Encouraging Self Care

The song says that this is the most wonderful time of the year. But for teachers, it can be exhausting. The kids are wound up because of the approaching holidays, complete with potential trips, gifts, visits, and events (or, even worse, if they have none of those things to look forward to). There is the grading, too, as well as extra school activities that often are a part of the holidays. And this doesn’t even include the personal preparations that go into each teacher’s own holiday preparations.

As a parent of two kids who are in elementary school, I have been asked to contribute to a gift card tree for each of their teachers, to show appreciation and thanks for all of the hard work they have put into my children’s education over the past five months. But I wonder more generally how much appreciation our teachers are shown by the systems they work in, by the people who are above them in the managerial structure of the schools and school boards.

In a family of educators, where both my husband and I teach in higher education, I also know that it is hard to turn it off over the holidays. One phase ends, and you have very little time off before the next one begins, and it begins in earnest. Rarely do our gifts not include something for our teaching and our work. Time is spent prepping classes, writing, reading, researching, evaluating. This is the job, we’re told, what you are paid for. This is what you signed on to do.

So suck it up.

This is the popular attitude (when it isn’t assumed that teachers are simply luxuriating over those two full weeks of paid holiday vacation). To quote Don Draper, to his protégé Peggy Olsen, who was feeling underappreciated, “That’s what the money is for!” But a job that demands so much of a person, such a personal investment of time and psychic energy… money is nice, but it isn’t enough. And money can’t help in self-care if time or energy can’t be set aside. Resources come in many different forms, and the resources that teachers need for self-care go beyond monetary currency.

So this holiday season, think of ways that you can support the self-care of your faculty, and provide for them the resources they need. What have you asked, implicitly or explicitly, of them over the holidays? How are conversations around holiday plans taking place? Has it become a competition of who can get more done, or is it an opportunity to support one another’s efforts to recharge?

And do you make it so that faculty are actually excited about returning to work after the holiday? Is their self-care actually self-care or is it a willful forgetting of their work lives in order to completely escape? Showing gratitude, as well as creating a work environment where they feel valued and supported is important to allow for faculty to productively get away for a few weeks, coming back feeling refreshed and ready, rather than defeated and dreading.

How you do this will depend on your school or system’s environment, but finding ways to ensure that your faculty and staff enjoy their holidays is an important consideration. Whatever 21st century learning looks like, it certainly doesn’t happen without people. Make sure your people are taking care of each other, of themselves.

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