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Self-care for Educators in the Time of COVID-19

by Melissa Wehler

Educators aren’t great at self-care in ordinary circumstances let alone the extraordinary time we now find ourselves. Many of us came to education because we felt called to serve learners the way we had been served through education ourselves. And in these times, when we have been called to perform that service in new ways, we have and will continue to do so because that’s who we are.  So for just a few minutes, I’d like to focus on you: the educator and the person.

Here are a few ways you can practice self-care even in a crisis: 

Set boundaries. Because we’re working outside of our "normal" routines, we have to create new routines and with those new routines should come new boundaries. Make rules about when and how often you’ll check email. Create (and stick to!) your modified work schedule. Tell learners and colleagues your best method and times of contact. These boundaries will help you continue to serve and lead your learners, while keeping you from burning out. Your classroom is now "open" all day every day, but that doesn't mean you can or should be in there.

Step away. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself to step away. For small breaks, set "break" alarms that remind you to get up and moving, don't eat at your work space, use a small cup that requires frequent refills. For longer breaks, listen to a favorite song or read from a favorite book. Whether it’s a few minutes, a few hours, or a full day, it’s okay to step away and regroup.

Ask for help. You’re not the only educator facing extraordinary circumstances right now, but it can feel that way. Reach out to colleague and talk about what you’re experiencing and where you’re struggling. Contact a mentor or trusted friend for a “reality check.”  Find supportive online groups and communities and follow educational hashtags. Schedule a virtual coffee date with friends. Remember that you are not alone. 

Find inspiration. One of the best ways to reset and recharge ourselves is tapping into what inspires us. Maybe that is doing (or learning!) a hobby or watching an inspirational speaker. It could be also mean reviewing (or writing) our teaching philosophy, looking at student projects that make us proud, or reading thank you notes from students. Dig into something that brings you joy, and make these moments part of your new routine. 

Let go. We are living in unprecedented times. It’s okay to re-prioritize your lessons and assignments. Its okay if your personal and professional focuses shift. It’s okay that things are going to be different than you planned. It’s okay to simplify. It’s okay to do your best and give yourself a pass. Letting go can feel like giving up, but it's really an opportunity to free yourself up for something new and exciting to happen.

Educators have always been the touchstone of an educational community, connecting students to that community and to one another. In a crisis, this is all the more true. You will lead your students through anxiety, frustration, sadness, and worry. And as you do so in brilliant, innovative, and empathetic ways, don’t forget to step away, slow down, and regroup—not just for the sake of others. Do it for yourself.

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