Ironically, I am writing this blog on a Saturday night while drinking a glass of white wine, thinking I really should relax more. Andrew Milne has asked me to describe ways in which educators can benefit from self-care.
Before I start the journey, let’s start with the core purpose or the why around ‘self-care’.I often hear teachers state that they never take time off when they’re sick, that they will not let the children down, and the children come before everything.
Although commendable, this is highly problematic. If we start with the last statement that the children are the most critical aspect of our profession, then the previous two comments don’t make sense.
The children we serve deserve to have healthy, well and happy teachers. Self-care is not an act of the self; it is fundamentally an act of giving, it is neither selfish or indulgent, self-care is essentially part of your job and duty to the young people we serve.
If we look at ‘time for yourself’ as an act of work and part of your duty, then treat it as such. Many teachers will factor in time to grade or mark papers and set aside everything else in this time as it must be done. I would advocate doing the same thing but with an act with which you choose to recharge. Personally, I knit, now that may sound silly to many of you. However, this is part of my self-care routine. The act of setting aside five minutes, where I sit with my needles in perfect concentration every couple of hours during this isolation has been a godsend. I am 100 % sure it has also made me more productive in all of my daily tasks.
Value your mental health as much as you value your physical health. Actually, scratch that, you are all educators and lots of us put our physical health to the back of the queue. While working it’s challenging to escape from the high-pressure environment and assess where you fall on the spectrum of okay to not okay.
If you break your leg, a doctor will often rest the leg and keep your weight off it for a prolonged period. Resting your brain does not work in the same way as you cannot keep the burden or the strain of the weight off of it.
My way of evaluating my current state is to check in with people who I trust regularly. These are people I bear the content of my mind to regularly. I share my feelings, my thoughts and my reactions and they are much better placed to judge my mental well-being than I am when I am either ill or becoming more sick or pressured.
As many of you know, I suffer from appearances from the ‘Black dog’, excuse the colloquialism from the UK. The Black dog represents depression. This analogy means that the dog returns time and time and weighs us down and/or stays in the shadows, hindering our progress as the mental illness does.
One of the symptoms of depression is the loss of joy; I often curse myself for this ailment because not only does my brain tell me to be sad every day it also refuses to take comfort in the remedies I try.
For this final tip, I would say listen to your brain. Yes, it’s great to train for a marathon or to learn a new language or to play the violin at the highest level. However, it’s essential to listen to your brain instead of telling it what you think you should be doing. If your mind says have a duvet day, listen and dig under the duvet, stay in bed and make a fortress. If your brain says go and do some exercise, do that exercise. Educators are experts in telling our pupils what’s right for them. Sometimes we don’t need someone to say to us; sometimes we just need to listen.