Teaching is a fulfilling career, but it can also be emotionally tiring and time-consuming, leaving educators feeling burnt out. In order to continue on, teachers need the chance to rest and recenter themselves, by taking time for self-care. When the phrase “self-care” comes to mind, however, some teachers may worry that practicing it is selfish or takes time away from their students.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, self-care is in the best interest of not only you but the families and students you serve. Self-care is all about taking care of your health and making sure that you have everything you need to thrive as a teacher.
Self-care can prepare teachers to handle challenges in life and in the classroom as they arise. So why is it important, and how can you practice it as an educator? Plus, what can you teach your students about self-care along the way? Read on to discover what self-care is, why it’s important for educators, and how to bring it into your daily life as well as into your school.
What is Self-Care, and Why Is It Important for Educators?
Before going over what self-care is, it’s important to address what it is not to clear up hesitations many people have about it. Self-care is often dismissed as being “selfish” or “superficial.” Yet self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s all about taking care of your health and well-being so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.
Self-care activities can include big and small things that address your mental and physical well-being. Examples of self-care habits range from getting enough sleep at night, making time for breakfast, and pausing for meditations and breathing exercises.
The importance and benefits of self-care apply to everyone, but within some careers it is more stigmatized than in others. People in caregiving jobs like teachers often find it easier to tell others to take care of their health than to do so themselves. However, that’s what makes it especially important. Educators are encouraged to focus so much energy on others and so little on themselves. Self-care is necessary for teachers to maintain their own health and relieve stress.
How to Practice Self-Care as a Teacher
Now that you’ve learned why self-care is among the best stress management strategies for teachers, it’s important to find ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Making time for self-care doesn’t require you to rearrange your entire schedule. By taking small steps every day and figuring out how to take care of yourself, you can cultivate health and well-being.
Every person’s schedule and specific needs are different, so practicing self-care will be different for everyone. Be open to trying new ways to relax and refresh to find what works best for you. A list of self-care activities for teachers could include the following ideas (for more ideas, check out this teacher self-care resource):
- End your day by writing down three things you’re grateful for
- Go on a walk outside to appreciate nature
- Connect with a loved one
- Spend some time taking stock of your emotions each day
- Take up an old hobby again or begin a new one
For specific aspects of self-care that you feel you could use more of, consider habits you can adopt to strengthen it. If you want to increase social self-care, you could visit a friend or family member once a week. Or if you need to boost your physical self-care, you can enjoy a walk after work.
Once you’ve decided on self-care activities that work for you, take time to do at least one every day. While it can be difficult to make time for self-care, it is most important on busy days to help you stay grounded. Even a short breathing exercise in a moment of stress can make a difference for your health.
Sometimes, stress and burnout can become severe enough that teachers can’t overcome it on their own. In this case, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to seek counseling or another form of professional help. Medical professionals can help teachers put together a self-care plan that addresses specific needs, as well as treat burnout, anxiety, and depression. Remember to always value and prioritize your mental wellbeing.
Five Classroom Self-Care Activities
Now that you understand how self-care can help you reach your potential as a teacher, you may also want to use group self-care activities for students in class. Here are five activities for your students to learn the importance of self-care:
- Journaling can be a great way to reflect on your emotions. Try these journaling prompts for kids as a writing warm-up activity in class. Early elementary students who cannot yet write can draw pictures based on the prompt.
- Set self-care goals and plan the steps to achieve them with this goal setting worksheet (available here in Spanish).
- Part of self-care can be spending time with and doing nice things for friends and family. You can use random acts of kindness activities to brainstorm ideas on how to make the most of your time with loved ones.
- Mindfulness is another way to help students take care of themselves when they’re stressed. You can practice breathing activities or mindfulness meditation as a class. Find mindfulness activities for students here.
- Use these emotion cards to help students recognize and discuss different feelings (available here in Spanish).
Waterford’s supplemental curriculum has tons of games, songs, and activities based on the science behind how children learn. These include activities that teach PreK and early elementary students mindset skills, such as healthy self-care habits. Learn more about which Waterford program can best address your school’s needs.