Systems of Success – System of Self Care
Written by Jim Jordan
As I have been interacting with all my teacher and adviser friends around the country, it’s become crystal clear to me – this year is an unbelievable challenge for everyone.
It’s all new. No two days are the same. And no one can really understand what teaching is like now unless you are doing it every day. It’s exhausting and unsustainable over the long haul.
At the same time, I have heard amazing ways teachers are taking time to take care of themselves. Many teachers may always be thinking of their students first, but they are coming to realize how crucial it is to make time for themselves.
I asked many of the great advisers I know out there from coast-to-coast what they are doing to take care of themselves in the topsy-turvy world of 2020.
Don’t neglect to take care of yourselves first. Set up your own system of success for self-care and make it work for you.
Here’s what these advisers had to say…
“Over the summer, journalism teachers in Pasco County began communicating about the need to review changes in our teaching methods due to the pandemic. Students in our district had the option of going face-to-face, fully virtual, or a combination of the two. As a result, the daily realities of journalism programs across the district varied greatly, and we teachers felt a need to support one another.
“Journalism teachers from 10 different schools began Zooming together once a week, and now we are eight weeks into the school year. Lina Labarbara, a Walsworth adviser from Land O’ Lakes High School, sends the Zoom link out weekly. We chat about our challenges, our successes, and our needs. We support each other and cheer each other on. This time on Thursday afternoons has become invaluable to my self-care.”
J.W. Mitchell High School
Yearbook adviser for eight years
“This job can be defining. Remember who you are besides an adviser and take time to be that person, too. Purposeful, planned time to be your own person outside of the deadlines and the things the kids need from you. Boundaries are healthy.
“Learn to say no to things that don’t serve you or your program. The community you serve will benefit from a complete, well-documented year. It’s easy to want to give more than that, but you have to find a balance somewhere. Most often, it means saying no to 100 things so you can say yes 100% to one.”
University High School
Orange City, Florida
Yearbook adviser for seven years
“I’ve started a workout regime. I always felt guilty taking time to work out, and every time I worked out, I always thought about the other things that I needed to do. I’m working out with light weights, which requires more focus than other workouts I’ve done, so I can’t think about anything else but focusing on what I’m doing right then. Now that I’m doing it, I have more energy and feel better, which everyone said I would, but I kept coming up with excuses why not to do it.
“I’m also getting monthly massages. Once again, I feel guilty spending the money and time, but my massage therapist is the mother of one of my former editors in chief, and she gifted me a massage. Once I started, I felt the benefits.
“I’m giving myself grace and trying not to berate myself for small slips, like too much chocolate on a deadline or indulging in dessert or spending some time on myself. It’s difficult because, as teachers, our profession has us focusing on everyone else except for ourselves, so I’m having to reframe my brain.”
Liberty North High School
Yearbook adviser for 24 years
“Once a month I schedule time with a friend for a pedicure and lunch for self-care. It is a morning or afternoon where we both do not talk about anything work related. This is a great stress reliever. I also keep a book going all the time so I can read at night and get involved in the life of a fictional character.”
Southern Alamance High School
Graham, North Carolina
Yearbook adviser of the Southerner for 26 years
“My husband and I do a 10-minute yoga routine every morning at 6:15, then take the dogs for a short walk. It’s a positive start for everyone. At 5:30 p.m., we meet on the mat for a longer routine to release the day’s stress before we cook dinner together. These are invigorating bookends on what can be a draining teaching day.”
West Hills High School
Yearbook adviser for eight years
“We are back in school, and though it’s easier to be in-person than online (as my husband is at his school), it’s much more stressful than in years past. One of the stressors for my staff is that we are not as free to visit classes as we have been in the past – we are a TK-12 school – and since kids are required to wear masks except on the playgrounds, we are struggling to identify the youngest kids.
“In spite of these things, I have made a conscious decision to not worry so much about covering every athletic event or lower school special activity. Since parents tend to get upset about what I perceive to be minor things (for example, I had a parent upset last year that we incorrectly identified a student in an obscure shot in spite of the fact that the teachers had named him – she wanted us to reprint the book and she hadn’t even purchased a copy herself!), I have coached my students to do their best and to leave it at that. It helps that my staff this year is made up of conscientious kids – no slackers – who I trust will always do their best.
“The other thing that has been a blessing is that since our athletic conference does not allow fans at games, the kids are really happy to take photos for their spreads and those of others who cannot attend games. In the past, staffers have not been as willing to help out their friends, but since we now have fewer games per sport, they know that they may not have another opportunity to take pictures or to see the games.
“Personally, I have found that consistent exercise has been a real stress reliever. Since March 13 when we were first quarantined, my husband and I have walked at least 2 ½ miles each day without missing a single date. Since we are both teachers, we began walking our neighborhood because we were both overwhelmed with sitting all day long teaching from home when we were used to moving around in our classrooms. Walking every day has helped us both decompress from the stresses of remote teaching and teaching within stricter protocols in my classroom. Because traffic in our neighborhood is appreciably lower, we have seen families spending time together in their yards and in exercise, and we have been able to know more of our neighbors because we are home and spending time outside.
“The other thing that has helped me this year is making a conscious effort to spend time with my fellow teachers. Since we have many more duties than in the past, this is not automatic, but eating lunch with my coworkers when possible has helped me feel connected and less isolated in this time of social distancing.”
Covenant Day School
Matthews, North Carolina
Yearbook adviser for 26 years
“My System of Self Care involves getting a massage once a month. It really helps reduce my stress level plus gets all those kinks out of the back from all those hours at the computer hunched over.
“I have also made more effort to get my 8 hours of sleep a night and drink plenty of water and have breakfast every morning. I have really been amazed at how much this helps.”
