Educators are tired . Back in October a colleague asked me how my summer went, and I looked blankly at her confused by her question. The rush of back-to-school and a quick-paced Fall had thrown me into such a busy state that I had forgotten just a few short months ago I had had the loveliest summer with my family. Yet, within weeks, the rest and rejuvenation I had come to love had disappeared.
Teaching is emotional work. Educators are no longer in front of a classroom presenting information. They have become teachers, mentors, counsellors, parents, friends, nurses, and more every day to many different people. And our students, well they are coming to our schools with tougher stories, harder lives, increasing challenges, and difficult mental and emotional states.
A recent Edutopia article, When Students Are Traumatized, Teachers Are Too written by Emelina Minero, quoted an educator saying, “When you’re learning to be a teacher, you think it’s just about lesson plans, curriculum, and seating charts, I was blindsided by the emotional aspect of teaching—I didn’t know how to handle it. I was hurt by my students’ pain, and it was hard for me to leave that behind when I went home.”
Our world is inundated with tragedy and sadness, yet it is our role as educators to teach about love, compassion, and empathy, so that we can continue to change the world for the better. Educators have to teach from the heart if we want our students to learn with an open heart and mind.
Although most educators care deeply and create meaningful lessons about making our world better, this concept of heart/mind education is a fairly new one. Our educators, who innately do this work, haven’t been taught how or why empathy, compassion, mindfulness, kindness, etc. needs to be incorporated into each and every lesson. Even more so, it is often done, but without the intentionality or purpose that it so deserves. When our educators teach these lessons without intention or purpose, sometimes the impact of our messages is lost. Bringing heart education into schools must be done with authenticity and purpose.
To be able to do this consistently and effectively, educators must feel well, valued and supported. Too often we wrestle with multiple roles and emotional overload if little energy left to be intentional with our lessons.
The outcome: our educators are fighting higher levels of burnout than ever before.
Burnout is a major problem for all types of important professions – from physicians and nurses to social workers and attorneys. But it is particularly common among educators. Research now shows that between 40-50% of new teachers will leave the teaching profession by their fifth year of service. Teachers who leave the profession cite many different reasons; low salaries, though a common complaint, certainly aren’t the whole story. Long hours, lack of autonomy, large class sizes, no time to go to the bathroom, and increasing pressure for accountability in the face of inadequate resources creates an environment that is particularly toxic to those teachers who feel called to do “whatever it takes” to help their students learn.
Educators care deeply about their students and often tend to be high-achievers but sadly—often because of their “I can do everything” personalities—they rarely see burnout coming.
Because high-achievers are often so passionate about what they do, they tend to ignore the fact that they’re working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy work loads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel—all of which make them ripe for burnout. Teaching has always been an emotional profession, but it seems that the current educational climate has created a culture of burnout and stress.
The same Edutopia article referenced earlier, that talked about the emotional part of teaching also stated, “While many teachers say they don’t have time for self-care, experts insist that it’s necessary to develop long-term self-care practices—and stick to them—to build up your overall well-being and resilience. These self-care activities could be going for a walk, reading, watching a movie, practicing mindfulness, or talking with a friend—whatever invigorates you.”
When we as educators feel emotionally regulated, physically strong, self-aware and socially connected, we create a strong sense of well-being in our life. Together, let’s find the ways to rebuild our resiliency. Let’s focus on self-care AND self-compassion. Let’s reignite our passion for teaching. Let’s awaken educator well-being, and together we can make a difference in our schools again and teach our students the heart-centered knowledge they need to make our world better.
When we as society celebrate the well-being of our educators and encourage the heart/mind education that they offer, our children will be able to learn more about wellness, compassion, and kindness and be ready to tackle this challenging but beautiful world.
As a practicing educator and counsellor in a challenging school of diverse learners, Lisa Baylis know first hand what burnout feels like. “I have repeatedly seen colleagues suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue. We need to create space for educators to practice self-compassion, self-awareness and well-being habits. In essence, educators need to be encouraged and supported to have a self-care practice to avoid burnout. With a deeper sense of awareness of their own mental, emotional and physical health, then they may have the capacity to teach our children from a heart- centered place.” As founder of the recently created AWE program – Awaken Wellbeing of Educators – Lisa prioritizes self-care for educators through workshops, retreats and mentorship opportunities for educators who feel on the brink of burnout and exhaustion.
AWE hosted its inaugural AWEsome Wellbeing Educator Retreat in Victoria in September. The day brought together 18 educators from across Vancouver Island. The retreat was a day of mindfulness meditation, reflective journalling, restorative yoga and positive connection with colleagues. AWE retreats give educators the opportunity to reflect on their own well-being habits and leave with a replenished energy to manage back at schools. Details of the February 2018 Retreat are here.
“Thank you Lisa. Your retreat has provided essential space for me (a young wife, mother and educator) to chill out and take a rejuvenating and introspective break from life. The work I’ve done today will simmer for days to come and i’m sure newfound creativity and inspiration will follow this retreat.”
“Leaving this retreat, I am reminded that connecting with other educators is extremely valuable and powerful and that none of us is alone.”
“The day was wonderfully paced and beautifully organized. I felt cared for and safe. The location was perfect, peaceful, calm and beautiful. Thank you so much. I look forward to sharing more space together again in the future.”