Teacher Self-Care and Distance Learning
Teachers, you’re dealing with a lot right now. Your already high stress, high challenge profession has become more stressful and more challenging. As many educators take on at least some virtual instruction, balancing teacher self-care and distance learning is essential.
Many of you are navigating an unexpected transition to digital teaching and learning, perhaps for the first time. Some of your students have more access to technology and family support than others, making both equity and engagement difficult.
On top of that, you’re dealing with the stress of an unprecedented pandemic—and trying to take care of your own family, too.
It’s a lot. It’s more than should be asked of you. As you continue to rise to the challenge anyway, remember that it’s vital to balance teacher self-care and distance learning. Although there’s no perfect formula for self-care, these suggestions should give you some helpful ideas.
First Things First: Self-Care Isn’t Selfish
If you’re like most teachers, you’re a giver. It’s what drew you to the profession. You may tend to put the needs of others before your own needs.
Remember that your students need you to take good care of yourself—physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is always true, but it’s truer now than ever before.
Tending to your own needs first is the only way to show up as your best self, especially in these difficult times. When we don’t practice self-care, our energy level is lower, our fuse is shorter, mental clarity is limited, and we struggle to provide the level of help and support that we’d like to.
So, even if it’s hard for you to say, “I deserve this!” (you do), remind yourself that your well-being directly impacts the well-being of your students and your loved ones.
Give Yourself Grace
In this climate of change and uncertainty, one of the most important ways to practice self-care is to be patient and kind to yourself. You’re in uncharted territory, and this is not the time to aim for perfection.
Right now, it’s unreasonable to expect that you can maintain the same level of instruction that you were able to deliver in the classroom. It’s also unreasonable to expect yourself to become a master of Google Classroom or Canvas overnight.
But as you show up for your students, offer your love and support, and provide some semblance of routine and learning during this crisis, you’re giving your students everything they need the most.
No one has all the answers. Everyone is figuring this out (and totally winging it) together. Remember that you’re being asked to do the impossible, and give yourself grace. We’re all doing the best we can. Under these extraordinary circumstances, that’s more than enough.
As Christina Randle, Colorado’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, said, “Your students are going to be OK. Whenever we get back together, we will meet our students where they are. Right now, let’s make sure our students still feel loved and their families still feel supported.”
When you work from home, it’s easy for the lines between “work time” and “home time” to blur. This is true for your students and their families too, who may be contacting you at all hours of the day or night. This is where balancing teacher self-care and distance learning becomes especially important.
Give yourself time to rest and recharge (and avoid burnout) by setting clear boundaries. Designate “office hours” during which students and parents can reach out with questions or concerns. When office hours are up, close your computer for the day. No more checking email!
Another option is to set up a shared calendar for students and parents to book time with you. Whatever strategies you use, it’s important to establish work-life balance, even when work and life happen in the same place.
One benefit of teaching from home is that you can take breaks. Snack breaks, lunch breaks, even bathroom breaks. Take advantage of this newfound freedom to give yourself some breathing room.
Go to the bathroom whenever you want (just not in the middle of a Zoom session). Take a walk around the block and get some fresh air. Spend some extra time snuggling with your dog, grabbing a snack with your kids, or enjoying an uninterrupted lunch with your partner.
Savor the joyful moments and let yourself feel gratitude whenever and wherever you can. Overall, things are tough at the moment, but it’s not all bad. Focus on the positive as much as you can.
We all need a support system, and not being able to physically see some of our loved ones is difficult. Make time to connect via Facetime, Zoom, phone calls, or even playing virtual games with people you love.
If you need extra help and support, reach out to trusted friends and family members. Talking and laughing with people you care about is a sure way to recharge your batteries.
You can also connect with other teachers. Share your challenges, triumphs, ideas, and tips. Remember, everyone is going through the same craziness together. You don’t have to do it alone.
Exercise gives you energy and endorphins, and it promotes quality sleep. (Sleep and a healthy diet are also essential!) Even if it’s just for 20 minutes, be sure to include movement in your daily routine.
Walk, bike, jog, participate in virtual exercise classes, or follow a simple Pilates or Zumba routine on YouTube. Go for a swim if you have a pool, jump some rope, or even chase your kids around in the backyard.
As much as we might resist getting into an exercise routine, it’s a sure way to boost your mood. You’ll feel happier and healthier, which is a great buffer against the stress and anxiety you’re likely experiencing.
What helps you feel relaxed? Whether it’s meditation, yoga, painting, reading, baking, or journaling, do it as much as you can. Watch funny movies, take long baths, paint your nails to feel human again, or do whatever it is that calms you and brings a smile to your face.
And don’t forget to breathe. When it all feels like too much, breathe in deeply through your nose, then exhale through your mouth. Repeat this exercise three times. Tell yourself something like, “I’ve got this,” “I’m doing the best I can,” or, “It’s all going to be OK.” Because it is, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
Final Thoughts: Teacher Self-Care and Distance Learning
If you’re thinking that there’s no way you have time for breaks, connection, exercise, and relaxation, reevaluate your priorities. Think about how much work you’re cramming into your day, and consider where and how you can trim it.
Make self-care a non-negotiable, and schedule the rest of your day around it. Everything else will fall into place. If you’re also a parent, many of these activities can be done alongside you children. A “break” might be coloring pictures with your son or kicking a soccer ball with your daughter (which also counts as exercise!). Be sure that you get at least a half hour to yourself daily too, even if it’s while you take a bath or after the kids go to sleep.
You’re doing incredibly important, incredibly difficult work right now. Your family, students, and community need you to take good care of yourself. Give yourself permission to do just that.