Dear Teachers: Don’t Forget To Take Care Of Yourselves

by Susan Baumgartner

We operate in a web.

Educators are intimately connected to students, administrations, support staff, each other AND the families of all those previously listed individuals. While less immediate, there are also strong influences from the overall communities in which we operate.

In the image above, picture each nexus as a person that plays a role in the education of a single student over their lifetime, who is the middle of the web. Positive connections can lead to incredible results.

If we drill down, each of us is another web.

Look at that image again. If you were a single nexus on that one student’s web, when you zoom in and go down a layer, you have your own web. Just as your student does, you have many parts, seen and unseen, that together make you, YOU. People, preferences, skill sets, interests, beliefs and fears- they all play a role in who you are. Perhaps we’re more used to looking at our students in this frame of reference. However, it does apply to all of us.

We see proof of this personal web in the growth observed in our students when we teach them social and emotional skills. Programs like Playworks work with schools to promote conflict resolution strategies, inclusion and cooperative physical activity. When we support these parts, the academic ones are naturally boosted as well.

How well supported is your web?

I hate to generalize, but in the mad rush of a school year, I’ve found a trend among teachers. Educators tend to pour their lives outward like a giant urn of water. Do you ever find yourself physically exhausted and/or emotionally drained?

We adults have the same needs for the health of our personal webs as our students. There’s the risk of losing sight of that lifelong passion teachers have held in their hearts since their early years when they ignore their own social and emotional needs.

I am a former educational assistant with an eye for life, a background in biology, and a love of storytelling and teachers. In the spirit of great intellectuals like Parker Palmer, I wrote Dear Teachers, a book of essays with messages to renew our awareness of self and vision as the school year evolves. These are important (but often overlooked) supports to our webs and include:

The power in pausing – We feel intense pressures to go as fast as we can for as long as we can- I use the image of a chipmunk. By remembering to preemptively slow down on a regular basis, we can own our days instead of the day’s fires owning us. When you pause, what do you see and feel?

The value of experiencing both darkness and light – I use the examples of cold weather and the darker days of winter as symbols. Our moods can be greatly affected by our perspectives. Sometimes, what we see as “bad” can be actually a gift or a need that needs filling. What are your darknesses and light?

The need we all have for wings (others) – Through the image of sandhill cranes taking flight, I explore how we all have flocks around us. Sometimes we forget how many people surround us and how powerful those connections can be. Who is your flight crew?

The importance in seeing the tiny sweetnesses of life – Bees collect nectar to thrive and we have just as much need to see and appreciate the tiny drops of sweetness in our own lives. Each of us has different ones. If we are closed to them, they cannot boost us. What are your cherished sweetnesses?

It’s easy to forget to check in with yourself.

Dear Teachers offers thoughts, visuals and even open space for your own additions. I wanted more, because a book can become buried. To that end, I’ve established a Facebook Group that readers can join for weekly updates and receive another opportunity to engage with others. I will also be tweeting using the hashtag #DearTeachers. I’m curious to see what we learn together.

A strong web for yourself leads to a strong web for your students.

My book is one possible tool. Lorea Martinez, PhD gave a great review of the subject and offers a host of options in her Edutopia article, Developing Teachers’ Social and Emotional Skills. There are many more. Whatever you choose, by paying attention to the whole web that is you, I believe the work you put in with your students and in PD with great resources like TeachThought will be even more powerful, effective and enjoyable.

I wish you all the best, always. You are all Dear Teachers!!!

Susan Baumgartner published Dear Teachers in April of 2017. You may order on Amazon here. Signed copies and special pricing for bulk orders may be requested by contacting her directly at dearteachers2017@gmail.com. For more of Susan’s writing, follow her blog at www.verbostratis.com and Twitter at @sbaumgartner94.

Photo credit: Carla Schmidt, 2016. JPEG File. Used with permission.

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