786 - sustainable self care

6 Sustainable Self-Care Tips for Teachers

Self-care is difficult but there are things we can do during our school day to prioritize ourselves and still get our teaching job done. Here's how.

Self-care is a word thrown around a lot these days in education. In the real world of teaching, answers aren't always easy. In fact, as I release this episode, “self-care” is the reason I did not go to #ISTELive that is this week. I need to focus on my health. So, it is fitting that today I discuss the reality of teaching with another teaching veteran. We share how we have navigated the stresses and struggles of teaching as we seek to live a balanced life and do what matters. In addition to the podcast, I've included some inspiring poems, quotes, and a video from the day I learned to walk this past May. I, Vicki Davis (the show host) have made some mistakes in self-care in the past year, and open up about what I've learned from those mistakes and how I'm moving forward to teach better and take better care of myself. 

My hope is by being open about my own struggles and by bringing in the research that this show and blog post will help all of us teachers take better care of ourselves. Right now, this topic is more important than any education technology I could be talking about. So, take care of yourselves, teachers, this one's for you.

Advancement Courses for Your Summer PD

Today's show is sponsored by Advancement Courses. All opinions are my own.

In this episode, you will learn more about the research of taking care of yourself as a teacher. You will also hear about some of the self-care courses from Advancement Courses, which has over 280 online graduate-level PD courses in not only self-care but topics for every grade level and subject area. Plus, their courses are self-paced with up to six months to complete.

Go to www.advancementcourses.com/coolcat and get your 20% discount by entering the code CAT20 and sign up for your summer PD now.

This time last summer I was taking a course in Computer Science that helped me implement a new course and curriculum at our school. Thank you for listening and take care of yourselves, teachers.

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Transcript: 6 Sustainable Self-Care Tips for Teachers

[00:00:00] Vicki Davis: Six sustainable self-care tips forself compassion is important as part of self care teachers. Today we are talking with a 20-year veteran teacher, Stephanie Dorsey. Advancement Courses sponsored this episode, and we will mention some of their classes, but as always, all opinions are my own. So let's start, Stephanie. Everybody keeps saying.

“Teachers, you need to take care of yourself, take care of yourself, take care of yourself.” 

And then you teach all day long and you're subbing for everybody. And you lose all your planning period, and you're working late and you take work home and you're exhausted. Like where do we start?

Step 1. Prioritize Yourself and Set Up Wellness Routines.

[00:00:32] Stephanie Dorsey: I feel like that is something that we're always told as teachers “you have to take care of yourself. You have to work out; you have to eat better.”

But in actuality, it's like, do we take ourselves out of the picture of other people's lives? Like we encompass so many responsibilities as teachers. We're caretakers to students. We're supportive of our colleagues. We have families. We have other commitments.

And how do we prioritize? 

And that's where I have [00:01:00] found that when I'm looking at self-care: what can I do in bite sizes? Attack everything? 

Yes, I know I need to eat better, but when I go to the teachers' lounge, that cookie looks good. And maybe I need that little sugar to give me energy for my next class but don't feel guilty about that. So that is one thing, prioritizing yourself. 

My first tip is to ask yourself what you need at that moment that will work for you and what can you do? 

First, prioritize small little things. So what I mean about that is don't look at “okay, maybe I do need better,” but “what can I change during the day?”

Maybe instead of “I want that cookie,” maybe during lunchtime, instead of meeting a student, I'll take that time for myself and walk with a colleague around the gym because we know as teachers that physical activity is essential. It keeps our minds engaged. It keeps us sharp. We have to be sharp with those kids in those classrooms. Physical activity is vital.

But again, don't let that [00:02:00] define you. So if you create a habit, make sure it's something you can do. And I learned a lot. As a 20-year special education teacher, I struggled to take that time. And it hurt my health. So I took a self-care class. I learned about self-care strategies and how to balance because we wear so many hats.

How do I care for myself when I want to care for everybody else? Including my family, which I was neglecting, like bringing my homework home. What I mean by “homework” is my grading or my IEPs. So how did I stop that? For me, and I'm going to say, this is looking at your time. And I did this wheel of time where I put in my whole day, what I did when I woke up to when I went to bed, and I put it in categories of:

  •  Is this emotionally good for me?
  • Am I physically doing it? 
  • Is this mental? Like where, what does this help? 
  • What is this doing for me every day? Is it reducing my stress? Is it making me finish things quicker? 

I had to think about that. I believe [00:03:00] as a teacher, we do that very well for others. We help others prioritize themselves and help others be efficient during the day.

But we have to take that time for ourselves.

