Committee for Children Blog

Putting an Emphasis on Educator Self-Care

two educators talking

This post was co-authored by Mylien Duong, PhD, a senior research scientist at Committee for Children and Toni Faddis, EdD, a principal in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

In the past weeks, districts across the country have navigated wholly uncharted territory due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapidly evolving situation has required those in leadership roles to make critical assessments by the day, even by the hour, as educators are tasked with finding creative ways to connect with students and their families despite physical distance.

While student health and safety are at the forefront of all our minds, educators are looking to site and district leaders for guidance in regards to their own social-emotional well-being. Many educators who devote an abundance of time and energy to supporting their students under normal circumstances are now pushing their emotional limits to keep calm and collected. They may need a gentle reminder about the importance of self-care.

Here are a few ideas and strategies to help support your staff, your students’ parents and caregivers, and yourself as we adapt to this new normal.  

How to Support Teachers

Communicate with consistency and empathy. Initiate a two-way channel of communication with all staff members to allow those who wish to talk about their current circumstances to do so. Listen without judgment to staff concerns. Allow space for anxieties, from family obligations to financial stress, that may be exacerbated in a time of crisis. Continue to check in periodically with staff members, particularly those who may be struggling.  

Be transparent. No one expects you to have all the answers right now—you can’t predict the future or have total control over the current circumstances. But you can be straightforward and timely in your communication, which avoids compromising your staff’s trust. Show trust in return by welcoming staff to help brainstorm solutions for challenges that arise.

Set clear expectations. Research shows that people benefit from guidance and structure in times of uncertainty, and communicating clear expectations about what teachers’ jobs should look like right now will help. Creating a week-by-week plan with achievable goals is one way to provide general guidance. Start by establishing schedules, helping students understand why they’re not in school, and providing resources that promote social-emotional learning (SEL) and behavioral support. Encourage teachers to add weekly check-ins via voice or video call with students, both for an additional sense of routine and to check in on students’ social and emotional well-being. A weekly virtual meeting for teachers and staff is another way to stay connected and help grade-level or department teams collaborate online.

That said, this is a time to be flexible where possible. Individual circumstances vary widely, as do productivity levels when managing a sudden change in routine and the effects of stress during a time of crisis. Adjusting to these changes takes time and can be mentally taxing.  

Lead by example. Now is the time to exemplify calm and thoughtfulness, keeping your established goals in mind. Above all, be kind to yourself and others.

How to Support Families 

Consider parents and caregivers co-educators. Assure parents and caregivers that it’s okay to skip teaching what they don’t know to avoid frustration for both adults and kids. Develop plans to help kids catch up once schools reopen, and give families permission to swap in reading a book, journaling, or a baking lesson in the meantime. Questions about COVID-19 are likely to come up, and you can provide families with guidance for talking about the pandemic with children. Choose materials from reputable sources, like this tip sheet created by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 

Frame this as a learning opportunity. Encourage families to consider this time an opportunity to develop their child’s coping skills and resilience, if they feel they have the capacity to do so. Promote establishing predictable routines with activities that have a defined start and end point. Regularly scheduled family meetings and one-to-one conversations can be great ways to check in, too.

Other ideas for parents who are taking on the role of teacher include making time for movement activities like Go Noodle, pulling out board games, or starting conversations about tough emotions (“What does being worried look like?”).

Don’t Forget: Be Kind to Yourself

Being in a position of leadership has its difficulties under any circumstances, but this is a particularly challenging time with no precedence for how to navigate the shifting landscape ahead. You’re likely being asked for frequent guidance from your staff and the families you serve, and you may find that the immediate needs and desires of students, teachers, and families conflict with one another. As a leader, you’re expected to maintain composure in times of crisis. Remember that it’s also important to give yourself permission to project optimism and care while staying realistic.   

You might have a child of your own who’s suddenly out of childcare or school, or a close friend or family member in a vulnerable population. You may feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Be mindful of compassion fatigue and take steps to stay mentally and physically healthy. To the best of your ability, protect your sleep, eat well, and take that walk around the block—both for the fresh air and for the movement itself. You owe it to yourself, and to those you lead, to stay well.

Looking for resources to support your staff’s well-being? We recently released a new, free resource to support them during this unprecedented period. Inspired by our upcoming adult social-emotional professional learning program, the activity explores how practicing gratitude can help reveal positivity in difficult times.