This article supports the following characteristics from The Successful Middle School: This We Believe:
The school environment is welcoming, inclusive, and affirming to all.
Leaders demonstrate courage and collaboration.
“Educator” is synonymous with selfless. We wear this title with pride, even neglecting ourselves in the process, but it’s a new year, so why not start a new tradition of self-care? Self-care is any intentional way we focus on ourselves. This year—especially given our unique context–let’s consider ourselves as much as we consider those in our middle schools using C.A.R.E.: community, activity, reflection, and elimination.
We all have other people in our lives, and one strategy for self-care is working with that community for support. A support system can impact our mood and behavior and thrust us towards a positive trajectory. To find your community, start with the people who are already around you. Mentors, family members, friends, and neighbors can help you with self-care by being thought-partners, accountability partners, and simply cheering with and for us. Remember to set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and know that you can always find a different community when one community stops meeting your needs.
We all juggle so many activities, but how often are our activities purposefully about self-care? Finding a hobby and exercising are two activities we could focus on to improve ourselves. We are often motivated extrinsically, but trying a hobby or exercise for the intrinsic value is priceless. For example, adult coloring is a hobby I enjoy and have used with my staff. I have also had pre-meeting time when staff could color for 15 minutes before the meeting. This helped many of my staff release the stress of the day and clear their minds before our meeting. This modeled activity also became a hobby for many of my staff. I also took time each day to walk around my school when I was a middle school principal. I coupled my role of school-wide observation with exercise as I strolled the halls and breathed intentionally and enjoyed the sounds of laughter and learning. I found the time for my staff and for myself to be involved in self-care activities throughout the school day.
While being involved in activities is an important part of self-care, being still and reflecting are also aspects of self-care. There are many ways that we can reflect and simply think. Some choose to meditate, while others talk a walk in nature. Still others write affirmations and recite them daily. In the past, I have used books to guide my reflections. These books had a scripture or a statement for me to ponder and to write down what resonates with me. If you don’t want to be as calculated as this, you can simply sit in nature or in a quiet place and work on breathing and centering your thoughts. Some middle schools have implemented think rooms or relaxation rooms where staff can go to take a quick break to think or just to sit still. I didn’t have a room like this for my staff, but if I were working inside of a middle school now, I would definitely have an empty classroom—decorated in a cozy, welcoming way—designated for my teachers to relax and reflect during the school day.
Community, activity, and reflection are important strategies to use for self-care, but elimination may be the most important strategy of all. Middle school educators have so many responsibilities that it may be difficult to eliminate a responsibility. Knowing when to say no and how to eliminate items on the plate are an important part of self-care. To help with elimination, make a list of all of your responsibilities. Evaluate the purpose of each of those responsibilities and eliminate the ones that aren’t necessary or don’t bring you joy. After eliminating some (or none if you’re like most educators), make a list of those activities that may not be responsibilities, but take time to complete. As an example, I reviewed the amount of time I spend on social media. Social media can be positive, but depending on the context, it’s best for me to eliminate it for a short time. After reflecting on how much time I was spending on social media, I was able to eliminate some time that I spend on social media and focus more on myself. This is self-care.
This year let’s resolve to include self-care strategies in our lives. We can’t properly take care of others until we intentionally begin to take C.A.R.E. of ourselves!
Dr. LaTasha Adams iis the coordinator of middle grades education and assistant professor at Clayton State University. She is a former middle school teacher and administrator.
Published in AMLE Focus on the Middle, January 2021.