[00:03:09] Vicki Davis: As you already know, we've discussed this. Somewhere in 2020, I broke my foot, and I was so busy taking care of distance learning, the kids, and the teachers that I did not stop and go to the doctor for myself. And as we're recording this, I'm just now back in shoes, which is fantastic for me, but I had surgery on February 25, 2022.

And I could not walk again until May 4, 2022. So I had ten weeks of not walking and three weeks in school where I couldn't walk. And it was because I didn't stop to take care of myself.

Vicki Davis: And one thing I have learned is, for example, now, if I'm exhausted, I go to sleep. So what kind of good am I doing myself, sitting there looking at [00:04:00] work for kids, nodding off, fighting the sleep, and drinking coffee at 11 p.m. so I can stay up until three and grade? That is not sustainable.

So I think we just have to draw those lines and say, “you know what? Doctor visit has to happen.” Everything else will happen. But if I'm dead or at home not walking, I can't do everything else, and I think that's what all of us as teachers have to understand is that we have a choice to make, and nobody is going to make it for us.

We have to make it for ourselves. And that is: 

  • I need to go to the doctor. I'm going to go to the doctor. 
  • I need to take a walk. I'm going to take a walk. 
  • I need to eat. 
  • I need to go to bed. 

All of those decisions, I think, are essential.

[00:04:40] Stephanie Dorsey: Yeah. And I think that step one is knowing your worth. Like, that is the hardest thing: being very self-aware of that. Like you knew you were injured, but you didn't put yourself first. You walked on it, and you've had to experience something difficult.

[00:04:57] Vicki Davis: I ran a half marathon on it.

[00:04:59] Stephanie Dorsey: So you even [00:05:00] took it to where you did something you wanted to do but were injured.

[00:05:03] Vicki Davis: I was injured. Yeah. It, and we do that though, as teachers, we are just so used to push, and then, there's another piece I know you're getting ready to talk about: I ran because it was how I handled stress.

Step 2. Understand Your Stress Triggers and How to Deescalate Yourself When It Happens.

[00:05:17] Stephanie Dorsey: Yes. And the stress, those are the triggers, right?

As we talk about, there are these triggers. We know it could be a person; it could be a place. It could be a situation. My trigger was always right before an IEP meeting. So my trigger is I didn't sleep well. I was overthinking. Like you, I had to start doing some rituals and some habits to prevent me from being at the highest level of my stress before an IEP level.

So I knew what triggered me. It was those meetings; even though I knew I would be fine, I still over-thought. Over kept working on it and working out until my colleague was like, “Stephanie, it's fine. You're adding more. Stop doing more; get some rest.”

Stephanie Dorsey: So, an adjustment for me is to start keeping a journal by [00:06:00] my bed. So I kept a journal by my bed, and I do that now. And I consistently do that. If I have something that's this was funny. I'm going to see the strawberry moon, and I'm going to kayak. I know how to kayak, but I'm stressed. It's at night.

Last night I couldn't sleep at all. So I was in my journal just writing positive things. So good. Self-talk right. So, when you have a trigger, you must learn to deescalate yourself. So I use a journal. I do positive, but those are all things you have to learn how to do. So the other side, I was like running in my journal.

My husband's like, why is the light on? Is it 11 o'clock? And I'm like, I to get this out of my system. I'm paddling in the dark soon; it's like that. So I think we have to understand what triggers us, and it could be simple as we're starting an hour later today at school. Right?

[00:06:46] Stephanie Dorsey:  I guess it was like flex days, where we could start later. Flex days can throw them off because they have rituals. And they have routines, and now everything's moved back an hour. So I would look at your calendar, like when those flex hours come, and to yourself, [00:07:00] what could I do to prepare me differently that day?

Will I react to it? Because again, we're very proactive teachers who do look ahead, and we are flexible. However, when we have routines that we're used to, and you change our routine, we stress it does trigger us. So we to think about those triggers. And a lot of times, I ask people, and again, this is something I learned in looking at setting boundaries. Is that also a trigger that we say “yes” to everything? Like we don't want to say no. First of all, we feel guilty. Let's be honest. It's teacher guilt. We all have that. But I think understanding like, For triggers too. You have to be very clear in your intention.

struggle-achievementStephanie Dorsey: Is this something prioritized as something high, or is it just something you created in your head that's a high priority? So like looking at that trigger and asking yourself those specific questions. How can I better approach things when those triggers happen?

[00:07:52] Vicki Davis: Okay. So first, you had to prioritize yourself and study those wellness routines. The second is understanding your actual [00:08:00] stress triggers, which we all must understand. Cope with them appropriately. I also journal. Journaling has been essential to my life, and I highly recommend that. What's your third?

