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ThoughtStretchers Education Podcast

7 Tips For Teacher Self-Care

Jun 11, 2024 | Teaching

7 Tips For Teacher Self-Care

by Shannon Hazel,

Teacher self-care is about boundaries, not luxuries. Here are 7 tips for setting boundaries and learning to say no.

As teachers, we are inundated with others telling us that we need to practice self-care. “Don’t take your
work home”, “Don’t answer emails after school hours”, “Get enough sleep”, or my favorite, “Try
meditation”.

Well-meaning school leaders, professional development speakers, friends, and family continuously offer
us advice on how to manage the stress and exhaustion that stems from being a teacher.
After 25 years in the classroom, I’ve learned from experience that, while certainly helpful strategies,
these are not the answer to teacher burnout.

So, what is? There are two fundamental things teachers must do to strike the balance they need to
sustain them through a satisfying career: set boundaries and learn to say no.

Why is this the answer?

Teachers, by nature, are givers. We continually give to our students, their parents, and our school
communities. Often, we give more than we have, and our families feel the effects of this as well.
Regardless, we continue in this manner to the detriment of our own personal health and happiness.

Rather than add more to our plates, as suggested by others, we must first take stock of our priorities
and determine what can be eliminated to allow us time to implement these other strategies.

So, how do we do this?

Here are 7 tips for setting boundaries and learning to say no that will get you started:

1. Acknowledge the role that guilt plays in driving you to sacrifice your personal needs. Everyone
feels guilt. However, once you understand that guilt is a self-imposed emotion you can take
back control and lessen the effects. Stop allowing self-imposed guilt to drive your decisions.

2. Acknowledge what is sustainable for you—and what is not. This is different for everyone.
Consider your age and stage in life, your other competing priorities, and eliminate anything that
is not sustainable.

3. Readjust your self-imposed standards of what it means to be a “good” teacher. Not only do we
set the bar high for our students, but also ourselves. Many teachers I know often compare
themselves to other teachers in their school community or online, and are left feeling like they
aren’t doing enough.

Regularly ask yourself these two questions: Is it best for students? Is it the
most effective use of my time?

4. Take stock of your priorities and give yourself permission to let go of those that are less
important – both at home and at work. Just because something has always been a certain way
doesn’t mean it still needs to be. Priorities change and it’s okay to re-adjust as necessary.

5. Recognize that the optional activities you’re compelled to take on at work are preferences,
not “must-dos.” Each school year looks different both personally and professionally.

At the beginning of each new school year determine which, if any, extra-curricular activities you will
realistically be able to participate in for this school year. Each year may look different and that’s
okay.

6. Learn to differentiate between real and perceived expectations. Often, as teachers, we create
“must-dos” for ourselves where they simply don’t exist.

If you’re feeling like there are too many expectations being placed on you, spend some time determining where these expectations are
coming from. If you are putting them on yourself, then you are in full control of removing or
altering the expectations.

7. Set boundaries around your working hours that work for you. As we are all aware, our entire
workload does not fit into the school day. However, we get to determine when we will carve
out time for these tasks that don’t.

Set a routine that works for you, whether that be coming in before school or after school daily, or just a few days each week, or whether it works best for you to allocate some time on the weekend. Also, ensure that you set boundaries with students, parents, and colleagues about when you are available for phone calls, meetings, emails, and so forth, and stick to them. Others will adjust to your availability if you are consistent.

Only once you’ve started setting boundaries and saying no, can you begin to—guiltlessly—prioritize your own physical and mental health. By implementing these strategies and remaining consistent, you will then have time to incorporate things into your life that fall under the umbrella of “self-care” and, in turn, find the balance you desire between your personal and professional life.

Shannon Hazel is a recently retired public school teacher and the author of New
Teacher Confidential: What They Didn’t Tell You About Being a Teacher. Over her 25-year career,
she was a K-8 teacher, special education specialist, and instructional coach for teachers. During
that time, she was actively involved in the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and
mentored many new teachers. In 2023, Shannon was recognized for her leadership and advocacy
work for students by the Council for Exceptional Children. She is the founder of teacherEDU.ca, an
online community for teachers to learn, connect, collaborate, and grow their capacity as educators.
Shannon is the mother of two young adults, a dog parent, and a longtime fan of the Kansas City
Chiefs.

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