kids — that is, other people’s kids — aren’t your #1 priority, if you’re not working 24/7 for them, then you’re letting everyone down and your students won’t be successful.
This is the message that is passionately on my heart:
There is no direct correlation between the number of hours you work and your effectiveness as a teacher. We all know truly outstanding teachers who prioritize time with their own families and refuse to work nonstop, and we all know teachers who work 12 hour days but are teaching like it’s 1984.
Effective teaching is NOT about constantly working, it’s about making sure you’re working on the right things. Once you start examining your habits and making sure you’re focused on things that are the BEST and HIGHEST use of your time, you WILL be able to make yourself a priority, too.
I wanted to say that right up front because if you don’t see your own needs as being important, you never make time for self-care. Because when something is a priority, we’ll find the time. When it’s not, we’ll find an excuse.
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As you’ll discover through this episode, self-care can be as simple as 5-minute habits embedded into your day. It does not have to be this big complicated, expensive, time-consuming thing. I’m advocating for simple habits peppered throughout your day — some of them just 1-2 minutes.
Instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media while you’re making dinner, you can be listening to an uplifting podcast or music that you love.
Instead of grading two and a half papers while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, you can spend a couple minutes reading a book by your favorite novelist.
Instead of worrying about work while you’re driving and re-hashing that negative interaction with a parent, you can be doing mindfulness practice or breathing exercises.
This kind of self-care is not wasteful, and it’s not selfish. Taking care of yourself means that you have more to give to your students. Staying up until 3 AM looking for the perfect lesson on Pinterest does not help you be energetic and in a good mood and present with your kids the next day when you actually implement the lesson. Kids benefit from a healthy, happy, balanced teacher. I mean, they’re stuck in a classroom with us six hours a day, who would YOU rather be with, someone who is well-rested and has hobbies and enjoys her life, or someone who hasn’t had three minutes to herself in a month and a half and is completely exhausted and cranky?
We all know this intuitively, right? And we’ve all heard the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” The tricky part is to turn that from a truism into a life principle. To stop just agreeing with it, and actually live it.
And the way to do that is through creating HABITS of self-care.
Why self-care needs to be a habit rather than an occasional treat
The quality of your habits will determine the quality of your life. You will always be the LAST priority unless you have habits of self-care that are woven into your daily routines, unless self-care is just a part of what you DO.
That’s why most of our attempts at self-care fail: We try to do one big nice thing for ourselves every now and then and expect that to tide us over for weeks afterward. You get that one breakfast in bed and a pedicure on Mother’s Day, or one girl’s night out every six months, and hope that it somehow is enough.
It doesn’t work that way. Because what you do on a regular basis is far more important than what you do occasionally. Consistency is far more important than intensity.
Habits are what create your lifestyle. There’s no such thing as creating work-life balance once and for all. Your habits of self-care will determine your level of self-care. It’s about daily choices.
And that’s actually good news, because creating better habits is pretty simple, once you understand what works for YOU. You can start today and see results immediately.
When you finish this episode, I want you to have chosen a very specific and actionable self-care habit for yourself. It’s good to think about all the possibilities now, so go ahead and think through more than one thing you’d like to do eventually. But to make this sustainable and not just one more thing you can’t find time for, I encourage you to focus on only one or two habits at a time. If you write down a lot of ideas, make sure it’s with the intention to implement them later when you’re ready, and choose just ONE for now.
Types of self-care habits
Here are some different categories of self-care that might be useful for you to think about.
If you always feel rushed in the morning, like people are making demands of you before you’ve even woken up, you might like to think about a morning ritual that allows you to have 10 minutes to yourself so you can mentally prepare for the day. I never used to be a morning person, but I started getting up 15 minutes earlier in 2008 and it changed my entire life. I sit outside if the weather permits and have a cup of coffee and just breathe, or read, mentally prepare for the day, and get my head right.
Or, you might want to think about midday breaks, something that you do for yourself so you don’t feel like your going, going, going nonstop from sunup to sundown. It could be a three-minute dance break after lunch with the kids, or one minute of deep breathing or relaxation exercises when students are dismissed. Maybe you want to listen to praise music or spa music in the car on the way home, or sit for five minutes to have a cup of cappuccino when you get home in the afternoons. None of these midday breaks take longer than a couple of minutes, and they can reenergize you for hours afterward if you pick something that works for your personality and needs.