Step 3. Learn Mindfulness Activities

[00:08:11] Stephanie Dorsey: Mindfulness. I know we say this to students. We're always like, “teach mindfulness, you might not know it now, but you will know it.” So we teach kids and talk like that all the time, but we'll do we practice what we preach? One thing about mindfulness -and I have a hard time with this – like my husband, loves yoga. He loves it. I wouldn't say I like yoga, but I love meditation. 

And meditation is a great way to refocus yourself. So I took the Staying Present: Mindfulness for Better Teaching and Learning course. And it taught me a lot of really cool techniques that I was like, “Nah, that's not for me. And I don't want to meditate. I don't want to practice my breathing.” 

I found mindfulness breathing is a great strategy, like taking in those deep breaths.

[00:08:52] Vicki Davis: is it in, through your nose, or in, through your mouth?

[00:08:54] Stephanie Dorsey: I am a mouth breather, so I was like, I can't. I always feel like I'm holding [00:09:00] my breath. So it taught you how to breathe in through your nose and then out through your mouth. So it was like that and doing it in three minutes, and then this other one I did was with music where it was like, you made these sounds with your breathing, and it was all through your nose.

And so it's just different techniques and when to do it, and I was thinking, oh, I should do breathing techniques to help me sleep. Breathing techniques are better for you, like in the morning or right before you're doing a strenuous activity, preparing and refocusing you. It reenergizes you. I was doing Becoming a Calm and Happy Teacher. And one of the videos showed breathing which they could do with students. The video authors talked about teachers using it. It said you don't do this particular exercise before sleep.

“Okay, I won't do it before sleep,” I said.

 And I did, and I was wide awake; I'm like, I finally got energy now. I didn't have it all day!

And, it's your self-talk. So, this means mindfulness of talking, for example, trying to think of three positives in your day. And I even make post-it notes on my desk.

I still do that too. And I do post it's of like[00:10:00] things that I hear from others or something will make me laugh. I can remember later, just something that keeps you in that mindset of not looking at the new. So let's focus on the positive and it's hard at times.

[00:10:11] Vicki Davis: no, but mindfulness is essential and understanding how to breathe. And these are things you can use with students.

For example, when my students stress with tests, I'll come in, and they'll say, “Mrs. Davis, will you do that relaxation thing?” 

And I'll do the relaxation breathing exercises. And they'll be like, “oh, I feel so much better!”

We can teach the kids relaxation techniques when we take a class and learn how to do it ourselves. Okay. So third one is learning mindfulness activities. What is our fourth?

Step 4. Pause and Reflect Before Saying “Yes.”

[00:10:35] Stephanie Dorsey: The fourth one I have is the pause to take time and reflect. Pause to think and look at saying “no” kindly to people. 

Like, we're “yes” people as teachers. 

So you'll need to ask yourself, “what does this person need? How else can this person's needs be met, and how can I support this person to have that need met?” 

So I started doing this because I'm a yes girl. So I would say, “oh, of course, I can do that. [00:11:00] I'll lunch with the student and have them make up that test.”

And then that way you don't have to worry about it later in the week with the students. But remember, who does that benefit? Does that benefit the student who needs a break? It would be best if you had a break at lunch, too. Is the student even ready for that test? Is it meeting their needs to take a test after they'd been out sick?

So start thinking about the actual task and setting those boundaries in your mind. As yourself, “Is this okay to say no right now?” 

Cause that's the biggest thing. Like we, as teachers, want to support each other, but pausing and reflecting is really about listening to what the actual needs are. And then I like to say, what can I think about it?

Can we come back and talk about this? I need time to see does this fit into my day. So not always being reactive of yes, I'll do it and not think about how is it going to impact your day when you say yes,

[00:11:49] Vicki Davis: we have to say “no.” One thing for me is I had to realize that if I say “yes” and I do not have the time to do it, I'm lying. And I'm [00:12:00] not keeping promises to somebody, and that's not good. And if we've already covered. To ourselves, to other tasks, we can't say yes to somebody else. That's just not something we can do. Okay. So that's a crucial thing.

What's our fifth?

Step 5. Be clearly intentional.

[00:12:14] Stephanie Dorsey: So I want to discuss clear intentions.

So, take a few moments to think about your plan for the day. How will you show up to things? Understand that keeping the structure of your day is vital. Know when you will do something. Then, be mindful of your intention before and after those interactions.

So clear intentions are a way to help reduce that stress and to you on track. 

I like to stay on track. I don't, people might disagree with that, but I think at times, we can be thrown for the day. Like we have intentions for today that I'm going to grade this assignment, and I'm not bringing it home.

