From transitioning to remote learning at the start of the pandemic to the adjustment back to in-person learning this fall, to meeting the practical needs and trauma experienced by students and families, COVID-19 brought on new complexities and challenges to the job of being a teacher. Throughout all of this, our teachers have been heroically committed to the well-being and learning of our students and yet the toll is real. Every day we hear about how teachers across the country are feeling more exhausted and burned out than ever before.
Danna Thomas is a former Baltimore City Public School teacher turned founder of a global initiative to support the mental health and wellness of educators. Her organization, Happy Teacher Revolution, is on a mission to increase teacher happiness, retention, and professional sustainability by providing educators with the time and space to heal, deal and be real about the social-emotional demands they face on the job.
Check out her personal tips below to help combat teacher burnout below and listen to KIPP Co-Founder Dave Levin interview Danna to learn what more we can collectively do to prevent it here.
1. Affirm, affirm, affirm.
One of the most powerful practices in our Happy Teacher Revolution meetings has been to offer personal, positive affirmations. Some sentence starters include: “I’m proud of myself for,” “I forgive myself for,’’ “I recognize the courage it took for me to,” and “I’m grateful for.” Write these affirmations down. Say them out loud. Text one to a well-being accountability partner and invite them to share their own. We also utilize opportunities to prioritize autonomy in Happy Teacher Revolution meetings by using the sentence frame, “I choose.” Some choices include: “I choose what to let go of,” “I choose to prioritize the relationships that matter,” and “No matter how the school year started, I choose to finish well.”
2. Create a self-care action plan.
One of our Revolutionary educators in Alabama, Benita Moyers, suggests creating a self-care action plan. Just as you create intentional plans for your students, consider what it could look like to implement a time every week to pour into your own cup, so that you can continue supporting your students and the community of individuals surrounding you. Carve out a time in your schedule to spend time on YOU. Actually, put it into your calendar so that it will happen. Put in a reminder. Even if it feels indulgent to spend time on yourself, recognize that self-care isn’t selfish; self-care is professional development.
3. Find community.
Self-care is an incredibly individualized industry, but we are collectively craving a reduced sense of isolation and an increased sense of community. Now, more than ever, it is of utmost importance to check in with one another. The mental-health crises I experienced personally as a student were intercepted by my heroes, my teachers, because of the relationships they fostered in and out of their classroom community. The mental-health crisis is only getting worse, and we are often asked to prioritize workplace well-being as a best-practice approach, not only professionally with each other, with our students, and with our stakeholders… but also personally with ourselves.
4. Take breaks.
An accommodation that teachers often make for their students is to provide them with opportunities to take frequent breaks. This applies to us, too. Take time to disconnect and detach with love. Unplug from technology and the demand to be “available” all of the time. Put up an auto-response that you are currently unavailable. Go outside in nature. Move your body and take a moment to let your mind rest and digest the stimulation of the day. Disconnect for a time so that you can better connect with those you serve once you are back “on the grid.”
5. Offer yourself pre-forgiveness.
This inspired practice comes from one of our very first Happy Teacher Revolution pilot sites and trauma-informed schools in Nashville. To pre-forgive is to acknowledge that you will probably make mistakes and to be prepared to forgive yourself when things don’t go absolutely perfectly. This strategy is the opportunity to be gentle with yourself, just as you would be gentle with any friend or student who could benefit from a nurturing/encouraging sentiment rather than an accusatory one. Acknowledge that the pandemic of COVID-19 was something we could have never expected or “practiced” for. Offer yourself pre-forgiveness and self-compassion around the immense amount of change that has upended our lives over the last few years. Give yourself the space to grieve the losses, the changes, the ways that our lives will forever be different. Acknowledge that you will continue to make mistakes as you set one foot in front of the other. Pre-forgiveness is knowing that the road may still be bumpy in life post-COVID and recognizing that the healing process is never linear.
Read more of Danna’s tips to combat teacher burnout here.