Combating teacher burnout: self-care strategies for educators
K-12 teachers are experiencing burnout more than workers in any other industry, according to a recent Gallup poll. An alarming 60% of teachers polled by the EdWeek Research Center say their jobs are frequently or always stressful, which compromises their physical health, sleep, and ability to enjoy free time with loved ones.
Educating young people has always been a challenging — and purposeful — job. There is a lot to navigate: students coming from diverse backgrounds and experiences, different family dynamics, and evolving government policies. Unfortunately, piling stressors are causing teachers to leave the profession at a high rate (teachers are nearly two times more likely to leave the profession because of burnout than pay). Now more than ever, there needs to be a heightened focus on combating teacher burnout.
Why teachers need self-care (but it’s not a cure-all)
There are several ways to combat burnout, and one of those strategies is self-care.
Teachers are being tasked with supporting students’ social and emotional health. In today’s polarizing environment, that’s no small feat, which is why it’s not surprising that teachers said it was one of their top stressors throughout the 2020-2021 school year, according to a RAND Corporation report.
The old adage rings true: you can’t pour from an empty cup. That’s why our SEL training solutions for PK-12 educators not only share how to support student wellbeing, but also emphasize the importance of self-care for teachers.
Will practicing self-care completely eliminate teacher burnout? No. It’s becoming increasingly clear that teachers need support from schools, districts, communities, and government. Self-care isn’t a cure-all for the issues teachers are facing today. That being said, self-care can be an incredibly effective tool that helps educators find a little more ease and balance.
Practicing self-care benefits students too
When teachers practice self-care, it doesn’t only benefit themselves — it has a positive impact on students, too. As Harvard Lecturer Jacqueline Zeller put it, “Self-care isn’t just good for the educator, but also for the students. Understanding that link between self-care and professional effectiveness can really help people understand it’s not selfish. It helps educators think more objectively about situations, keep more professional boundaries. It helps us set good examples for our students.”
When educators practice self-care, they are modeling positive behaviors. Those positive behaviors will help them show up more fully in the classroom for their students. Ultimately, a healthier teacher contributes to a healthier school climate — one that is conducive to learning.
7 self-care strategies for educators
Teaching can be challenging, but it can also be extremely rewarding. The conversations educators have with students have the power to change, or even save, lives. The same self-care strategies that Kognito’s mental health & well-being simulations help teachers impart on their students can be used by themselves too.
According to the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), there are six elements to self-care: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, social, and professional. The best way to practice self-care varies from person to person, so it’s important for individuals to explore and discover what works best for them. Need ideas and inspiration? Here are seven self-care strategies for educators that relate to some of these core elements.
1. Plan small breaks in the day
Teaching can be mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. Set aside at least 10-20 minutes during the work day for some alone time to decompress. Take this commitment to yourself seriously, and set boundaries so that you can actually check out of work during this time.
2. Connect to loved ones
There’s a strong connection between social support and educator well-being. Plan to connect to family and/or friends every day. This could be family dinner, a walk with a friend, or a phone call with a loved one.
3. Practice gratitude
Look for moments you’re thankful for throughout your day. Take a mental log or better yet, write them down in a journal. This helps reignite your why — why you got into teaching.
4. Move your body
Whether you take a walk, practice yoga, go to the gym, or dance in your kitchen, moving your body has proven mental health benefits, including a reduced risk of anxiety and depression.
Journaling is a great way to help process and reflect on difficult situations. By organizing your thoughts, it can give you confidence moving forward.
6. Devote time to your (other) passions
When all we do and all we think about is work, burnout is brewing. Devote time to your hobbies and outside interests to fill your cup and give your mind something besides work to think about.
7. Hold each other accountable
Whatever self-care tools you find most effective, it’s a good idea to find a colleague or group of colleagues to hold you accountable. When stressed and busy, self-care is easy to neglect, but this is when we need it most. Check in with one another and ensure you’re all taking care of yourselves.
Incorporating self-care in continuing education
Investing in teachers’ physical, emotional, and mental well-being can help prevent or reverse burnout. Districts and schools can support teachers in their self-care by helping them make a plan to incorporate sustainable wellness strategies in their routine.
Kognito’s Emotional & Mental Wellness for Educators & Staff, among other simulations for educators, is a 30-minute interactive simulation that builds awareness, knowledge and skills around emotional and mental health, as well as suicide prevention. In addition to helping teachers build valuable skills that can help them better support students, the professional development course also includes self-care tips to help teachers address their own wellness.
Teachers have full schedules, and Kognito’s simulations are designed to have a maximum impact in a short amount of time. Using role-play conversations with virtual humans, our experiential learning experiences keep educators engaged and give them the opportunity to put what they’re learning into action using a safe practice environment.