Central Academy of Technology & Arts (CATA)
Monroe, North Carolina
Yearbook adviser for five years
“The week before school started in August, the school admin announced we would be switching from a seven period day to block schedule. After three weeks on the new block, I was teaching face-to-face students, blended at home students, and 48 virtual students in a digital platform I had never used (nor frankly care to see again). Add an 18 hour mandatory professional development technology training mandated by the district along with countless meetings, Zooms, and COVID sanitization procedures between each class.
“One day when I arrived home at five, collapsed on the sofa and pondered whether 6:00 was too early for bedtime… I decided that the best thing I could do to alleviate some of the mental and physical exhaustion was leave it on contract time. I am now an 8:00-3:30 employee. I made a conscious decision to work as hard and fast as possible during work hours, but when the school day is over…. my work is finished. The papers to grade, emails to answer and PD requirements will still be there at 8 a.m., but at least I’m a more sane form of myself than I was a month ago. Spa days, Starbucks, and after school drinks with the other teachers to commiserate are great self-care alternatives that everyone will discuss. Frankly, I’m done with fluff. The cold hard facts are: you have to take care of you. Leave it. Enjoy life. The 27 unanswered emails will still be in my inbox tomorrow. I’m going home.”
Southside High School
Fort Smith, Arkansas
Yearbook adviser for 30 years
“I believe it is imperative to take care of yourself. Fifteen minutes per day of self-meditation helps you learn to focus on the ideas that are important to being successful. Then don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s the kids’ book and helping them take ownership of the book will help the book be more successful.”
Thunder Ridge High School
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Yearbook adviser for 20+ years
“I am doing my absolute best to let go of things I cannot control, and trying to focus my attention on the things I can. My school is 100% remote, and are going to be that way at least until the start of second semester. We haven’t had school pictures taken yet, and won’t until January. No sports. No in-person activities. And cases in our area are rising instead of falling, which means things like starting sports practices back up is unlikely anytime soon. It would be overwhelming if I focused on that. So, instead, I am choosing to focus on what I actually CAN control—which is my virtual classroom and helping my kids build coverage of the things that ARE happening. We are putting together a robust survey to send out to kids that will ask all sorts of questions about how they are living life right now. We are building features for portrait pages and leaving the spaces for the actual portraits blank. For me, taking control of the things I CAN control gives me a at least some sense of normalcy and some peace of mind. I find having a plan—even if that plan changes—to be comforting.
“And, outside of work, I am reminding myself to take occasional breaks away from my family. I love them fiercely, but I’m also an introvert, and we’ve all been working from home since March, which has been very draining. Something as simple as taking a drive to pick up my grocery order by myself—with my tunes blasting—is often the reset I need to recharge my energy and improve my mood.”
Mount Si High School
Yearbook adviser for 18 years
“I have found that the more organized I can be during the pandemic the better I feel. There is so much change and chaos, but making lists and thinking through things makes me feel more prepared (even though it is all subject to change.) I have also found that taking walks clears my mind and often gives rise to creative ideas. I think sometimes when we engage our bodies in something routine and repetitive (walking, driving, washing dishes), our mind kicks into creative mode. Plus, the walk is good for stress; can’t beat fresh air for feeling better. I have also tried some basic yoga. I found some videos for beginners online and find that it helps me pause and be intentional about breathing and stretching. I think yoga is keeping me sane these days.”
West Wilkes High School
Millers Creek, North Carolina
Yearbook adviser for 11 years
“The tonic for self care is different for everyone, and I don’t mean that in a literal sense. Whatever works for you – alone time, a favorite hobby, exercise – is the tonic of self care. For me, I enjoy that silence that seems ever more elusive in my life. Enjoying a book or even a newspaper article, I am able to escape the enhanced day-to-day life that is even more amplified in this world. Those activities, and a good walk, can sooth the mind and soul.”
Cinnaminson HIgh School
Cinnaminson, New Jersey
Yearbook adviser for 14 years
“1. Know when to walk away from school. Your to-do list will still be there tomorrow and unless it is the end of the quarter or a deadline, the assignments will be there tomorrow too. Set a time to walk away from school – whether it be your computer, your classroom, your makeshift classroom at home, etc. Once you leave ‘school,’ don’t think about it until you return.
2. Turn off alerts relating to school on your phone. This could be from your Learning Management System, emails, Remind101s, etc. Replying to emails within 24 hours is reasonable and better than most businesses respond to emails. That means you do NOT need to answer emails when you get home. If you don’t respond to student questions 24 hours a day, they will know when they have to get their questions in. Do NOT enable them and work on their time; your family needs you.
3. Socialize with your co-workers. Yearbook is a class that you plan on your own and do not get to collaborate as often as you would planning a core class. Make a point to chat with your co-workers during planning, share memes over text, or plan a Zoom call just to catch up and vent. Yearbook does not have to be done in isolation and you need a few teachers who listen to your yerd problems and allow you to vent or bounce ideas off of – plus the more teachers you get to know personally, the more who want to help with your random yearbook-related requests.
4. Know what you can control and let go of what is out of your control. For example, I can control my lesson plans for the month, so I cope with this chaos by creating my lesson plans by quarter (and have planned through the end of December). This allows me to feel in control in a world where I everyone is telling me how to feel and what to do. I have to plan for those in-school, at-home, and 100% distance learners – that is three lessons per subject and I teach four preps! It is overwhelming to think about, but when I am able to sit and plan for the quarter for each class, I can see the lessons, tweak them to be in-school or remote, and I feel organized and in control with my work life, allowing me to leave work at work and focus on my family and myself.”
Lake Norman Charter High School
Huntersville, North Carolina
Yearbook adviser for four years
Journalism publication adviser for 10 years