Educating our youth is a calling, one that draws some of the most hard-working and dedicated people around. We enter this field with our eyes wide open that the pay is low and the work hours are long. Most of us also understand that educating our students will take all the love, attention, and energy we can spare. Education is a calling because, despite all these things, we do it anyway.
While educators are incredibly giving towards their students, we don’t treat ourselves with the same level of care. Overwork is a badge of honor that many of us wear proudly. We tend to equate the number of hours we put in as a measure of our (and our peer’s) dedication to our students.
The thing is, this kind of logic just doesn’t make sense. In a job where the physical, mental, and emotional demands are so high, how can we possibly continue to give our all every day if we have not spent time taking care of ourselves? If we imagine our reserves of energy like a bucket, we cannot continue to give from that bucket without refilling it. Many of us, however, empty our buckets and continue pushing forward without taking the time to rest and rejuvenate. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that we are prone to burnout and often leave the profession just a few years after entering it.
It’s time that educators start filling their buckets by embracing self-care and self-compassion. Self-care means caring for oneself. Examples of self-care include getting enough rest, exercise, and healthy foods. Self-compassion means treating oneself with patience, kindness, and understanding. When we practice self-compassion, we use our mistakes as opportunities to soften and be vulnerable. Instead of beating ourselves up, we show ourselves heaps of love.
Dr. Kristin Neff is a self-compassion researcher, author, and professor. According to Neff, developing our self-compassion is important because it is linked to reductions in anxiety, depression, stress, over-thinking, perfectionism, shame, and negative body image (Neff, 2013). Additionally, research conducted by Juliana Breines and Serena Chen (2012) has shown that when we show ourselves compassion after a setback, we are more likely to take action towards improving in the future. In short, self-compassion helps us to feel better, rebound from our challenges, and fuels us to keep going down the path of self-improvement.
So how can you start showing yourself care and compassion right now?
In the end, learning to take better care of ourselves will enable us to continue to do what we love—educating kids! If we don’t, then we will continue to burn ourselves out, and the churn of teacher and leader turnover will maintain the revolving door of people in and out of our students’ lives. Our kids suffer when they experience persistent changes in teachers and teacher quality. Schools cannot maintain strong academic programs if the leadership changes year after year. If we really want to stay in our calling and educate our youth, we must learn to take care of ourselves first. Our students will thank us for it.
Breines, J. & Chen, S. (2012). “Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38(9) 1133–1143.
Neff, K. (2013). “Resilience and self-compassion” [lecture]. Empathy and Compassion in Society.Retrieved June 25, 2018, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyjLKgfV7Sk.
We are living in dynamic times. Many of us feel persistent levels of anxiety and anger because of what is happening on a national scale to the rights of women, people of color, low-income communities, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and to the basic tenants of our Constitution. Much of our media and attention are drawn to a leader who uses his platform to spread hate and discord. As a result, since President Trump has taken office, hate crimes have been on the rise, and attacks on one another, our failings and mistakes, can go viral overnight. I believe this is true because many of us are releasing our internal pressure valves by mirroring the same hate that we are being inundated with day in and day out.
Our attention is a form of energy and we have a choice over what we feed, the positive or the negative. Right now, many of us are giving our power over to Trump and his cronies by engaging in the same tactics that they are using. While we may be voicing counter arguments in defense of basic human rights, if we do it with hate and fear, we are still contributing that energy to our collective consciousness.
As we continue to fight for our civil liberties, I believe that we also need to take back control of our personal energy and how we interact with one another. Just as I say to my son when he gets drawn into an argument with a classmate at school, we need to rise above the put downs and not lower ourselves to their level. The Obamas have a family phrase, “When they go low, we go high.” In 2019, it is time to go high.
How can we do that? I believe it starts with basic human kindness and making conscious choices about what we give our attention and energy to. Kindness can be defined as being friendly, generous, and considerate. What does kindness look like? It can be smiling at a colleague or a stranger, truly listening to some one share about their lives, or simply saying hello to the people we pass by at work. It can be anonymous, like the woman in my community who writes positive phrases in chalk all over town. One of those phrases is featured in the header for this article, and every time I read one, my mood is lifted. It can be volunteering our time at a local charity or just being more patient and gentle with ourselves.
The best thing about kindness is that it is free, can be expressed in a way that reflects our personal values, and is scientifically proven to have a positive impact. Research into kindness has shown that it reduces the effects of stress, improves our moods, and boosts our immunity.* Kindness is also contagious. A joint study by Harvard and the University of California San Diego found that kind acts had a ripple effect that reached out to at least three degrees of separation!* This means when we demonstrate kindness, the people we show that kindness to pass it along to those they interact with, and so on.
So, in addition to celebrating love on Valentine’s Day, let’s make February the month of love. Let’s try to find at least one way that we can contribute more love and kindness to the world each day. Let’s bring our focus onto positive and life-affirming things to balance out our attention on national and world events.
For me, this means that I am going to take a 28-day break from complaining and voicing negativity. I am going to do my best to keep my attention on all the things that are going right, and on all that I am grateful for. I am also going to share this positivity outward by posting stories of everyday love and kindness in my social media feeds. Some of these examples affected me deeply, others just made me smile, and I hope they will have a positive impact you too! I truly believe that spreading more love and kindness is a simple and easy way to shift the energy of our whole country, and I hope you’ll join me!
*Science of People (2019). Blog article: Kindness: Six selfish reasons to always be kind to others. Viewed on the internet on January 29, 2019, https://www.scienceofpeople.com/kindness/.