Maybe your habit will be a nighttime ritual — this is good for people who feel like they don’t get any time for themselves until the whole family is in bed, and by that point, they’re too exhausted to do anything. Maybe you want to shift around your tasks so you can head to bed earlier and have 30 minutes to lay there and read or watch your shows without cutting into bedtime. Or maybe just creating a habit or taking a hot bath or shower right before bed would help you wind down.
Rest and sleep habits
You might want to create a rest and sleep habit. If you are always physically tired and just falling into bed at night, make it your goal to create a habit of seven hours of sleep each night — start with five or six, and work up slowly. Or, instead of forcing yourself to stay in motion for 18 hours straight, schedule in 15 minutes in the late afternoon to lie down and rest or nap.
Your self-care habit could be centered instead on mental/emotional decompressing. Having a habit of this nature is crucial if you feel like you can never turn off your teacher brain and your mind is always going like a hamster on a treadmill. Set aside a specific time of day for meditation/prayer/mindfulness practice, or create a curfew for social media and checking email (none before noon, or none after 8 PM, for example). Or, you can create a self-care habit of no school work on the weekends. You might even want to give yourself permission to relax by scheduling in time for doing “nothing” — put NOTHING on your to-do list for a certain block of time, and practice NOT being productive until it feels natural and not like a waste of time.
Maybe your new habit will be related to physical self-care. This is the way to go if your body is manifesting physical symptoms of stress and you need to get healthy in a way that feels good to you. Maybe your new habit will be learning to prepare healthy, delicious meals instead of always grabbing takeout. Or, getting fresh air and sunshine 10 minutes a day. Maybe it’s doing something physical you enjoy (yoga, dance, tennis).
Creative outlets & hobbies
A few more ideas for your self-care habit: It might center on creative outlets and hobbies. This is important if you just don’t feel like yourself unless you get to spend regular time on a specific activity you love. Maybe you’ll carve out two hours a week for your favorite hobby, or get up 30 minutes early to write or paint each morning, or spend time exploring nature for one hour a week.
Indulgences & luxuries
And finally, maybe your self-care habit needs to be something that feels like an indulgence or luxury. If you love the finer things in life but feel like you spend all your time and money on other people, pick one thing you will gift to yourself on a regular basis, like mani-pedis, that will lessen that feeling you have about always sacrificing your own wants.
Which type of self-care habit should YOU choose?
Now, I’m guessing you’d really like to choose one habit from each category, and you can do that eventually, but starting today, we’re going to focus on just ONE habit (or a pair of complementary habits). You can’t try to do too much at once, or you’ll be right back where you started a couple weeks from now, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
You can always add more later, but your first habit needs to fit two important criteria:
1-Your habit should be something you want to maintain for the long-term. Remember, we’re not going for quick fixes here: Although you can tweak the habit for your needs over time, this needs to be something you can stick with and make a regular part of your life. Otherwise, it will never happen.
2-Your habit also needs to be something that has a meaningful impact on your well being. Choose something that will make you feel happier or more rested or more productive. Don’t just pick whatever sounds easiest or fun — you want this self-care habit to be something that will really take a weight off of your shoulders and give you a real sense of satisfaction. It doesn’t have to be big — it just has to be meaningful to you.
If you want help planning this, I have a free guide which I created that I can give you. It lists all the categories of self-care and provides space for you to brainstorm and reflect on what you’d like your habit to be.
Remember, self-care isn’t selfish. It is integral to your ability to continue caring for others. If you want to be the best version of yourself, you have to prioritize your own needs, and you can do that through simple habits throughout your day.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new short episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section!
This episode is brought to you in part by, Peergrade, a platform that makes it easy to facilitate peer review in your classroom. Students review each other’s work, while Peergrade takes care of anonymously assigning reviewers and delivering all the relevant insights to teachers. With Peergrade, students learn to think critically and take ownership of their learning. They also learn to write kind and useful feedback for their peers. The best part? Peergrade is free to use for teachers and students. To learn more, visit thecornerstoneforteachers.com/peergrade.
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