And then again, if someone comes into my office and wants to have a chat, I don't want to be disrespectful. So I'm going to listen and [00:13:00] I will be there for my colleague because community is important. But at the same time, now, I set myself back. So, now, I'm like, oh, do I stay after school later? Or do I come in earlier?

So, understand your commitment to your day, like how you see your day? And can you commit to that? And that is that sustainable. So with clear intent, I like to tell people to remind themselves of that: what was it you wanted to do before and during that interaction.

[00:13:25] Vicki Davis: That's fantastic. Okay.

So what's our last one.

6 – Support Each Other and Let Each Other Know It is OK to Ask for Help When You're Struggling

friendship-self-care-tips-teachers[00:13:28] Stephanie Dorsey: I think it's essential that we not only understand that we're in this together like we're all going through this. The teachers look at each other and support each other. And we know that the outside is not always looking at us in the same way. And to understand that it's to ask for help.

There's this excellent activity I learned. That is, staying present is how you work with your colleagues. So if they tell you something, it's not taking that burden and putting it [00:14:00] back on you.

Like this beach ball activity, we did. 

So like you hand me the beach ball. Instead, I'm helping you get the beach ball off your back and out. And maybe I'm helping you by directing you in the right direction, like, “We both have this presentation. I know that you're saying your part is tough to do right now. Do you want to switch?” Problem-solve support your colleagues. Please don't take on their responsibilities, but maybe help them adjust what those responsibilities are. Again, we don't put more on your plate, but let's be there for our colleagues.

And I also think as a community; we look from the top-down, right? If our leaders are there for us and taking those times right. To come into our classroom and be intentional, with their feedback, that's helpful teachers, we'd like to have a voice. When we're given and given things without input, that's a huge piece too.

So thinking about the community itself, it's all the parties and how we all were together. It's from the secretary who helps you with your field trip, how do you make her life good? Does get overwhelmed every [00:15:00] day? So I think remembering that we're all in it for the same purpose and the same passion, and if we can support each other, that's important to us.

[00:15:08] Vicki Davis: So teachers, this episode will be a bit longer than 10 minutes, but it's an important topic. And Stephanie, I'll have you mention some classes teachers can take related to self-care. And again, this is, of course, with advancement courses where I take my class.

[00:15:26] Stephanie Dorsey: the courses I talked about are the ones I've taken.

So I've taken the following:

[00:15:41] Vicki Davis: Those are some great classes, and these are some great tips. So thank you, Stephanie. So, educators, as we look towards the next school year setting those boundaries living life differently.

I know I am. I've had more than a wake-up call that if I'm going to have this profession, I've got to prioritize [00:16:00] myself. 

And I'm the only one who can say yes or no for myself. So if I end up with too much on my plate, it's my fault. And yes, there have been times that I've had to sit down and have conversations with leaders and say, “Hey, this is what I'm handling.

And it feels like too much. What is important to you? That is on my list.” 

And if they say “everything” – that's happened to me before– they say “everything is necessary.” And that was when I looked for a different school because it was not sustainable. It's for me to exist in the world and do as much as possible, but I love teaching.

Thank you so much, Stephanie, for this conversation. I hope this will help. So many of our teachers are listening from around the world. Thanks, Stephanie.

Thank You Advancement Courses, Today's Sponsor.

In today’s show, you learned more about taking care of yourself. You also learned about many courses from Advancement Courses, which has over 280 online graduate-level PD courses in not only self-care but topics for every grade level and subject area. Plus, their courses are self-paced with up to six months to complete. Go to www.advancementcourses.com/coolcat and get your 20% discount by entering the code CAT20 and sign up for your summer PD now. This time last summer I was taking a course in Computer Science that helped me implement a new course and curriculum at our school. Thank you for listening and take care of yourselves, teachers.

Stephanie Dorsey - Bio as Submitted

Stephanie DorseyStephanie Dorsey is an educator service consultant for Advancement Courses specializing in supporting teachers in the recertification and lane advancement process and advises teachers on courses that best match their professional growth needs. As a former special education teacher from Illinois, she worked in both elementary and middle school public and charter school settings for over 18 years.

She received her M.Ed from the University of Colorado Denver in special education. Over the course of her career, she has been particularly interested in training other educators on effective curriculum, RTI, and universal design.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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1 comment

shannon colclough July 28, 2022 - 8:34 am

I would say that you had me at #1 I believe that every teacher should have a wellness plan the entire school year. Working out daily, drinking water, and practicing mindfulness before and after the school day is a must.


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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere