The Self-Care Strategies Crucial for Educators to Sustain the Implementation of Trauma-Sensitive Practices
Implementing trauma-informed practices requires appropriate training, tools, and support. Educators will need to commit to self-care to continue to be present for their students and aware of their own emotions and needs. I urge you to commit to your self-care to implement and sustain trauma-informed practices with fidelity.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Educators are front-line workers, even when we are not recognized as such, and with this position, we too suffer from chronic, overwhelming stress and vicarious trauma. Too many leave before mastering the fluidity of our craft, and too many continue suffering in place. Eventually, in their despair and overwhelm, these educators become disconnected from their student and their jobs. We forget what it was that brought us to this field. We lose our inspiration. And worse, we lose our ability and capacity to connect with ourselves, each other, and our students. There are many symptoms of burnout that most educators do not recognize in the early stages when they can take care of themselves. Some may recognize the signs but feel helpless to address them. In 2018, 93% of educators reported a high level of job-related stress (Boogren, 2020). Note that this was well before the pandemic was even contemplated or suspected.
Many self-care books for educators are dense and text-heavy, resembling our old college textbooks. How many college textbooks did any of us thoroughly read? And how many of us even had the time if we had wanted to? Many of the introductory chapters in these books cite why educators are so stressed out, reasons we are already very aware of, and emphasize our feelings of despair, hopelessness, and helplessness.
And yet, there are those gems written by authors that seem to understand the particular dilemma of educators. We already don't have time for some extensive self-care programs. How would we find the time to read through yet another dense textbook, even on this vital topic? Many educators are drawn to this field, and many feel it is their calling. We buy into the demand for self-sacrifice and putting others' needs before our own. Many of us will have difficulty devoting significant amounts of time to reading about how to care for ourselves, which in our minds may feel weak and selfish because of the ideals of self-sacrifice we have manifested.
Christina Maslach from UC Berkeley identified the three key "dashboard lights" for burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment (Saenz, 2012. P. 28). Saenz (2012) identifies the keys to "occupational well-being:" develop an effective and supportive professional community and set and maintain good boundaries between work and home (Saenz, 2012, p. 40,42). The keys to emotional well-being are appropriately experiencing and expressing emotion and requesting and extending forgiveness (Saenz, 2012, p. 54,56). There is a list of vocabulary words for emotions on page 66 of Saenz (2012) that may be useful for improving the feelings lexicon of educators and their students. One of the keys to spiritual well-being is to link decision-making with life values (Saenz, 2012, p. 85). Physical well-being keys are elements educators have heard many times: healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep (Saenz, 2012, p. 96-99). Most of us still haven't figured out how to manage those three with the bit of time left to us after other obligations. Chapter 8, on page 109 of Saenz (2012), may be the most valuable part of this book. There are personal inventories in all areas of well-being for educators and, while short and simple, take you through a self-reflection process that may well have valuable results.
While the personal growth necessary for implementing all-inclusive, caring practices seems clear, self-care strategies and plans are not. While many experts claim to have the answers, one brilliant author writes that in self-care, it is essential to do "what works for you" (Boogren, 2020). Based on her own experiences and research, her offerings are just that: offerings. Educators can try out a wide variety of strategies to help us care for ourselves on many levels. The trial-and-error period raises our awareness of what is effective for us as individuals. Then, we take what works for us and leave the rest. Boogren's (2020) book, 180 Days of Self-Care for Busy Educators, is an excellent place to start if you have little time and energy to devote to trying different self-care methods to figure out what you need. Boogren (2020) guides you in her book, week by week, in trying out simple strategies to see how they resonate with you. Boogren addresses the use of music, nutrition, hydration, sleep, laughter, technology, altruism, wardrobe, time, mindfulness, relationships, gratitude, saying no, inspiration, requesting help, comfort, habits, creativity, indulgence, adventure, orderliness, obligations, play, hobbies, cognition, transitions, listening, journaling, outdoors, morning routines, active rest, and finally supplies the opportunity to reflect not only each week but in the final pages, for you to create your own self-care list.
