I was a guest speaker at a school for teachers on mindfulness and during the short break a teacher came up to me to chat. This happens often when there’s a break, as people like to chit chat about mindfulness practices or about what they’ve tried already in their classrooms.
This conversation was not that.
I was not ready for the conversation that ensued during the short 15 minute break.
This teacher was congenial, kind, professional, but as the niceties subsided he said something to me that I had never had someone state so succinctly.
“You know what you are trying to teach us is great, but if you really want to help us, talk to our administrators about taking some of the things off our plates, tell our administrators going without a contract is really the source of stress. This stuff is great, but it just feels like a bandaid to get us to feel better without anybody else changing,” he sighed, “It’s always the teachers who need to make the changes…” he trailed off.
He continued to talk about how the adverse working conditions, the relentless expectations, the piled upon initiatives, would have been bad enough but they had no contract and were expected to just do all the things without feeling like they were on firm ground with the administration.
He kept repeating, “if you have any kind of pull, could you please tell someone…” I reassured him that I would pass on his concerns to the organization I was presenting with, and as he shook my hand, walked back to his seat, and lightly smiled at me as we were about to start, I scanned around the room to see if I could see that same concern, pain, or weight on anyone else’s face.
The entire second half of the presentation was fine. I had engagement, interaction, gave them a plan, but I couldn’t help but just feel like it had fallen flat. I know at the beginning of my presentations I always make sure teachers know that I’m not asking them to “do” anything extra or teach something more to the students. I know that I try to clarify that when we take care of ourselves, we are vicariously passing this on to our students without teaching anything about mindfulness or self-care care. I know that I try to express the importance of being a role model for the students but not have to formally teach any lessons on the subject.
But I didn’t realize that the administration may not hear any of that. I didn’t realize that the perception by the teachers is that this is just a bandaid. I didn’t realize that even if they’re well intentioned, some administrators may see these programs as a quick solution, not realizing that there are other larger systemic changes that need to be made within the schools too.
I left a bit horrified. I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. I didn’t want them to see these strategies and tools as blocks for real change to occur.
What I wanted to drive home is that our educational system is sick, and until we care for ourselves first, we will never be able to clarify our voices and make some real sustainable changes.
I don’t know if any of the other participants felt the way that the teacher did who spoke with me, but I wanted to make sure I found a way to address this topic and shed some sunlight on this potential misconception about the teacher self-care movement.
Before I even went back to the drawing board, I attended another conference and I found some answers, or at least the problem and potential solutions were more concretely verbalized.
A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to be a presenter at The Teacher Self-Care Conference in Philadelphia. In addition to that teaching the 4 steps to a school self-care routine to groups of teachers throughout the day, I also had the opportunity to hear Angela Watson’s Keynote Address.
If you don’t know who Angela Watson is, I feel very honored to introduce her to you…for the past nine years, she has been a teacher wellness advocate, coach, author and podcaster all about teacher self-care.
If you want a great introduction, check out her podcast Truth for Teachers.
Before going into the myriad of ways we can begin working moments of self-care into our lives, she touched upon something that resonated with me that I want to shout from the rooftops. Instead of shouting, I wanted to share it with all of you…
Self-care is NOT a replacement for disrupting structures and oppressive institutions; it is a support mechanism and coping strategy that enables us to do that work.Angela Watson
She went on to highlight the following…
Self-Care is NOT a…
So if you are ever thinking that this act of self-care is just a bunch of fluff, I would beg you to see it more as a radical, courageous act. We need self-care in order to do the work of real change in our school systems. If we are not caring for ourselves we will not be collectively healthy enough to do this work of educating our students, changing our systems from the bottom up, and creating the change we want to see in the world.
This Week’s Action:
Journal about the following sometime during the week…
Have you been harboring self-care resentments?
Where do you think they have come from?
Consider Angela Watson’s quote and list of what Self-Care is NOT.
How can increasing your own self-care help you in changing your school from the bottom up?
So I wish you the best as you head into your week! If you’re already on board with creating your own daily school self-care routine, check out Teaching Well’s FREE COURSE 4 Self-Care Solutions in Five Minutes a Day.
And if you haven’t yet, join us over at We are Teaching Well for community, inspiration, motivation and meditation.