Many resources on self-care mention the daily practice of gratitude. The current research has provided evidence that a commitment to the daily practice of gratitude can rewire our brains for resilience, optimism, and altruism (Smith et al. (Eds.), 2020). O'Drobinak & Kelley (2021) focus Chapter Three in their book, Teaching, Learning, + Trauma: Responsive Practices for Holding Steady in Turbulent Times, on self-care for educators implementing these practices. They provide excellent analysis and tables that help an educator develop personal awareness of their own "symptoms" of burnout and vicarious trauma, which have some similarities. They explain the actual process of burnout and developing vicarious trauma to increase educator awareness and then empower them to find ways to support themselves and the necessary support from others to continue in the vital work they are doing. Some of O’Drobinak and Kelley’s (2021) most valuable information lies in the tables and figures in Chapter Three. Of particular value are their Cycle of Burnout, Symptoms of Burnout, and Symptoms of Vicarious Trauma figures on pages 56-58, and the Self-Care Plan Template, Forms of Self Care, Planning Habits Checklist, and Why Administrators Should Care about Self-Care figures on pages 66-69. I'm not in agreement with all they have to say about self-care methods, but the information I've mentioned above is valuable.
As Aguilar (2018) states in her book, Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators, there are specific habits that educators can build that will increase their resilience. However, this text is dense, as I mentioned above, but if you can read a chapter regularly or put it on the list of summer reading, it is worth investigating. The first habit of resilience is purposefulness, and part of understanding our purpose is using self-awareness to help us clearly define that purpose for ourselves. The other habits of resilience include acceptance, optimism, empathy, humor, positive self-perception, empowerment, perspective, curiosity, courage, perseverance, and trust. Each chapter is devoted to a discussion of methods to develop these habits.
Philibert et al. (2020) discuss specific effects of stress on teachers and provide a few minimal basic activities for managing stress. However, on page 51 in Philibert et al. (2020), there is a detailed Mindful Self-Care Scale that covers many areas of self-care and has the potential to be a valuable tool in building self-awareness of our habits and behaviors around self-care.
Cruz (2021) in her book, Risk. Fail. Rise. A Teacher’s Guide to Learning From Mistakes, may be one of the most valuable texts I've read. Not only does Cruz (2021) address areas of personal and professional growth, but she builds in the self-care and compassion required for this growth. The text reframes mistakes as opportunities for growth and developing acceptance and understanding of ourselves and others.
The most comprehensive offering on educators' self-care is Lisa J. Lucas’s (2018) book, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers. This author has a thing for yoga, which I detest. Still, I find she thoroughly understands educators' needs to care for themselves while maintaining their desire to perform well in their occupation or calling. In addition, she knows that we are driven to fulfill the sense of purpose that brought us to this field and improve our students' school experiences while improving our efficacy as educators.
While I am a fan of Patricia A. Jennings (2021) and Elena Aguilar (2018), their books may be too much for an educator who is on the verge of burnout. However, I highly recommend their books. Aguilar's book on educator resilience has profound importance but takes focus, study, and time. Jennings is a fantastic author, and her book on The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching is one of the best I've read on the subject. She is also a crusader, which I greatly admire. However, the first chapter of her Teacher Burnout Turnaround book details difficult statistics and conditions educators are well aware of but may not be able to stomach upfront.
If you are short of funds, as we all are, and must choose one book to buy, here is the order I would recommend as far as overall helpfulness. 1. Lisa J. Lucas (2018) Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers, 2. Tina H. Boogren (2020) 180 Days of Self-Care for Busy Educators, 3. M. Colleen Cruz (2021) Risk. Fail. Rise. A Teacher’s Guide to Learning from Mistakes.
Aguilar, E. (2018). Onward: Cultivating emotional resilience in educators. Jossey-Bass.
Boogren, T. H. (2019). 180 days of self-care for busy educators. Solution Tree Press.
Cruz, M. C. (2021). Risk. fail. rise.: A teacher's guide to learning from mistakes. Heinemann.
Jennings, P.A. (2021). Teacher burnout turnaround: Strategies for empowered educators. W.W. Norton & Company.
Jennings, P.A. (2019). The trauma-sensitive classroom: Building resilience with compassionate teaching. W.W. Norton & Company.
Lucas, L. J. (2018). Practicing presence: Simple self-care strategies for teachers. Stenhouse Publishers.
O'Drobinak, B., & Kelley, B. (2020). Teaching, learning, and trauma: Responsive practices for holding steady in turbulent times. Corwin.
Philibert, C. T., Soto, C., & Veon, L. (2020). Everyday self-care for educators: Tools and strategies for well-being. Routledge.
Saenz, A. L. (2012). The power of a teacher: Restoring hope and well-being to change lives. Intermedia Publishing, Inc.
Smith, J. A., Newman, K. M., Marsh, J., & Keltner, D. (Eds.). (2020). The gratitude project: How the science of thankfulness can rewire our brains for resilience, optimism, and the greater good. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.